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Orchids

Orchids at South Florida, Tropical Research and Education Center, Homestead. Photo by Eric Zamora

Orchids. Many of us are intimidated by these plants, because we have heard that they are difficult to grow and require a lot of effort for only one bloom per year. This is not always the case. There are many species and hybrids of orchids to choose from that grow well in Florida and flower profusely with minimum care.

Orchids come in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and styles. It is true that some are more difficult to grow than others. A beginner orchid enthusiast should ask themselves four questions, (1) How much time can I spend on orchids? (2) How much money is available? (3) Do I have or am willing to build a hobby greenhouse? and (4) Do I have a suitable growing area for the orchids? The answers to these questions will depend on what type of orchids you should grow.

However, there are six orchid genera, which are widely recommended for homeowners because of their adaptability, ease of growing, and beautiful flowers. They are great for beginner orchid growers. They are: Cattleya , Phalaenopsis , Dendrobium , Oncidium , Vanda and Epidendrum .

Most orchids require partial shade for optimum growth and flowering. High light intensities can cause the foliage to yellow, and frequently may burn the leaves. Growing the plants in the shade of trees, in a shaded greenhouse, under eaves of houses, or on a patio is recommended.

Orchids are not grown in soil. They have traditionally been grown in clay pots with osmunda fiber. Osmunda fiber can be quite expensive, so other media such as chopped tree fern fiber, certain bark materials, porous stone (volcanic stone), peat, charcoal and combinations of these materials can be used successfully. Plastic pots can also be used in place of clay pots. They type of growing media and pot used will depend on how often the orchids need watered. For example, osmunda fiber and peat moss have a much greater water holding capability than charcoal or stone.

So, then how often should orchids be watered exactly? Well, this is one question to which there is no one set answer. Watering frequency depends on such factors as pot size and type (plastic or clay), growing media, location of the pot (hanging or bench), size of the plant in the pot, air circulation, shade levels, and general environment in the growing area. As a general rule, plants grown in small pots dry more rapidly than those grown in large pots, therefore requiring water more frequently. Also plants grown in porous clay pots should receive water more often than those grown in plastic pots. When watering, saturate each pot so that moisture drains from the bottom of the pot and then do not water again until the surface of the medium becomes dry.

Fertilization is required for orchids in order to obtain maximum flowering. Orchids that are grown in tree fern, osmunda, peat, charcoal, or stone (which are slow to decompose) a complete fertilizer with a 1-1-1 ratio should be used. Since bark decomposes rapidly it competes with the plant for available nitrogen; therefore, a 3-1-1 ratio fertilizer is recommended to compensate for this problem. Both 1-1-1 and 3-1-1 fertilizers are available in soluble, dry or slow release formulations.

Orchids need to be protected from cold temperatures. Temperatures below 50°F can cause cold damage to the orchids. Like other plants, orchids are also susceptible to a number of insect and disease problems. However, in comparison with other ornamental plants, orchids are surprisingly less affected by them. Should pest problems arise, contact the Osceola County Master Gardeners for a diagnosis and control.

Now you are ready to grow your very own orchids, but are concerned about prices. It’s true that orchids can be affordable. Contrary to common belief, orchid plants may be purchased at prices comparable to other flowering pot plants; and when a few basic cultural requirements are met, any orchid will satisfy the owner for many years.

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