Friday, September 21, 2007

Grow Orchids Like a Pro

Don't be intimidated by growing orchids. These regal plants are one of the most rewarding and easy to grow houseplants. Also, most of them bloom during winter or early spring, just when all of us are eager to see some warm, tropical colors. Two of the easiest kinds to grow are Oncidiums and the Dendrobium phalaenopsis hybrids. One of the more appealing features of orchids is that given reasonable care, they will continue to grow bigger and better every year. As they develop more divisions, they will produce blossom spikes. A fully developed, 10 year old orchid is a spectacular sight to see. Even before it reaches this size, it can be divided and shared with friends. Orchid care tips Each variety of orchid that you grow will require slight differences in its environment, but they will all respond to the same basic care instructions. Light Orchids require bright light and should optimally be placed in a southern or southeastern window. For those with limited window space, artificial light may be supplemented. Group your orchids together in the window or under the light but allow them "elbow" room so that the light is evenly distributed on the leaf surface of each plant. Healthy, happy orchids are bright green; deep green color on the leaves indicates that light levels are insufficient for the plant to bloom. Areas with poor lighting may be intensified by surrounding the plants with reflective materials. For better light absorption, keep the leaf surfaces clean by wiping them occasionally with a damp cloth. Humidity Orchids require 50-70% humidity in the growing environment. If the air is dry where you live, you may increase the humidity by placing the containers on trays of pebbles filled with water or by misting the plants and the surrounding air in the mornings. Avoid using chemically softened water to mist or water the orchids. Air circulation Air movement is also of the utmost importance. Fans should be placed in the room to circulate the air. Periodically move the fans to different locations in the room to simulate the changing of winds in the natural world. Heating and air conditioning vents are not considered simulated winds and should not be directed at the growing orchids. Water Water on a regular basis, but allow the plants to dry out somewhat between waterings. Either rain or tap water may be used, but make sure that the water is room temperature. The easiest way to water is to either plunge the container into a bucket of water or to place the container under a running faucet, flushing out dust and other foreign particles while drenching the soil. Remember to water the container and not the foliage or the flowers. Most importantly, avoid overwatering. Fertilizer Use an evenly balanced fertilizer (10-10-10 or 20-20-20) or any liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength to feed orchids that are grown in a soil mix. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer if you are growing orchids in a bark mix. Bark is a decomposing material and requires a higher nitrogen formula to assist in the breakdown process. Fish emulsion is a natural, organic fertilizer that may be used to feed the orchids in place of the complete formulas. Dilute the fertilizer and apply it to the orchids more frequently than recommended. Once the leaves mature, the plants will enter a more dormant like phase and will require less food and water. You may resume the regular feeding and watering once growth resumes and new shoots or flowers appear. Temperature Orchids grow in varying temperatures depending on their natural environment. Those that grow in lower elevations will prefer warmer temperatures than those that normally grow at higher altitudes. The home environment may range in temperature from 50-90 degrees, with adjustments made in between. Whatever their normal daytime temperature needs may be, most orchids will benefit from a 10-15 degree drop in temperatures during the evening to mimic nature. Lower the thermostat, open a window, or allow the orchid to live outdoors during the late summer and early fall to experience the natural temperature fluctuations of the late summer night air.

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