Caring for Orchids

Since Orchids are exotic plants, people who do not consider themselves to be skilled at keeping houseplants alive are reluctant to take them home.

With a little research and patience you don’t have to be a green thumb to enjoy orchids as houseplants. They grow naturally in rain forests in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Africa. Orchids are either epiphytic, (growing on trees), or lithophytic, (growing on stones). The easiest types of orchids to keep in the house are Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, Dendrobium, and Oncidium. Stores generally carry Phalaenopsis orchids. A variety of species can be ordered directly from a nursery.

Signs of a Healthy OrchidIn general, the plant’s leaves should be lime green; lemon yellow means too much sun exposure, while cucumber green leaves indicate that the orchid is not receiving enough light. The plant should have 4-5 leaves at all times, and as new leaves sprout, old ones will wilt and fall off. Each species of orchid has specific likes and dislikes when it comes to water, light and plant food.

Caring for Orchids

Phalaenopsis likes water once a week. It does not like “wet feet,” so water just enough to keep the potting medium moist just below the surface. To test the dampness of the pot, use a long wooden skewer and press it down into the bark. If it comes up dry, water the plant. Use a high nitrate fertilizer every time you water the plant, but do not exceed one teaspoon per month. The best type of food is one that is specifically made for orchids, but Miracle-Gro seems to work as well.

Phalaenopsis likes bright light, but not direct sun. An east window is best. The temperature of the room should not fall below sixty degrees at night, and make sure there is not a cold draft near the plant. Low temperatures can cause a plant to stop blooming, but expect no flowers for whole seasons. When the blooms have faded, cut the spike above the highest node and a new bud should appear. Some types of Phalaenopsis orchids bloom spring through fall, and go dormant in the winter months. Species that bloom in winter are readily available at orchid nurseries.

Troubleshooting for Sick Orchids

Some roots hang out over the pot; that’s what they like to do. Those are called “air roots.” Most orchids are potted in bark, but some types are mounted on wood. It’s good to be able to see the roots, so pick a plant in a clear pot. If an orchid plant has moldy roots and you are unable to replant it immediately, one tip is to take the plant out of the decorative pot and let it sit in a sunny spot in the clear plastic inner container. Sometimes this trick will get rid of mold. However, if the plant starts to smell re-pot it right away; this is a sure sign that mold is killing it.

In short, growing orchids may be difficult at times, but when they bloom, they are such a wonderful ornament for the home, well worth the attention. There is a lesson in this endeavor: patience. Orchids look so beautiful when they flower, and the color variations are surprising. Bring a touch of spring into your home by keeping orchids.

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