Long revered for their legendary beauty, orchids belong to the largest and most diverse plant family on earth with over 300,000 registered cultivars currently in existence. Orchids are highly adaptable plants and many species grow in a wide variety of environments including rainforests, grassy plains, mountainous regions, deserts and swamps. Although orchids have a hard-to-grow reputation, several species are recommended to home gardeners because of their long life, production of beautiful, fragrant flowers as well as ease of growing and care.
Several species of orchids are considered simple to care for and easy to grow. Among them are Cattleya, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, Oncidium, Vanda and Epidendrum. These orchid species are available in many local nurseries and garden centers or through catalog and Internet sales.
Most species of orchids require partially shaded conditions to grow well outdoors. Too much light degrades the chlorophyll in the leaves, causing them to wither and yellow. If growing orchids indoors, place the plants in a south-facing window where they can receive the maximum amount of indirect light throughout the day. Orchids grown in greenhouses also require partial shade with some species requiring less light than others; Dendrobium, Oncidium and Vanda need 20 to 30 percent of daily light, and Phalaenopsis only needs 10 to 15 percent of daily light.
Watering is generally needed when the soil or potting medium moderately becomes dry, but some species of orchids require more frequent watering. Phalaenopsis don't have pseudo-bulbs for built-in water storage and should only be dry for a day or two. On the other hand, Cattleyas and Oncidiums have pseudo-bulbs that store water. Less frequent watering is recommended for these orchid species so that air can properly circulate around the plant roots for optimum growing.
Temperature & Humidity
All orchids need protection from cold temperatures, while hot temperatures are seldom a concern. Typically, 50 degrees F is the lowest temperature an orchid can withstand without leaf damage. Orchids exposed to temperatures that rise over 110 degrees can burn delicate flowers and leaves.
Almost all orchids grow in climates with moist air and grow best in humidity levels between 40 to 60 percent. When required, humidity can be added by misting orchid leaves, setting pots on moist pebble trays or using a humidifier.
Orchids should be re-potted approximately once every two to three years once they outgrow their original growing container, when the plant becomes spindly or if the potting medium has deteriorated. To create new plants from these orchids, count from the new growth back to four pseudo-bulbs, then cut the thick horizontal stem and remove the clump. Plant new orchid rhizomes in an orchid potting media slightly below the pot's rim. Fill with additional media, without covering the crown or rhizome, and pack tightly to hold the orchid securely in place.