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Five Easy Steps to Beautiful Orchids

Orchids are plentiful and cheap — you can find them in grocery stores, discount stores, even the corner gas station — but not all orchids are created alike. Last Winter I was lucky enough to visit an orchid Farm in Fort Meyers, FL. It was fascinating to see all the varieties and come across specimens I have never heard of. I spent hours in a very warm greenhouse examining these unique plants and learning some tips from the resident orchid expert.

Buying an Orchid

orchid buyingThe orchid trade has become a mass production industry, with millions of orchid plants being grown all over the world. Hawaii is the largest exporter of orchid plants. Orchid sales account for roughly $125 million annually. Many of the plants are shipped to greenhouses around the country then distributed to retailers nationwide. Because orchids are now available year round, they can take a beating with temperature fluctuations and shipping. Buds can be easily damaged in transit, but not show up until the plant is shipped to the retailer. Before you buy any orchid, examine the buds and leaves closely. The plant should have some open blooms and the buds should be firm and not withered. If there are buds that are shrunken, this is generally a sign the plant got too cold in the shipping process and the bud won’t mature. Next, examine the leaves. If they are green, firm and shiny, the plant is healthy. If the leaves are spongy to the touch, the plant has likely received too much water the roots have rotted.

Types of Orchids

orchid buyingThere are literally thousands of species of orchids. The most common available are dendrobiums, cymbidiums, oncidiums and phalaenopsis. All of these orchids can be purchased as cut flowers as well. If you’re a novice, I suggest starting with a phalaenopsis, the easiest to grow. Here are some simple tips to help you succeed:

  1. Don’t use regular potting soil. Orchids are epiphytes, growing on the bark of trees rather than in the ground. They soak up nutrients and water from the bark into the spongy skin of their roots, which is why they prefer to be planted in bark. Orchids should not be planted in regular potting soil. A hardwood charcoal, bark and sphagnum moss should be mixed to allow some air to the roots.

  2. orchid buyingProvide adequate moisture and light. Keep the mixture evenly moist with just slight drying between soakings. I like to let water run through the orchid pot over the sink. Then in between watering I mist the plant whenever I can. Keep the orchid in bright light, and preferably in a humid are. Greenhouses, bathrooms and sunrooms are ideal for orchids. Try to do all watering in the morning.

  3. orchid buyingKeep the orchid cooler at night, down to 55 degrees for a mature plant. If you find your mature orchid not blooming, try putting it outside for 2 months during the fall, where the temperature is 50 degrees.

  4. Fertilize the orchid with an orchid fertilizer every other watering during the growth period, where shoots are forming and you see it budding. Continue fertilization when the plant is dormant, but decrease the frequency. If you find no new leaves are growing on the orchid, stop fertilizing.

  5. orchid buyingClip the orchid to encourage re-blooming. A quality orchid will bloom for about 3 months. Once the blooms have faded and if the remaining stalk is green and healthy, clip it about an inch above one of the knuckles (the brown line that forms on the stalk). If the stalk is brown or dead, clip it all the way to the bottom. Occasionally the orchid may grow tiny plantlets on the stalk. If this happens, these can be clipped and potted once several roots have formed. Repot your orchid every 2-3 years as needed. Be patient with these little gems. Once you clip it back — it may take six months to a year to get another bud… but it’s worth the wait.

Send Jan Peterson an email with your gardening question:

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Past Articles

Five Easy Steps to Beautiful Orchids

The Cabin Fever Cure — Easy To Grow House Plants

Tips for Fabulous Container Gardens

Fail-safe Perennials for Sun (Part 1)

Fail-safe Perennials for Shade (Part 2)

Spring Gardening Tips

Fall Clean Up Tips


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