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Past Articles Library | How to Grow Orchids the Right Way

Orchids have a reputation for being very hard to grow.  The plant finders of the 1800s did not help much.  They brought orchids home to England and placed them in hot, humid and unventilated houses.  The orchids didn’t stand a chance and died under these conditions.  It took nearly a hundred years for people to learn what conditions were needed to successfully grow orchids.

Most of the orchids that the plant finders brought back to England and Europe were epiphytes. These plants cling to other plants but do not touch the ground or harm their hosts.  They use the host strictly for a place to live.  Another name for epiphytes is air plants.  This is because they seemed to live on air alone.

Orchids have specific temperature requirements.  Different species of orchids have different temperature requirements.  Orchids can be classified into warm, intermediate, or cool growing.  If they are placed someplace that doesn’t meet their temperature, they refuse to bloom and may die.

Cool growing orchids want their night temperatures around fifty degrees F.  They want their daytime temperatures to be no higher than seventy degrees F.  Intermediate orchids want their night time temperatures to be around sixty degrees F.  They want their daytime temperatures of seventy to eighty-five degrees F.  Finally, warm orchids should have night temperatures of no lover than sixty-five degrees F and their daytime temperatures of seventy-five to eighty-five degrees.  During the summer, intermediate and warm orchids can stand temperatures up to eighty-five to ninety degrees as long as they have good air circulation.  Cool growing orchids are not that adaptable -- they want their temperatures to stay cool year round.

In order for orchids to flower, they must have a range of temperatures of ten to twenty degrees between their daytime temperatures and their night time temperatures.  Most people start out with growing intermediate temperature orchids because their temperature preferences closely match those of humans.  The temperature difference is especially crucial during the winter because that is when the orchid prepares to bloom.  You can achieve that temperature difference by moving the orchids someplace cool like a garage or porch during the night, then bringing inside during the day.

Orchards have specific light preferences, as well as the temperature preferences.  They like to be in bright, indirect light.  However, if the light is too intense, the orchid is injured.  It becomes sunburned, the foliage is yellow, and it appears weak and dehydrated.  If this happens, you must move the orchid to a place where it does not get so much direct sunlight.

Orchids have to be repotted occasionally.  You can tell it is repotting time when the orchid is top heavy; a shoot is growing outside the container, the potting mix has deteriorated, or the orchid needs dividing.

To safely repot your orchid, you carefully take it out of its pot, gently removing any shoots that have grown into the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.  Once you get the orchid out of the pot, carefully shake all the potting mix off of it.  Cut off yellow foliage and dead roots.  The dead roots will be dark and soft.

Choose a pot that is just slightly larger than the old pot.  This is because orchids like to be root bound.  Spread the roots evenly in the pot.  Fill in the spaces between the roots with a potting mix intended for orchids.  The potting mix needs to be porous.  Gently pack in the potting mix, making sure that all the roots stay in the pot.  Hold the plant up so it stays centered in the pot.  You can fill up to or just over the top roots.  Water the plant well and let it drain.  If your plant won’t stay up and centered in the pot, you can get orchid clips that hold the orchid in the pot.

You do not need to divide the orchid every time you repot it.  However, if it has gotten too root bound, or you want more orchid plants, then you can divide it.  Cut the tuber into pieces that have three developing stems, called pseudo bulbs.  Do not cut any of the pseudo bulbs off unless they are dead.  If they are green and look alive, leave them be.

Watering an orchid can be a bit tricky.  Water the plant until water flows out the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.  Then let the potting mix dry out before watering the plant again.  This usually takes a week.  Orchids need less water when they are dormant, so spread the watering out to every two weeks.

Orchids like a relatively high humidity (fifty percent or so).  You can spray them daily with water or use a humidifier.  During the growing season, fertilize the orchid with a liquid fertilizer that is mixed at half strength.  Do this every two weeks.

Orchids do not suffer from many problems if they have enough air circulating around them.  If an orchid does show signs of disease or pests, immediately remove it from other orchids and place it in isolation.  If it is a bug, such as mealy bugs, scale, or aphids, you can remove most of the pests by brushing the top and bottom of each leaf and bloom to remove the pests. If that does not control the pests, you will have to use a pesticide to kill them.

After the plant is free of pests or diseases, leave it in isolation for two to four weeks to make sure the pests are really gone.  If you see no further sign of the pests at that point, you can return it to its old spot.

If the orchid gets a bacterial or fungal infection, your culture is at fault.  Make sure that the orchids are getting enough air circulation.  Check to see if you have watered too much and caused root rot.  You will have to consult a professional such as your Extension agent to find out what disease has infected your orchid and what the treatment should be.


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Planting Depth

As a general rule, most bulbs are planted at a depth that is equal to 3 times their diameter at their widest point.

Tulips like to be planted about 6 inches (15.2 cm) deep and 4-6 inches (10.2-15.2 cm) apart.

Always plant bulbs as soon as possible after purchase to prevent them from drying out.

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