Orchid growing is a hobby that has been gaining in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Orchid plants bear some of the most exquisitely beautiful flowers, and over time, more and more varieties of orchids are being widely cultivated and sold, bringing their price down. Many of these orchids, especially domesticated hybrids, are also relatively hardy and can be grown at home without expensive greenhouse equipment. However, many of the commonly grown orchids or their wild parents originate in the tropics, and therefore do best in tropical conditions. Therefore, for orchid growers in temperate climates, some simple and inexpensive measures may be needed to grow orchids indoors during the cold season. Among other things, plant grow lights will help your orchids thrive during long dark winters when you have to bring them indoors.
In choosing the best grow lights for orchids, you will have to keep in mind the kinds of orchids you will be rearing, and how much you want to spend. For some less finicky orchids that thrive in relatively less light, you can get by with a very cheap grow light system. In fact, that is what I do with my potted orchids, as I do not want to invest big bucks in plant grow lights. Strictly speaking, the lights I use are not grow lights for plants. I use Philips Natural Sunshine fluorescent lights to good effect, but it appears other types of fluorescent lights will also work as indoor growing lights for orchids. Some people say that they have had good results having a 50/50 mix of full spectrum and cool white fluorescent bulbs.
Using fluorescent bulbs, I have been able to grow and bloom a number of orchid species and hybrids including Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, Cattleya and Oncidium. Unless you can invest in a greenhouse setup or live in a warmer climate, it might be best to stay away from Cymbidiums, Vandas and other more finicky orchids. I think it also helps that I place my orchids near a south facing window in the winter so that they at least get some natural light.
As to the actual setup, I have a metal rack with three shelves. I have attached 2 light fixtures holding 2 bulbs each below the top two shelves, for a total of 4 lights on each level. This allows me to have the orchids on two levels, below each set of lights. I set the lights on timers so that they are on 10 hours a day. Some growers recommend 12 to 16 hours of light a day, but I am trying to keep down my electricity bill.
The added lighting in winter has certainly helped some of the orchids to do really well in terms of putting out lots of blooms - especially the Phalaenopsis plants. For some of the others, I have had more mixed results, but what seems to be key is to make sure that they get adequate light in the summer as well, when the put the plants outside in the backyard. In years where I have put them in more exposed locations outside in the summer, the orchids have bloomed really well after I brought them indoors and put them under my fluorescent grow lights at winter. This includes the Paphiopedilums and the Cattleyas. However, some years when they were under heavy shade even when outside during the summer, these orchids didn’t do so well. Of course, orchids don’t like to be under the direct sun during the hotter part of the day, so you want them to be partly shaded, but it does seem to make a difference if they are in a well lit location outdoors during the summer. Then they can really put on a grand show during the blooming season (winter or spring) when you supplement their light levels with fluorescent grow lights indoors.
Bottom line is, you don’t need to invest a ton of money in growing your orchids under grow lights, as long as you pick orchids that are not too finicky, and make sure that they get decent natural light in the summer when you put them outdoors.