Orchids are a great addition to any home, with their exotic, delicate but diverse flowers and their beautiful shapes and vibrant colours. But as any gardener knows, although they are irresistible when it comes to beauty, growing orchids can be a challenging task.
The first thing to realise if you are thinking of growing your own orchids is that there are thousands of different species. In fact, approximately 30,000 different orchid species and some 200,000 hybrid plant varieties and they all have their own peculiar habits, likes and dislikes.
Before you go any further and whether you are buying from a shop, garden centre or nursery, take a little time to research which orchid variety you are going to grow. Easier varieties include Cattleya, Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum but whatever you choose, don’t be too ambitious if you haven’t grown these plants before.
Remember to ask for details as to exactly what temperature, watering regime, orchid food and light schedule your variety likes best.
Step 1 - Picking Your Orchid
Some varieties of Orchid are very difficult to grow with our climate, so it is important that you pick the correct orchid seeds. Ensure that you create the right environment for your orchid to thrive. The easiest to grow are the Cattleya, Phaelaenopsis and Paphiopedilum orchids, as these do not require a high level of maintenance.
Step 2 - Choosing The Soil
The common mistake would be to pot the orchid in standard multi-purpose soil. You actually would need to purchase a more porous, looser mix. Try using bark chips, sphagnum moss, charcoal or coconut husks, or even a combination of the lot! Look to the bark mix to provide 2/3rds of the mixture.
Step 3 - Planting The Seed
The seeds are incredibly small, in fact, they are almost microscopic. Orchid seeds require some sugar and a gelling agent as they need an external source of nutrition. Ensure that your seeds are sterilised and that you are using an environmentally friendly fertiliser.
Scatter a few seeds immediately beneath the surface of the pot. Once the seeds are planted with additional nutrients, you will start to see growth in 2-3 weeks. Be patient though, it may take a little longer than the suggested time!
Step 4 - Pot Your Orchid
Look to move the orchid from its original pot ensuring that you cut off any dead or rotting roots. Be careful during this process, look to divide the root matter into several different sections. The most mature area of growth should be positioned by the wall of the pot. Lightly add some more potting mix over the root.
Shop bought orchids are notorious for being badly potted with roots squashed into damp retaining moss, which never dries out. Whereas in fact, orchids like plenty of air and whilst they do enjoy a good drenching on a regular basis, it is really important that their roots have a chance to dry out.
In their natural habitat most orchids will grow off other things like trees or even stones for support, so when repotting, you have to try and replicate these conditions. The starting point for that is the compost.
There are lots of specialist orchid composts and plant pots available both online and at good garden centres, it’s not a bad idea to start with those.
The compost needs to be porous and chunky to allow airflow so a good orchid compost will probably include bark, charcoal, coconut husks or maybe even Styrofoam. While a small clay pot is fine, consider a pot which has plenty of holes to allow your orchid to dry its roots and a allow free flow of air.
Never repot your orchid whilst it’s in flower, but wait until flowering is over. Then cut out the flower spikes and as you repot, check all the roots of the plant are healthy, removing any that aren’t. Do try and keep your cutters as sterile as possible.
Your orchid plant doesn’t need lots of room or a large pot. However, once you’ve repotted your orchid, place it in a large gravel-filled container so that when you water, you can really soak the roots without flooding your window sills.
Caring For Your Orchids
Orchids can be a little exacting in their habits so again, go back to your particular type of orchid and check what precise routine they prefer. As a rough rule of thumb, a windowsill which gets morning light (but not hot and direct afternoon sunshine) is best. Then you’ll need to give your orchids a weekly drenching during the summer as well as a regular feed.
Try and water with tepid water and by leaving the water in the gravel container, which your orchid stands in, you can provide much-needed humidity. Otherwise, place your orchid in a warm bucket of water for a while before removing and allowing to drain.
Overfeeding can damage your orchid so check with your local garden centre for the best orchid feeds and what feeding regime your orchid prefers.
In the winter you can ease off a little with the care and just schedule a monthly drenching. Don’t feed, but do mist spray regularly with a little water. You will need to repot your orchids from time to time and again.
How frequently you will need to repot, will depend on your specific orchid type, but factor in about 2 years. Don’t forget that your orchid will need temperatures of somewhere between 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, again depending on the type.
Success Is In The Detail
Don’t despair if you struggle with your orchids at first. They can be a little temperamental and the key really is in the detail of the care. The more you know and research the exact likes of your particular variety, the more you can tailor the care you provide and the happier your orchids will be.
If you are doing everything according to the book and your orchid still isn’t flourishing, just try tweaking the care you give a little, perhaps the temperature, perhaps the amount of light and position or perhaps the feeding and watering regime and with luck and perseverance you should hit on the exact regime that suits your orchid perfectly.
Don’t forget to share your successes with us on our social media sites, or leave a comment below. You can post your photos, your do’s and don’ts and any other recommendations, to give all determined orchid growers the best possible chance of success.