Growing orchids can be easy if you know about their culture requirements. Found in the forests at the foothills of the Himalayas, Assam and in some parts of Karnataka in India as well as other parts of the world, these plants are epiphytes and grow attached to branches and rocks, soaking up moisture and stray rays of the sun that are filtered through the chinks in the foliage. They generally thrive and flower prolifically in warm and humid climates, which receive a fair amount of rainfall. But wherever you may live, you can provide orchids with these conditions by growing them under controlled conditions.
Fortunately for us orchid lovers, providing these conditions is no mean feat. Orchids grow in temperatures that are comfortable for us to live in. So if our homes are warm and comfortable for us, they can also provide the ideal growth conditions for orchids. Finding the perfect balance between humidity, air circulation, moisture, and light will help your plants thrive and bloom year after year, bringing joy and feeling rewarded for the time and effort that has gone into their care.
Listed below are the most important factors that will help your orchids mature and bloom once, twice or even three times a year, depending on the type of orchid:
Light is a crucial factor, not only for the growth of your orchids, but also for blooming them. In nature, orchids grow on tree tops in diffused light, there are several genera like the Vandas, Cattleyas and Dendrobiums that require bright light for their optimal growth. On the other hand, Phalaenopsis, Oncidiums and others have lower light requirements.
You may have often noticed that some of your orchids grow year after year into lush healthy plants, but do not produce blooms. This indicates that you are not fulfilling their light requirements adequately. Placing your plants in diffused or indirect light streaming through an east or north facing window will fulfil these requirements. If this is not available, you can invest in low cost LED panels to provide the same.
Humidity and air
Orchids love humidity, and draw moisture from the air in their humid native habitat. They thrive in such conditions as opposed to dry conditions. As hobbyists, we need to constantly improvise to provide humidity to plants, based on the seasons. Layering the pots with moss, adding humidity trays, keeping a water fountain or misting your orchids with a spray, or investing in a humidifier will help in providing them with a humid environment. This will ensure that your plants remain fresh and healthy.
Along with humidity, arises the issue of increased bacterial and fungal infections. To keep these at bay and provide a healthy atmosphere, it is important that the plants receive fresh drafts of air through good air circulation, especially if your grow space is indoors. In case of the latter, you can switch on a fan to keep the excess humidity in check and ensure plants do not become vulnerable due to long periods of dampness. If you do not want to grow them indoors, you can grow them on your windowsill, but will need to provide humidity trays layered with LECA.
Most orchids thrive in moderately warm temperatures between18-28 degrees Celsius. Cool growers like Miltoniopsis, Dracula, Masdevalia, Calanthe, Cymbidium and many others prefer lower temperatures between 16-22 degrees Celsius. Providing the right temperature is extremely important for them to grow well.
Apart from this, a significant fall in temperature between day and night time will trigger blooming in these orchids. Orchids are sensitive to sudden temperature changes, leading to stress and bud blast. The blooms may also wither with even a short exposure to sudden shift in temperature. Reading up on temperature preferences of a particular orchid genus and keeping a watchful eye on how your orchids respond to a slight shift in temperature will help you gauge which is the most suitable range for their optimal growth and blooming.
Found growing on trees and rocky surfaces in their natural habitat, orchids have roots covered with a succulent sheath called velamen that draws moisture from the air. The roots, which are thin and wiry, then absorb the moisture from the velamen, thereby keeping the plant hydrated. It is due to this reason that orchids do not need daily watering (which definitely saves us a lot of hard work!), but can grow well by watering them once or twice a week depending on their requirement.
More orchids get killed due to overwatering than leaving them dry for extended periods. A good way to gauge your orchid’s watering needs is to check their roots. If they are green in colour, then they are well hydrated. Watering plants that are already saturated with moisture will result in rotting of roots, leading to a major setback for the plant.
On the other hand, if the roots are silvery grey or white in colour, then they need to be watered. A good way to water your plants would be to soak the pots for a few minutes until the velamen turns green due to saturation with water. Ensure that the topmost layer of the medium does not get wet. Doing this will prevent water getting into new growths or sheaths of mature pseudobulbs that are just above the medium and very susceptible to rotting.
In nature, orchids get their nutrition from bird and insect droppings, which are carried down by rain water. Since the nutritional requirements of orchids are not fulfilled by the media/substrate such as bark, LECA pellets and moss, as opposed to the nutrient dense soil that provide nutrition to regular plants, there is a need to administer organic or inorganic fertilizers at regular intervals (weekly or fortnightly) for their healthy development and blooming.
Fertilizers with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N, P, K, respectively) in equal proportions, such as 20:20:20, coupled with Calcium and Magnesium and other trace minerals will help your orchids thrive. The concentration/dilution in terms of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) can vary from 110 to 200 to 350 depending on the genera. It would be best to invest in a TDS Meter for measuring the strength accurately as orchids are extremely sensitive to root burn, which is commonly caused by higher concentrations of fertilizers.
While these are the major factors for orchid culture and care, there are other factors I will be covering in my next post, such as orchid repotting, maintenance, spike and bloom care, supplies and expenditure, as well as growing your collection, which will give your orchid hobby a boost.
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Till my next, happy growing!