Orchids for Beginners

Orchids exhibit a delicate beauty and are long blooming whether they are full sized or mini orchids. Many people believe they are finicky and difficult to grow, but many of them are just as easy as your average houseplant. They will retain their blooms for two to three months and then have green leaves for the rest of the year till they bloom again in the spring. They make a stunning decorative touch to any room in your house. Start with an “easy” orchid (and very pretty) such as moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) which come in many different colors and patterns and they are also available in a mini size. Both do well in the home environment. Eighty percent sold in the U.S. are of this type and are the least expensive. These are the ones sold in most garden centers and nurseries especially now around Easter and Mother’s Day.

A healthy orchid has a strong, erect stem (some have two) with dark green, leathery leaves. Do not buy them if they look brown or wilted.

The amount of light can vary with different types of orchids, but moth orchids prefer low lighting, like an east-facing or shaded window. Choose a spot where the plant receives morning sun and afternoon shade. A fluorescent light can also be used. If the light is too low, leaves tend to become a darker green. Too much light and they may turn yellow. Black or brown patches can indicate sunburn, so move it to an area with less light.

Most of these cultivated plants come from rainforest areas where temperatures are temperate to tropical. They should be kept between 65 F to 85 F, never below 55 F. Locate your plant away from drafts. Phalaenopis or moth orchids do well in normal room temperatures with some humidity. If your room is dry, you can place it on a humidity tray to increase moisture.

Overwatering is the main cause of death for orchids. Do not water until the top couple inches of potting mix feels dry to the touch. Water your plant in the sink until it runs through the drainage holes and let it drain thoroughly. You should decrease watering after the blooming period, then resume your normal watering schedule when you see new leaves developing. Some gardeners put a couple of ice cubes on the top of the soil once a week to avoid overwatering.

Feed orchids using a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. You can buy fertilizer specifically formulated for orchids. As with watering, fertilizer should be reduced when blooming stops and then resume with new growth. Resist the urge to cut off the stems after blooming ceases. These same stems may rebloom.

You can repot your orchid with potting mix formulated for orchids every couple of years. Avoid regular potting soil.

Orchid plant diseases are most likely to occur with excess moisture on leaves and flowers and mix has poor drainage. So, don’t overwater or spray leaves and your plant will stay disease and fungus free. The most common orchid diseases are foliar blights, leaf spots, fungal rots and bacterial rot. Most can be prevented or cured if caught early. Monitor your plant frequently.

When purchasing your plant from a garden center or nursery, they are usually sold in clear plastic pots with 4 to 12 drainage holes. They may be placed inside decorative glazed pots, but make sure they have adequate holes. If they do not this might lead to standing water and root diseases. It’s best to buy these pots specifically for orchids since they will have an adequate number of holes on bottom and free of harmful chemicals in the glaze of ceramic pots. Clear plastic pots allow you to inspect roots for pests, disease and overcrowding. They also, allow orchid roots to absorb sunlight as they would in nature growing on the side of a tree. This way they can photosynthesize and add energy to the plant. There are different types of orchid pots such as plastic, clay and wooden baskets. I like the way wooden baskets look with the orchid roots coming through the slats. Just remember, whatever pot you use make sure it has 4 to 12 drainage holes depending on the size of your plant.

Maybe this year you could try an orchid and see how truly beautiful and easy they can be!

Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to wmccaleb@vt.edu. If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Master Gardener Help Desk at (434)-830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of your call. Wear your mask, maintain “social distancing”, wash your hands and try an easy care orchid.