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Ode to Orchids

Appeal Blooms with Area Enthusiasts

Orchids first appeared millions of years ago in China, Greece, and Italy, giving orchids the distinction of being one of the oldest flowering plants in the world. As ancient explorers discovered new species of orchids, they returned to their native country with their findings, which led to added interest in growing orchids. Today, interest in growing orchids is still on the rise among many gardeners, due in part to the orchid’s widespread availability, as well as its ease-of-growing, and low-maintenance characteristics.


Sowing the Seeds of Success

Even with the orchid’s global availability, there are still a few things that both first-time and experienced gardeners should remember when getting started with growing orchids. Barbara Schmidt, chair of the Education Committee at the American Orchid Society (AOS), located in Miami, Fla., asserted that available growing conditions are integral to successful orchid growth.

“The most important thing for anyone to keep in mind when deciding to grow orchids is the vast diversity of this plant family. Orchidaceae is one of the oldest families of flowering plants, appearing about 120 million years ago. Orchids have evolved to grow in a wide range of environmental conditions. There are native orchids on all of the continents, except Antarctica, and in every climate, except those that are permanently dry or permanently frozen. Currently, there are over 880 identified genera of orchids,” Schmidt pointed out.

She continued, “It’s important for a new orchid enthusiast to recognize that there is no one requirement for growing all orchids. It all depends on the genera of the orchid being raised. I teach classes on orchid care, and always tell my students that they have to first determine what type of growth conditions they can provide for an orchid. Then, pick the genera of orchids that will thrive in those growth conditions.”

Adding to Schmidt’s comments, Rob Schneider, manager at Odom’s Orchids (a grower of orchids for more than 50 years), located in Fort Pierce, Fla., said, “The first thing to remember is that orchids are like most other plants. They need water, light, humidity, air movement, and nutrition. In this respect, they are no different than most other plants we grow. The biggest difference is that, unlike most plants that we cultivate, the majority of orchids are air plants, so they can't be grown in the ground or potting soil like most other plants. They need to be grown in special medium that lets air get to the roots, so that they don't rot.”

When beginning to grow orchids, it’s also helpful to take advantage of educational resources available locally. As the current president of the Vero Beach Orchid Society, as well as orchid seminar instructor at Busy Bee Lawn & Garden Center, Paul Price suggested, “For anyone starting with orchids, the best information I can give is to seek out a local orchid society to attend meetings. Also, remember that orchids love water, but must dry out between watering (most people fail from overwatering). They also need to be fed on a weekly basis.”


Best to Start, Best to Succeed

With so many types of orchids available, choosing one to start with can often be overwhelming for first-time orchid growers. When posed with the question of which type is best to start with, Odom’s Schneider advised, “For most people, I would say that Phalaenopsis are the best type of orchid for a beginner to grow. They are low maintenance, and can grow in conditions that are not ideal for most orchids (lower light and humidity). They have the longest-lasting flowers of almost any orchid (up to, and sometimes more than, three months in bloom), and are very showy. They are one of the best orchids for growing in the house.”

In agreement is Paul Price, who added, “Phalaenopsis, or commonly known as the Moth Orchid, are the best orchids to start with. They can be grown indoors their entire life with simple watering in the kitchen sink by filling the pot with water, letting it rest and then refilling the pot and letting it drip out and then returning it to it's location in the home. This orchid must have three weeks of cooler weather to initiate a flower spike. With our cool fronts coming through, now is the perfect time to put them out on a covered porch so they get their cooler evenings.”

Schmidt of the AOS concurred, “I would highly recommend starting with a Phalaenopsis orchid. These orchids are hardy, very easy to grow, very easy to rebloom, and very forgiving when their care is less than ideal.”


Top Tips for Care and Handling

Taking into consideration the amount of information about orchids available online, it’s always best to seek out the top tips recommended by industry experts. Odom’s Schneider listed his top tips simply as light, water, and location.

The most important factors for growing orchids are:

1.) Light – Proper lighting is probably the most important factor in growing orchids, and probably the one that most people don't get right. Most orchids need quite a bit of light, but will burn with too much direct sun, so there is a lot of room for error here.

2.) Water – Because orchids are air plants, in nature they get rained on, but then dry out fairly quickly. We need to water accordingly. Water thoroughly, but let the orchid dry out almost completely before watering again, so the orchids go through a wet/dry/wet/dry cycle, and don't stay constantly wet or dry for any length of time.

3.) Location – Put your plant in spot that gets the right conditions and leave it. If you put your orchid where it is happy, you won't have to do much to care for it. If you put it in the wrong location, your orchid will decline not matter what you do to it. Observe your plant but don't love it to death! Water and feed when needed. Don't move it around or repot unless absolutely necessary.”

From the AOS, Schmidt said, “Orchids are not difficult to raise, but they do require a different type of care than a more typical plant. To anyone considering raising their first orchid, I suggest reading a reputable article on orchids, watch a webinar, or take a beginner’s orchid class. I also suggest visiting the AOS website or a local orchid society website, or talk to an orchid grower.”

She continued, “Also, determine what type of growth conditions you can provide before you buy an orchid, and try to mimic native conditions for the genera you buy as best you can. And, despite what is seen on many internet sites and hang tags on Phalaenopsis orchids, do not use ice cubes to water an orchid.”

Inside Vs. Outside: Best Temps for Blooms

Like many other flowers and plants that flourish when grown in optimum temperatures, orchids are no different. As such, informed growers who know which varieties bloom best seasonally will be able to enjoy orchids throughout the year.

Generally orchids do better outdoors. Most houses don't have sufficient light, humidity, temperature change, or air movement for good orchid culture. Some people set up indoor grow areas and supplement natural light with grow lights, and run fans and humidifiers, but you can get all that outside without any extra effort or expense,” pointed out Odom’s Schneider.

“However, the main drawback to growing outside is temperature. Most orchids can take temps from 40 to 100 degrees, with 55 to 85 being ideal. But when temps fall into the low 40s or below, growers need to move their orchids indoors,” he added.

Fortunately for Treasure Coast residents, tropical climate allows growers to raise orchids outdoors almost year-round, with the exception of some very cold nights and mornings. On these occasions, many residents and orchids alike prefer the warmer temperatures indoors.


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