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orchids

Orchids in the Home

Don’t be intimidated by these exotic beauties.

Many of us start our orchid growing with a Phalaenopsis or moth orchid that we received as a gift from a friend or that we decided to buy as it lasts much longer than a bunch of flowers. These orchids are mostly grown as a throwaway commodity, and in many cases the plants are discarded once they have finished flowering. Some of us who have feeling for plants and a bit of a green thumb decide to not throw away the plant but rather try our hand at getting it to grow and flower again. In some cases this is successful and in others not. There are, however, many different orchids that can be grown indoors with great success. Many orchids will be fine if placed indoors for the period in which they are in flower, but might require different growing conditions for the rest of the time.

Orchids need to be repotted on a regular basis as the potting medium (which is usually an organic mix) does break down over time, which results in poorer drainage and aeration and eventually the death of the plant. It is recommended that you repot your orchid at least every 2 – 3 years in order to replace the potting medium and, if necessary, pot into a bigger pot. In most cases the best time to repot would be in spring to allow the whole growing season for the plants to root in the new medium.

The Phalaenopsis is not the easiest of orchids to grow, especially in the colder areas of the country. Other orchids might be better suited to your climate or conditions in your home. The following guidelines may assist you on your journey in getting orchids to flower in the home.

  • Light is necessary for all green plants to photosynthesise, and orchids are no exception. The amount of sunlight needed, however, varies greatly from one type of orchid to another. In some orchids lack of proper light will result in weak growth and poor flowering, while others will burn if they get any direct sunlight. The need for bright light is one of the reasons why so many orchids will not grow well indoors.
  • Watering your orchids correctly may not be as simple as one might think. As with light, water requirements differ from one plant to the next. A good general rule is to remember that the type of potting medium you use will have a great impact on the watering regime. Plants that are grown in moss or peat will require much less frequent watering than one grown in a free-draining medium such as bark chips. In most cases it is also necessary to water the plants well (even soaking the whole pot in water for a while) rather than give little bits at a time. You must ensure that all the roots have the opportunity to absorb some water rather than have a little bit of water run through the pot only wetting some roots and some of the potting medium.
  • Temperature requirements can be a cause for some orchids failing in the home. The moth orchid is one of the best-known examples of an orchid that needs high temperatures (preferably nothing below 16°C) throughout the year in order to grow well. If the temperatures drop below the required range problems such as root rot or black rot on the leaves might become a problem. Certain orchids, such as cymbidiums, require a temperature differential (the difference between the night and day time temperatures) in order to flower well that is almost impossible to achieve indoors. These plants are therefore not suited to permanent indoor growing.
  • Proper air movement is essential for good growth and healthy, pest-free plants. The lack of proper air movement is usually the biggest cause of problems such as mealy bug infestations. Often people are scared of placing their plants close to a window as they feel the ‘wind’ will damage the plants. This is in most cases exactly what these plants need – good air movement.

Orchids suited to being grown indoors

Phalaenopsis

Although not suited to all homes, there is still no other orchid that is as freely available and that has such long-lasting flowers as a moth orchid. Grow these in the warmest room in the home where the plants may receive bright light, but not direct sunlight. Allow the roots/potting medium to dry out slightly before watering again.

Paphiopedilum

Most of the different types of slipper orchids grow on the forest floor or on cliffs in shaded areas, and are therefore perfectly suited to being grown indoors. Grow in a fine potting medium to allow the roots to stay moist (not soggy wet) at all times. Bright light is required.

Oncidium

There are many different types of orchids that fall into the ‘dancing lady’ group. In general, most of these will do well in a well-lit spot and will even enjoy a bit of morning sun. Many other types of orchids may do well in your home. Ask an experienced orchid grower or read up a bit about a specific plant before attempting to grow it indoors.