It's easy to grow orchids in your home

January 01, 2008|By ANNETTE IPSAN

Close your eyes. Picture an orchid. Now describe it. You probably used words like beautiful, fragrant, exotic or colorful. Now imagine that orchid growing in your home. "Impossible," you say. Not so. Many orchids are easy to grow and require minimal care.

Phalaenopsis (fayl-eh-NOP-sis) orchids are the easiest to grow. I have several happily budding on my windowsill at home. Phalaenopsis orchids have round faces with smooth edges. They are the ones commonly featured in silk floral designs in all those home dcor magazines.

Now is the time when phalaenopsis orchids typically bloom - January and February. And they keep blooming for two to three months. That's right. Three months. All you need to do is give them the conditions they like and they will reward you with gorgeous, long-lasting blooms year after year.

What are those ideal conditions? Phalaenopsis orchids like bright light - direct or indirect - and a reasonably warm room. Mine are quite happy in a sunny southeast-facing window in a room that stays between 60 and 70 degrees.


Phalaenopsis orchids hate being overwatered. I give mine just a few tablespoons of water a week. Some orchid-loving friends pop their orchids in the sink and gently run water through them until the potting mix is damp. The goal is moist, not soggy.

Fertilizer is all-important. I use special orchid fertilizer, available at most garden centers. I mix it half-strength (follow the directions on the label), a gallon at a time in a recycled water jug. This delivers a consistent dose of fertilizer with each watering.

It's also crucial to use the right potting mix. All orchids are epiphytes, which means they draw their moisture and nutrients from the air, not the soil. In their natural habitats, orchids spend most of their time hanging out in trees.

So, orchids need a special potting mix that isn't soil at all. They just need a loose medium that will hold moisture and offer support. Most orchid mixes are made of chunks of bark, bits of charcoal, and other fillers like peat or plastic packing peanuts.

Some orchid aficionados swear by special orchid pots with holes cut in the sides for air circulation. Other orchid fans don't use them, including me. They do look rather spectacular with orchids' roots popping through, but aren't necessary.

Orchids' roots are a novelty in their own right. Since they absorb nutrients from the air, not the soil, they may go up, down, around or right over the edge of your pot. They remind me a bit of Audrey from "Little Shop of Horrors." This only adds to their intrigue.

But, oh, those beautiful blooms. Which will you choose? Pure white with a crimson throat? Pale yellow with rose veining? Fiery magenta? The variety is endless with new phalaenopsis cultivars being developed each year.

Maybe you will venture to the more exotic orchids such as the dendrobium, cymbidium, cattleya or lady slippers. Forms vary from 6-inch ruffled blooms to cascades of tiny stars. And oh the fragrances from subtle spiciness to cloying sweetness. Pick up any book on orchids or visit a well-stocked garden center and be prepared to be overwhelmed.

It's easy to go overboard on orchids. If you do, you aren't alone. There are orchid societies all over the globe. The American Orchid Society's Web site,, is a good place to learn more.

Public gardens often highlight orchid collections. Longwood Gardens has an outstanding orchid room in one of its conservatories and a collection that numbers in the thousands. The U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., has an annual orchid show in February. Any public display is an excellent opportunity to see, enjoy and learn about orchids.

So, be bold. Try an orchid. It might become a delightful new obsession.

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