plant of the month
Regardless of type (genus) or size, orchid blooms have six “petals”—actually three sepals, two petals and a third modified petal that forms a lip. In some types of orchids, such as Paphiopedilums, the two lower sepals are fused and appear as a single structure.
Hues vary among orchid types, but collectively, these exotic blooms are available naturally in virtually every color except blue-green and blue. Many are bicolors, with spots or blotches on lips and/or “petals.” Dyes and other color enhancements increase the range of available hues.
With proper care and environmental conditions, individual orchid blooms can last for weeks, bloom spikes can last for months and plants can last for years.
Most types of orchids are available year-round from sources around the world.
in-store and consumer care
LIGHT Potted orchids require bright indirect light every day; however, do not expose these plants to direct sunlight.
Most orchid plants (except Cattleyas and Miltonias) require an evenly moist—but not waterlogged—growing medium, so water plants regularly.
• Thoroughly soak the potting medium during each watering, then allow to drain. Frequency will be determined by air temperature, humidity, air circulation, type of pot (plastic or clay) and type of potting medium. With Cattleyas and Miltonias, allow the potting medium to become fairly dry between waterings.
• For best results, water orchid plants in the morning.
• Water orchids less frequently during winter months.
• Orchids must have pots with good drainage so that water can flow out and roots and potting medium won’t rot.
Most orchid types prefer daytime temperatures during the summer between 70 F and 85 F and nighttime temps between 60 F and 70 F (all orchids require cooler nighttime temperatures—at least 10 degrees lower than daytime temperatures). During winter months, daytime temps can drop to as low as 60 F and nighttime temps to 55 F; however, cold drafts and prolonged exposure to temperatures lower than 50 F can damage orchids.
Orchids require constantly humid air, so mist leaves (not blooms) lightly but regularly with distilled water (to prevent spots on leaves), preferably in the morning; place pots on pebble trays; place open bowls of water near the plants; or run a humidifier in the room. Avoid misting Vanda orchids.
Orchids will not tolerate hot, stuffy conditions, so make sure there is good air movement in the room, especially in warmer environments.
Some orchids, including Cymbidiums and Phalaenopses, are very sensitive to ethylene while others, including Dendrobiums, are less sensitive. To be safe, make sure your plants are treated with an antiethylene agent by growers or during shipping, and protect all plants from exposure to ethylene in your facility.
Fertilize blooming orchids every other watering (less often during winter months), with a specially formulated orchid food. Always water orchid plants prior to feeding; never fertilize a dry plant. Every month or so, flush the potting medium with water to rinse away salt buildups, especially with plants in clay pots. Do not feed plants that are not in bloom.
Orchid potting media generally include any combination of the following ingredients: fir, pine or redwood tree bark; coconut husks/coir fiber; Sphagnum moss and/or peat moss; perlite, vermiculite or similar material; gravel and/or sand; and charcoal. These materials won’t compact around the roots (allowing air to circulate), and many retain moisture.
It is normal for orchid roots to grow outside the pot, so repot these plants only when the potting medium begins to decompose—usually every two years—and do so only after a blooming cycle. Use a potting medium developed specifically for orchids (see “Growing Medium”).
Remove blossoms as they fade. Periodically, wipe the topsides and undersides of plant leaves with warm soapy water to remove dust as well as insects that may hide on the plants. Wipe with the grain of the leaves. Do not use leaf shine on orchid foliage.
When all the blooms have faded, cut the stem(s) to about 2 inches. This will enable some plants to rebloom from both the base and from the existing stem, producing multiple spikes during future blooming.
Each type of orchid has its own flowering frequency, time and “triggers.”
• The flowering of some orchids, including Phalaenopses, is triggered primarily by temperature. These plants will initiate bloom spikes (given enough light) when the nights start to get cooler.
• Other genera, including Cattleya, are triggered primarily by light. It is important that these plants not be exposed to artificial light at night because it will confuse them and interrupt flowering.
• Still other genera have internal blooming clocks and will bloom on their own schedules rather than being triggered by temperature or light.
BROWN SPOTS / CRINKLES ON LEAVES If the spots are hard and dry, the plant has likely been scorched by the sun. Move the plant out of direct sunlight, and do not try to cut away the spots. If the spots are soft, the plant has a fungal disease or viral infection, and you should immediately remove all affected parts with a sterilized knife or other cutting tool.
BROWN LEAF TIPS
This is a sign of overfertilization and/or improper watering.
This is another result of exposure to direct sunlight or not enough bright indirect light.
MOLD / MILDEW ON LEAVES
Excessive misting or misting during cool conditions, which prevents the moisture from evaporating quickly, is the probable cause.
PLANT DOES NOT BLOOM
Failure to rebloom is due to unfavorable environmental conditions—most likely insufficient light (especially if the plant is healthy) but also improper temperatures, insufficient humidity, incorrect watering, too much fertilizer, not enough air circulation, etc. (See “Indoor and Consumer Care: Reblooming.”)
WHITE COTTONY-LOOKING MASSES ON LEAVES
These masses are mealybug infestations. Remove the mealybug masses with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol, then further clean the affected areas with a cotton pad soaked with alcohol. Repeat the procedure weekly until the infestation has been eliminated.
To view 7 additional blooming orchid varieties, please download the pdf.
If you have trouble viewing these PDF (portable document format) files, download a copy of the free Adobe Reader.
The Orchidaceae (orchid) family is the largest family of flowering plants in terms of number of species (estimated to be as many as 30,000). It also is estimated that there are as many as 800 genera of orchids, many of which are intergeneric hybrids (crossbreeds).
Orchids have a vast array of growth habits, adapted from a variety of habitats. The most common are:
• Epiphytic - grow on the branches or trunks of trees and other plants, above the ground. They extract nutrients and moisture from air, dust, dead bark, leaf litter and so on. They do not feed on the living tissue of their hosts.
• Lithophytic - grow on rocks
• Terrestrial - grow on/in the ground
All of the orchids on these pages are epiphytes; however, some species of Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids also can be lithophytes; some Cymbidiums also can be terrestrial; and some Paphiopedilums and Phalaenopses also can be lithophytes and terrestrial.
Except for the few species that are self-pollinated, most orchids are pollinated by insects or hummingbirds.
Information provided by:
Botanica, by R.J. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Chain of Life Network® , www.chainoflife.org
Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The,
by Barbara Pleasant
Flora’s Orchids, by Ned Nash and Isobyl la Croix
Growing Orchids, by I.D. James
Hortus Third, by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
House Plant Expert, The, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
Orchid Basics, by Isobyl la Croix
Orchid Expert, The, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
Orchid Growing Basics, by Dr. Gustav Schoser
Orchids: Care and Cultivation,
by Gérald Leroy-Terquem and Jean Parisot
Orchid Specialist, The, by David Squire
Silver Vase, www.silvervase.com
Worldwide Orchids, www.worldwideorchids.com
Photo: The John Henry Company