The orchid has been around for a long time; it was, in fact, one of earth's first flowering plants. There is a beauty and elegance in the arching, blossom-filled stem of the orchid plant that makes it prized as both an indoor ornamental and as the amateur horticulturist's favorite specimen. An orchid can be classified as either a perennial epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant) or a lithophyte (a plant that grows on rocks or in rocky soil). Both varieties get their nutrition mainly from the air, some from moss, rain water, some even from their own tissue. Most orchids are easy to grow if proper cultural practices are followed. The Cattleya orchid is the best choice for the novice orchid grower.
Pay attention to the orchid's light requirements. Direct sun will burn the plant, not enough light will shut down flower production. Filtered sunlight is sufficient for most orchid varieties. Daytime temperatures from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal, and provide overnight temperatures between 60 to 65 F.
Plant your orchid in a light, porous material. Most orchids do well in coarse fir bark. Other common planting materials include perlite and sphagnum moss. The pot in which you plant your orchid should provide adequate drainage.
Refrain from overwatering the orchid. The soil should be allowed to dry out a bit. How frequently you need to water depends in a large part upon the type of medium in which the orchid is being grown. Pot size should also be considered; the smaller the pot, the more often you will need to supply water. Soak the plant well and withhold water until a finger poked into the planting medium comes out dry. Water in the morning so that your orchid won't sit in a wet pot overnight.
Orchids love humidity and there are easy ways to provide this for them. Fill a shallow dish or tray with pebbles and fill it with water until just the tops of the pebbles are exposed. Place the potted plant on top of the pebbles. As the water evaporates, add more, but don't allow the bottom of the pot to sit in water.
Fertilizing your orchid is easy. The type of fertilizer required depends, again, on the medium in which the plant is being grown. Those grown in bark require more frequent applications and a fertilizer high in nitrogen; a 30-10-10 formula will work well. Frequency of applications depends a lot on growing conditions, temperature and light. There is an old orchid grower's saying: "Fertilize weekly, weakly," which is a good rule of thumb to follow. For plants being grown in sphagnum, fertilize biweekly. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer package.
Protect the orchid plant from mealybugs, scale, mites, thrips and aphids by following proper growing practices: Provide the plant adequate light, proper temperatures, the right amount of water and fertilizer. Making sure that the growing medium is free from all dead organic matter will go a long way in reducing the chances of an infestation. Should the plant experience an infestation, you will need to use an insecticide or miticide, depending on the type of bug involved. Orchids are susceptible to a number of diseases including crown rot caused by a bacteria; botrytis, a fungal disease; fusarium wilt, caused by insufficient water; and orchid viruses, such as mosaic and ringspot, for which there is no cure.