Category: Orchids

An Orchid Primer

An Orchid Primer

An array of Phalaenopsis orchids
An array of prize-winning Phalaenopsis orchids

According to the calendar, Spring has arrived in Chester, but a deep blanket of snow still covers gardens in our area so outdoor planting will have to wait.  As impatient gardeners turn their attention to indoor gardens instead, some of the more adventurous are opting to grow a wide variety of indoor container plants, including exotics. This post may serve as a primer for those who have never grown orchids.  Click on the images to bring them up to a larger and sharper focus.

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Orchids lend themselves to charming centrepieces.
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A delicate composition: orchids, coral and seashells.

Information provided by the Canadian Orchid Congress shows that the orchid family contains about 20,000 to 25,000 species;  that is, more species and with more diversification than any other family of plants. Some of the more common species sold by growers are tropical epiphytes, plants that grow upon other plants. Their roots cling to branches of trees and obtain water only in rain or fog, which is why experienced orchid growers follow the old dictum “water weakly, weekly”. Over-watering can be deadly for orchids.

Phalaenopsis description
Phalaenopsis description

Among the genuses available commercially are Phalaenopsis (“moth” orchid, one of the easiest to grow at home); Dendrobium (often used in corsages and bouquets); and Vanda Alliance (often grown in light shade in warm climates).  Cattleya, and Oncidium are also popular. Oncidium are often called “dancing ladies” because of their many small flowers with big skirts that dance in the breeze – well, maybe in Florida!

Care and Feeding of Orchids

Phalaenopsis are ‘low’ light orchids that do beautifully in an east-facing window. According to the American Orchid Society, its leaves should be olive green. Darker green means that the plant is not getting enough light, and redish-tinged leaves means there is too much light.

Plastic orchid liner pot
Plastic orchid liner pot

Orchids require a fast-draining but water-retentive medium. This is usually a bark-based mix but other mediums such as peat may be used. Orchids are usually set in a special plastic orchid pot that is light-weight and perforated for drainage. The orchid pot can then be placed inside a decorative pot.  The roots will search their way out through the slots and over the top of the pot as well. Experienced growers advise re-potting orchid plants about every two or three years.

Orchids do not like wet feet and beginners are warned not to overwater. To learn how to keep the plant “evenly moist”, experts suggest first letting the plant go dry so that you will know the weight of the plant and pot together; then, add a small amount of water and, with some practice, you can estimate the amount of moisture in the pot by judging the added weight.

Dendrobium with bold blooms
Vanda Alliance display
Vanda Alliance display

Orchids should be fed regularly, but only with a weak balanced (20-20-20) fertilizer. Avoid fertilizers containing urea and do not fertilize a dry plant as it may burn the roots.

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Composition seen at the Naples Orchid Society show and sale.
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A variety of Dendrobium with tiny curled flowers.







Orchids enjoy growing in the same temperatures as we keep our houses – above 15°C at night and between 20°C and 25°C during the day. In winter, be sure to keep leaves from touching cold windows.

To whet your appetite as an orchid grower, we’re attaching a gallery that gives just a sample of the many types of orchids that grow from the Arctic to the Equator. Most of the photos in this post were taken at the Naples Orchid Society’s  Show and Sale – Orchids on the Half-Shell – which was held in February this year.

For gardeners of a certain age, the orchid was always considered an exotic plant that belonged to other far-away tropical climes. In recent years, however, orchids have enjoyed a surge of popularity across North America and are now regularly sold in greenhouses and even in supermarkets, at northern latitudes. Their flowers are highly adapted for attracting insects to achieve pollination and, judging from their proliferation, they seem to be successful in attracting humans to assist in their propagation as well.

IMG_0603Much more information on the growing of orchids is available in books and online. Two reliable sites are run by the two national orchid societies: the Canadian Orchid Congress (an association of orchid societies from across the country) and the American Orchid Society.       and

These organizations produce websites that contain a wealth of information on the cultivation of orchids, along with conservation, shows and events, and newsletters. They are also on Facebook (look for Orchid Journal  and American Orchid Society).