plant of the month
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Regardless of type, size or shape of orchid, blooms have six
“petals”—actually three sepals, two petals, and a third modified
petal that forms a lip.
Colors vary by genus, but collectively, orchids are available in
virtually every hue except blue-green and blue (white, cream,
purple, lavender, magenta, red, pink, orange,
peach/coral/apricot, yellow, green, brown and bicolors). Most
are bicolors, with spots or blotches on lips and/or petals.
With proper care and ideal environmental conditions, individual
orchid blooms can last for weeks, bloom spikes can last for
months and plants can last for years.
Most genera of orchids are available year-round from a variety
of sources around the world.
indoor and consumer
LIGHT Potted orchids require as
much bright indirect light as is available every day; however,
do not expose these plants to direct sunlight.
WATER The most common mistake
with potted orchids is overwatering. 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. Problems arise from
frequency of watering, not the amount of water. Frequency
will be affected by temperature, humidity, air circulation,
amount of light, 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 water can flow
out and roots and potting media won’t rot.
TEMPERATURE Most potted
orchids prefer daytime temperatures during the summer between 70
F and 80 F and nighttime temps between 60 F and 65 (all orchids
require cooler nighttime temperatures—at least 10 degrees lower
than daytime temperatures). During the 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 orchid plants.
HUMIDITY Orchids require
constantly humid air, so mist leaves 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 orchid plants.
Orchids will not tolerate hot, stuffy conditions, so make sure
there is good air movement in the room, especially in warmer
Some orchids, including Cymbidium and Phalaenopsis, are very
sensitive to ethylene while others, including Dendrobium, are
less sensitive; regardless, it is wise to protect all orchid
plants from exposure to ethylene.
FERTILIZER Fertilize potted
orchids that are in bloom every time you water (less often
during winter months), with an orchid fertilizer. It is best to
water orchid plants prior to feeding. At least once a month,
flush the potting medium with plain water to rinse away salt
buildups, especially with plants in clay pots. Do not feed
orchid plants that are not in bloom.
Orchid potting media generally include a combination of any or
all 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.
REPOTTING Orchids generally
like to be pot-bound, so don’t worry if a few roots grow outside
the pot. Repot these plants only when growth begins to suffer
and/or when the potting medium begins to decompose—usually every
two years. Use only a potting medium developed specifically for
orchids (see “Growing Media,” above).
GROOMING Remove blossoms
from the bloom spikes 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
REBLOOMING With proper care,
most orchid plants will rebloom although each genus of orchid
has its own flowering frequency, time and “triggers.”
The flowering of some orchids, including Phalaenopsis, is
triggered primarily by temperature. These plants will
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
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
If the spots are hard and dry, the plant has likely been
scorched by the sun. Move the plant out of direct
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 common sign of overfertilization and/or improper
This is either a result of exposure to direct sunlight or not
enough bright indirect light.
MOLD/MILDEW ON LEAVES
This is due to leaves being excessively misted or misted during
cool conditions, which prevents the moisture from evaporating
PLANT DOES NOT BLOOM
Failure of an orchid to rebloom is due to unfavorable
environmental conditions—most likely insufficient light
(especially if the plant is healthy) but also improper
temperatures, too low humidity, incorrect watering, too much
fertilizer, not enough air circulation, etc.
MASSES ON LEAVES
These masses are mealybug infestations. Remove the mealybug
masses with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol, then further clean
the affected areas with a cotton pad soaked with alcohol. Repeat
the procedure weekly until the infestation has been completely
The Orchidaceae (orchid) family is generally
conceded to be 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 or more genera of orchids, many of which are
intergeneric hybrids (crossbreeds).
Orchids have a vast array of growth habits, which they
have adapted from a variety of habitats. The most common
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
Lithophytic - grow on rocks
Terrestrial - grow on/in the ground
All of the orchids on
these pages are epiphytes; however, some species of
Arachnis, Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids are
also lithophytes; some Cymbidiums are also
terrestrial; and some Paphiopedilums and
Phalaenopses are also lithophytes and/or
Except for the few species that are self-pollinated,
most orchids are pollinated by insects or hummingbirds.
Some information provided
Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The, by Barbara
Chain of Life Network® ,
Dictionary of Plant Names, by Allen J. Coombes
Flora’s Orchids, by Ned Nash and Isobyl La Croix
House Plant Expert, The, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
Hortus Third, by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
New Pronouncing Dictionary of Plant Names by Florists’