The first time I ever fully understood the beauty of orchids was when I went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens where over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids are displayed. That doesn’t even scratch the surface, though: According to Gardeners.com, there are 30,000 different species and 200,000 hybrids around the world, making it the largest body of flowering plants. The main reason is because they’re adaptable. Orchids can survive in several growing conditions, though most are native to the tropics—lucky us! In their natural habitat, orchids grow on the barks of other trees or the surface of other plants. You might be surprised to know that they grow high up, instead of on the ground, which means they need a lot of sunlight and air circulation.
There are two common categories of orchids: monopodial and sympodial. Monopodial orchids are characterized as having a “single, upright stem with leaves arranged opposite each other along the stem. The flower stem appears from the base of the uppermost leaves.” Sympodial orchids, on the other hand, “grow horizontally, sending out new shoots from the [rootstocks].”
How to plant orchids: Caring for orchids
As you can imagine, it’s hard to talk about orchid plant care if there are 30,000 species. But an orchid’s appearance can actually help you gauge what they need in terms of sunlight, water, and growing medium. If the orchid barely has any leaves or the leaves seem leathery, these plants need a lot of sunlight. But if the orchid has soft and somewhat limp leaves, it might be more sensitive to light. Next, check if the orchid has “pseudobulbs”—a thickening in the plant’s stem located between leaf nodes: If it has big pseudobulbs, don’t water it too much, but if there are none, you can be more generous about it.
General tips for orchid plant care:
- As mentioned, unlike houseplants you’re familiar with, orchids love lots of light. To keep your orchid healthy, it needs around 12 to 14 hours of sunlight every day.
- They prefer spaces with high humidity and air circulation, so if you’re keeping them indoors, make sure they are still getting these two things.
- Like most plants, orchids can tolerate dehydration more than they can survive over watering. Remember: Air circulation is key to an orchid’s survival. Water your orchid once a week to stay on the safe side. Let your growing medium dry out between waterings, and there shouldn’t be any excess water touching your plant’s roots.
- Growing mediums don’t have a lot of nutrients, so you have to fertilize your orchids. You can simply use a liquid fertilizer as you would with your other houseplants.
How to plant orchids: Repotting
Always enjoy your orchid’s bloom first. It’s crucial that you do not try to repot a flowering plant. When it’s ready, cut the dead flower pike and repot the plant. Orchids actually have specific pots; most houseplants prefer well-draining pots with holes at the bottom, orchid pots have slits so you should expect water to run through the pot. The potting mixture is also very specific, leaning towards chunky ingredients like sand, pine bark, charcoal, and even styrofoam.
When you’re repotting your orchid, check the roots: Is it white and firm? This means it’s healthy. With sterilized snippers, cut away any blackened spots you see on the roots. Fill the pot with the orchid mixture and firmly set the plant in. You don’t have to worry about anchoring it because eventually, the new roots will take care of that.
How to plant orchids: Propagation
Propagating orchids can be pretty challenging because their seeds can’t store nutrients. Basically, they have to be in an environment that has a certain type of fungi that can work with its roots to convert nutrients it can actually benefit from. Sounds complicated, right? You have to create super sterile conditions if you’re going to attempt to work with orchid seeds. Gardeners.com says you’ll need to grow the seeds in a “gelatinous substance that contains nutrients and growth hormones.” And it’ll take months before you see some leaves develop—through a magnifying glass—so you need to be patient. Expect a bloom in three to eight years, so you better be in it for the long haul.
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