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How to Take Care of Orchids Part 1: Choosing Your Orchid

In the first part of our mini-series, "How to Take Care of Orchids", we will look at the factors that must be considered when choosing which type of orchid to buy.

With over 20'000 species (not including the 100'000+ hybrids and cultivars), choosing which orchid to purchase can seem like a daunting task. And then comes the responsibility of making sure the orchid you buy is free from disease and has been looked after correctly. This article will guide you through the process of buying an orchid as well as offering some suggestions for a good "first orchid" for beginners.

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Which Genus?
Orchids have a reputation for being difficult to grow successfully. Whilst there are many species that fit into this category, there are also a number of orchids that are relatively easy to manage. If you are a beginner, we would recommend orchids from one of the following genera for your first project.

  • Dendrobium - Orchids from this genus originated from South East Asia and are comparatively long lasting. They produce pretty flowers and benefit from lots of light.
  • Phalaenopsis - Otherwise known as 'moth' orchids, members of this genus originate from SE Asia and Northern Australia and produce beautiful large blooms.
  • Paphiopedilum - Nicknamed 'slipper' orchids due to the unusual shape of their flower pouches, this genus originates from China, India and South East Asia.

Most orchids in these genera will provide an easy introduction to amateur orchid growers.

Where to buy?
We would recommend that you buy your first orchid from a reputable vendor such as your local florist, garden centre or a horticulture specialist. Not only will you know that your orchid has been looked after properly but you will also benefit from the expert advice the sales specialist can provide.

Although it is possible to buy orchids from other sources (your local supermarket, for instance), it is likely that the plant will not have been looked after properly and will be of poor quality. You may also find that the labelling is lacking which can lead to difficulty in the future when you come to providing the optimum environment for the genus/species.

Another advantage of buying from a specialist vendor is that of after-sales service. In most circumstances, if you run into difficulty a knowledgeable ear will only be a phone call away.

Related Article: If you would prefer to buy orchids via mail order, we suggest using a specialist firm as is covered in our Buying Orchids Online article.

Things to check
You will benefit from buying a more mature orchid as your first buy. This is because young orchids are much more difficult to look after than one that has already bloomed or is just beginning to bloom. This is because it has already been acclimatised and is less sensitive to changes in the local environment.

Additionally, before purchasing, it is a good idea to check a number of things to ensure that your orchid is in tip-top shape.

Firstly, check the colouring of the leaves. They should be a medium 'grassy' green colour. Dark green leaves and reddish-green leaves can indicate that the orchid has received inadequate light. The foliage and stem should also be checked to make sure there are no spots or blemishes that could indicate disease, parasites or sun damage. A sticky substance on the leaves can indicate the presence of unwelcome bugs.

The orchid that you buy should possess some blooms but there will still be some unopened buds. This is because you will be able to see what the flowers look like but your orchid will still have plenty of "blooming time" after you have bought it. An orchid that has opened all it's buds will be towards the end of it's 'blooming cycle'.

Also, the flowers should be well above the foliage.

Ideally, the roots of the orchid should be securely attached to the potting media. You can check this by holding the stem of the orchid at the base, near to the potting media and gently pulling. If it feels loose or if you can pull it out of the pot, the orchid is not attached properly and you may need to re-pot it when you get it home.

If you can see the roots, make sure that they are firm, thick and fleshy and not dried up or rotten. A healthy orchid's roots are light green when dry and dark green when wet and have a long pointed tip.

How to look after orchids
Now that you know what to look for, you can go out and buy your first orchid. Hopefully, the vendor that buy from will be able to give you'll the advice and information you need, but if not take a look at our other articles in the series:

How to Take Care of Orchids Part 1: Choosing Your Orchid
How to Take Care of Orchids Part 2: Potting Media
How to Take Care of Orchids Part 3: Light
How to Take Care of Orchids Part 4: Water
How to Take Care of Orchids Part 5: Fertilizer
How to Take Care of Orchids Part 6: Temperature & Humidity

If you would like a more in-depth knowledge about growing orchids for beginners and experts alike, we highly recommend Carl Harrison's Orchid Care Book. Carl is currently offering a full money-back guarantee if you aren't 100% satisfied.

Useful Links
Buying Orchids Online
Choosing Your Orchid by Don Leming of Eddon Orchids
Choosing Orchid Plants
How To Choose An Orchid

Orchids: Everything You Need to Know - one of the best orchid resources on the Internet.