Saturday, August 12, 2006

Orchid Growing Made Simple

By: Melissa Martinez

Growing orchids can be fun and rewarding but it can also be difficult. Orchids can be very sensitive plants that if not cared for properly will die. So a little research on the subject is probably a good idea. There are literally hundreds of species from which to choose from, but the species you will most likely see at your nursery is the Phaleonopsis orchid. These are what people think of when they think of orchids. Other popular species include cattleya, dendrobium, and oncidium varieties. I myself own the ones mentioned above. They are all beautiful and any orchid that you choose to purchase and care for is sure to enrich the beauty of your garden.

When caring for orchids there are many things to consider. Placement of the plant is important. Will your orchid be a house plant? If so, you need to make sure that there will be enough light available for the plant. Also consider placing your orchids near a fan since good air movement is also a must. If your orchids will be outside plants, be sure to place them in an area of equal sun and shade.

For the most part, you can tell how much light an orchid needs by the color of the leaves. Ideally, the leaves should be a light green. Keep in mind that an orchid with light green leaves has the best chance at blooming. If the leaves appear yellow or spotted it means the plant has too much sun and is darkening in order to protect itself from burning. Conversely, if the leaves turn a dark green then the plant most likely needs more light.

Another important issue that seems to puzzle orchid growers is how often watering should occur. An average orchid will only need to be watered once a week. Sometimes even less water is necessary. You have to play it by ear. Just remember that drier is usually better. don't worry too much if you skip watering once or twice. A good indicator of how well the plant is doing in the watering department are the roots. Healthy roots will appear white and fleshy with green tips. If your roots look like this, chances are your watering routine is just right. If on the other hand you notice any rotting roots then over watering may be taking place.

We've covered watering and lighting and so that brings us to potting issues. Hopefully, by now, you know that orchids should never be potted with regular potting soil. Your orchid will most surely die. The best potting material is a mixture of moss and fir bark. These enable the most water retention. When watering make sure to flush the bark well so that there is no salt buildup as this can be detrimental to the plant's health.

A lot of people also wonder whether they should fertilize their orchids. The short answer is that it doesn't hurt. An 18-18-18 mixture is the best. Also try to find one that is especially formulated for orchids. Follow the instructions on the label and you should be okay. Also, try not to fertilize more than twice per year.

Repotting your orchids doesn't have to be a chore. It is often only necessary if the plant has substantially overgrown its surroundings. This is usually evident when the body of the plant starts to topple out over the edge of the pot. If this occurs simply remove the old pot and place your orchid, minus any dried out roots, into a new pot. Add the moss and/or fir bark material and water it thoroughly. Fertilizing it at this point is okay too. Your orchid should make itself at home in no time.

Like most orchid owners, I have confronted all of the above issues and have been able to fall into an effective orchid care routine. One thing that keeps plaguing me, however, are bugs. Specifically, ants have been a major problem. So far they don't seem to harm the plant when it is not in bloom, but one year they managed to kill all the buds on my cattleya. I invested in an all purpose bug spray that seemed to stop their infestation, if only temporarily. My best advice based on my experience is to keep an eye on the pesky buggers. If you notice too many of them taking hold of your blooms, take action. Remove them manually, if necessary. If you don't, chances are they will feed on all of the nectar, thus killing the possibility of your orchid blooming.

I hope these tips will help you in your efforts to grow your orchids successfully.

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