Orchids are plants that it is all too easy to become passionate about. In fact I am sure that every good gardener remembers their first Orchid in much the same way they remember their first kiss…
Looking after something so outstandingly beautiful and delicate can be daunting and so the pleasure of receiving an orchid is often tinged with worry and guilt.
In particular if it was given as a gift; after all, the giver could pop round anytime for a cup of tea and an inspection!
1. A short biology lesson – or understanding your Orchid
There are over 100 000 types of orchids!
Most orchids are epiphytes, (plants that grow on other plants). In the wild they often cling to the branches of trees to get to the light they love; whilst dangling their fleshy roots into the humid air. These are often green or grey in colour, and are able to take all the water the plant needs from the surrounding air. Almost uniquely for roots they are also able to photosynthesise.
Orchids are used to storing water and plant food in their thick leaves, or the swollen structures that look like small bulbs, so when it’s wet and humid they store all the water they can get. Then when its drier they use it up.
2. How to make your Orchid feel at home
Transforming the front room into a humid jungle with plenty of tree trunks for support would be ideal, but there are less drastic things that can be done to make your Orchid feel at home…
For example Orchids love:
- Air around their roots. This is why the compost used to grow orchids is very open. In fact they are happy growing in small pieces of bark, which creates humid pockets of air around the roots which they love.
- To dangle their roots out of the pot, this is just something they like doing! It doesn’t mean they need re-potting, or that the roots need sticking back into the pot! Just let them dangle to keep your orchid happy. (Constantly putting them back in the compost can even make your orchid sulk.)
- To be watered, so they can fill their water stores up; but then like to be left to dry out a little as well. Once a fortnight is more than enough water in the winter.
- Rain water. They much prefer rain water that has been brought in and allowed to get to room temperature to water out of the tap. No water butt? They like bottled still spring water!
- Misting, they like rain water at room temperature misted onto their leaves and dangling roots first thing in the morning. It reminds them of home, keeps their leaves clean and stops them drying out in our dry houses.
- To be warm but not hot, 60oF is ideal, and they can even cope with 50oF during the winter. They really don’t like it too hot.
- Polystyrene, this keeps the compost really open, and combined with making extra drainage hols in pots will keep them happy. Say 1/3 Polystyrene chunks at the bottom of the pot, then small bark nuggets.
- Feeding. They like a little bit of weak liquid feed in the growing season (April – August)
- Beauty treatments! They can get a bit dry and dusty. So a misting of water over the leaves, followed by a buff up with a cotton wool ball dipped in 50% full fat milk: 50% water will leave a nice shine to the leaves.
3. Horses for Courses
The three most popular orchids in Britain are:
- Cymbidiums, have upright leaves with little bulbs at the base.
- Dendrobiums, these have leaves all the way up the flower spike.
- Phalaenopsis, whose leaves are like great lolloping tongues hung over the edge of the pot.