About Growing Orchids

You don't need a greenhouse to grow orchids. There are many varieties that are adaptable to growing in the home, and with a little understanding of their native growth habits, you will find they will flourish and bloom. Many of the plants can be transferred to the patio or garden for the summer.

Orchids come from all parts of the world. They can be found high in the mountains, up in the tops of trees refreshed by tropical breezes, beside streams, beneath waterfalls, and often in meadows. The orchids that grow in trees or upon rocks are called epiphytes, they are air plants that get their nourishment from debris that collect in crooks of the branches or in rock crevices and from moisture in the air. They aren't parasites, these plants often have thickened leaves and stems to store water.

Other orchids grow on the ground and are called terrestrials, their roots are always moist though never soggy. The soil that they grow in drains rapidly so that the roots do not stand in water which would cause them to rot.

Orchids are quite different from other plants in their cultural needs and native habitat. That doesn't mean, however, that these plants are difficult or impossible to grow, they just require different care and understanding of their needs.

Orchids are not as attractive as many other foliage plants when they aren't blooming. The structure of the plants and leaves is functional but not noted for its beauty. These plants are best grown in an area where their cultural needs can be met. Then when they are in bloom can be placed in the house where their rare beauty can be enjoyed. Orchids can be placed with other plants in an attractive arrangement, or alone on a table. There isn't any doubt that the lovely plant will provoke many comments and will be the source of a great deal of satisfaction to you.

Everyone that grows orchids, whether it be a hobbyist or commercial grower, has their own opinion about the best kind of container for the plants. There are several alternatives, and your choice should be based on personal preference as well as your own habits in the watering and care of your orchid.

Clay pots still seem to be the standard container for growing. There are however special orchid pots with slits up the sides, but ordinary clay pots are quite adequate. The drainage hole should be enlarged somewhat to insure better drainage and aeration of the roots. Plastic pots are prefered by many growers, because the potting medium in plastic pots stays several degrees warmer than in clay. Note that watering schedules must be adjusted to take into consideration that fact that these pots retain moisture much more effectively than clay does and won't need to be watered as often. Many orchids can be grown in baskets or a redwood crate constructed with the pieces of wood fairly close together so that the soil can be well contained. They look very attractive in these types of containers.

In general the structure of orchids is the same as that of other plants, they have roots, stems, leaves and flowers, but they do differ in some respects. There are two types of growth in orchid plants: sympodial and monopodial. With sympodial growth there is a creeping stem (rhizome) from which the roots go down and the leaves and flowers go up. The rhizome is woody, and the new growth originates from the apex, usually after flowering, and generally there is only one new growth a year

Sympodial Orchid

The stem that rises from the rhizome is called a pseudobulb and is much thickened. Although it is not a true bulb, it functions as one, storing water and food. The shape of the pseudobulb varies in different types of orchids. Above the pseudobulb rise one to three leaves, depending on the kind. These leaves are usually leathery and almost succulent in nature and water loss is considerably less because of this.

There is a great variation in size, color, and shape of the leaves. Some are straplike, while others are broad and have a wide variation of color. As the new pseudobulbs form, the leaves on the back bulbs turn yellow and fall off over a period of years. Gradually the psesudobulb withers and turns yellow. When the plants are divided, this older portion is cut off and usually discarded.

The flower spikes come from within the folds of the leaves and are enclosed by sheaths (protective coverings). One or many flowers can be borne on one spike, and there is a wide and fascinating variation in the form and color of the flowers. The roots of the orchids grow down and out from the rhizome and are white and fleshy. Some of the roots won't grow into the potting medium and will extend over the pot, since these plants are not confined in nature, it is often hard to domesticate them. The other roots will weave in and out through the potting mix and absorb water and nutrients to sustain the plants. As the roots grow old, they will turn brown and can be cut off when the plant is repotted.

The other form of growth is monopodial, a plant with only one stem that grows continuously upward. Sometimes the stem is visible, and sometimes it is covered with leaves. As the plant grows upward the older leaves at the bottom turn yellow and fall off. In the monopodial type of growth, the plants do not produce pseudobulbs, so they do not have any water storage mechanism, therefore, the potting medium must always be kept moist and not allowed to dry out as the sympodials require. Also, the medium must be porous and fast draining or the roots may rot and the plant will die. The roots are white and fleshy, similar to the sympodials, and may be pale green when wet. Again, the old roots are brown. Many aerial roots are produced along the stem, and some will go into the potting soil, while others will go over the edge of the pot.

Monopodial Orchid

Flowers are produced in spikes from the leaf axils along the stem. More mature plants may produce several spikes each season and these plants don't make a sheath. The flower spikes can bear many flowers and will usually arch over the plant.