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Orchids are Orchidaceous!


By Paul James

Yes, orchidaceous is a real word. Feel free to look it up. It means showy or flashy, two words that definitely define orchids. But for all their beauty, many people also think of orchids as difficult or finicky, yet in most cases that’s simply not true. In fact, many orchids are among the easiest houseplants to grow. I kid you not.

Varieties

There are over 700 genera and 28,000 species of orchids, making it one of the largest plant groups on the planet. But only a few are commonly grown as houseplants because of their ease of care. Here are some of the most popular.

Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchids)
Paphiopedilum (Lady’s Slippers) 
Oncidium (Dancing Ladies)
Dendrobium
Cattleya
Cymbidium
Psychopsis

Basic Requirements

Not all orchids are alike, but those listed above have similar requirements. If you’re new to the world of orchids, consider getting started with a Phalaenopsis, also known as the “beginners orchid.”

Light — an east- or west-facing window is best, although a southern exposure is fine provided the light isn’t too bright. If the leaves of plants turn a dark green, that’s an indication of too little light, which is the main reason why orchids fail to bloom.

Temperature — thankfully, most orchids are perfectly happy with the same temperatures we enjoy, ranging from 60 to 80 degrees.

Humidity — yes, orchids like high humidity levels (at least 50%), so it’s best to set them on a tray full of moist pebbles or to mist them often, as in daily.

Water — you should water orchids just as soon as they begin to dry out. The easiest way to water is to place the plant in the sink and let tepid water run until it flows freely out of the pot. How often you water will depend on a variety of factors, including the potting medium, temperature, humidity, and light levels. So you may need to water as often as once a week or as little as once a month. But whatever you do, don’t overwater!

Fertilizer — during their active growth phase and when in flower, apply a fertilizer made specifically for orchids every two weeks, or at half strength every week. As plants enter their dormant phase, fertilize once a month.

Containers

Pots made just for orchids are your best bet, because they allow water to drain freely and provide for good airflow around the roots. Some people grow orchids in traditional pots, and that’s okay, but the risk of root rot is greater, so be careful not to overwater.

Repotting

It’s important to repot orchids once a year. I could walk you through the process, but my colleague Alex Franzmann just shot a video in which she describes it far better than I ever could. See it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsZtnbqGVmk&t=5s.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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