When deciding to grow orchids, it’s crucial to provide them with conditions that closely resemble their natural habitat. Even if you make every effort to keep your orchids alive, they’re unlikely to thrive if the environment doesn’t match their needs. It’s best to choose orchids that are well-suited to your local climate and environment and consider factors like temperature, light, ventilation, heating, and humidity when caring for them.
Orchids can be purchased from various outlets, including garden centers, nurseries, supermarkets, and specialist orchid nurseries. Each of these places has its advantages and disadvantages, and it’s essential to buy the right orchid for your conditions.
If you purchase an orchid from a general retailer, make sure to inspect it closely and ask when it was delivered to the store. Since the retailer may not be a specialist, the orchid might not have been handled properly over its shelf-life. Garden centers are a better option, as they often have orchid specialists on hand to provide expert advice and demonstrations on caring for the plants they specialize in.
Specialist orchid nurseries offer a wide range of orchid plants that have been expertly maintained by staff members with experience in caring for specific species of orchids. They often provide free telephone assistance and offer orchid care demonstrations and classes.
Orchid shows and exhibitions organized by local orchid societies are also great places to purchase orchids and obtain information on orchid care, cultivation, equipment, and resources.
While orchids can also be purchased online, buyers should be cautious and do their research to ensure they receive high-quality plants.
The optimal cultivation of orchids depends on crucial factors such as temperature, light, ventilation, heating, and humidity, which ultimately determine the suitability of an environment for a particular orchid species to thrive.
There are three main types of orchids that can be cultivated based on their preferred climate conditions. The temperature requirements for each group reflect the lowest night-time temperature that the orchid can tolerate for prolonged periods. If the maximum temperature level is exceeded, the orchid will become stressed.
Cool-climate orchids come from chilly mountain areas where the average temperature remains low even in summer. These orchids require a day-time temperature range between 18°C and 27°C (65-80°F) and a night-time temperature range between 8°C and 16°C (52-60°F).
Moderate-climate orchids grow in similar conditions, but at lower altitudes than cool-climate orchids. They require a day-time temperature range between 20°C and 24°C (68-75°F) and a night-time temperature range between 13°C and 16°C (58-60°F).
Warm-climate orchids are found in tropical and subtropical areas and prefer consistent warmth throughout the year with minor temperature fluctuations. These orchids require a day-time temperature range between 24°C and 27°C (75-80°F) and a night-time temperature range between 18°C and 20°C (65-68°F).
Moderate temperature fluctuations are beneficial for all orchids, and monitoring minimum and maximum temperatures is crucial for healthy growth. Extreme conditions for extended periods can inhibit growth. In case of sudden midsummer heat waves or cold spring evenings, orchids should be sheltered in cooler locations with sufficient humidity.
Most orchids require several hours of sunlight, but intense direct sunlight can be harmful. Cool-white fluorescent tubes can be used indoors to create the correct quality and intensity of light. Cattleya orchids, Laelia orchids, and Vandaceous orchids can tolerate direct sunlight, but most prefer dappled or filtered sunlight. Outdoor orchids should be placed in a shady spot with gentle early morning or late afternoon light, shade cloth can be used to provide additional shelter.
Most orchids, including the popular species, grow in environments with intense sunlight at the tree canopy level, but filtered by the thick plant growth lower down the trunk. When selecting orchid plants to cultivate, it’s important to consider their positioning relative to windows in your home if you plan to have an indoor garden, and the seasonal direction and intensity of sunlight. Like most plants, several hours of sunlight are essential for orchids, and the correct quality and intensity of light is crucial for your particular orchid.
Some orchid species, such as Cattleya, Laelia, and Vandaceous orchids, can tolerate prolonged periods of direct sunlight, while most prefer dappled or filtered sunlight. You can achieve this easily in a home garden by using blinds or curtains, or by using cool-white fluorescent tubes hung directly above the plants.
If you plan to grow your orchids outdoors, find a shady spot with gentle early morning or late afternoon light, as full midday sunlight would be too intense. You can also use shade-cloth to protect your orchids.
Most orchid varieties require good air circulation to thrive, but it’s important to avoid placing them directly in the path of a cold draft from a window or air conditioner. An open window providing a gentle breeze is ideal, and you can use a small oscillating fan to keep the indoor atmosphere fresh. Stagnant air should be avoided, as free-flowing and gentle summer breezes are great for orchids. However, be cautious not to subject your orchids to strong gusts of wind.
The majority of orchids require a humid environment to thrive. If you live in an area with cold winters and central heating, you need to be aware that the heating system can quickly dry out the air. To address the issue of low humidity caused by central heating, you can place a small humidifier in the orchid growing area. Bathrooms are ideal locations for growing orchids due to their high humidity levels.
In a hot and dry environment, regular misting of orchids is necessary. If you have a large collection of orchids, you may want to consider investing in a wet-pad evaporative cooler.
During summer, whether your orchids are kept indoors or outdoors, they will require more frequent watering, and misting is also important in both situations.
A recommended care and maintenance routine:
- Morning: – check all orchids and provide them with water if necessary.
- Mid-morning: – spray greenhouse floors.
- Midday: – mist the orchids if necessary (especially on those ultra-hot days.)
- Mid-afternoon: – mist again.
- Late afternoon: – check all orchids to ensure that there is no water left on any of their leaves from earlier watering.
- Weekly: – add orchid fertilizer as required. Check for any pests and diseases and treat accordingly. Stake all emerging flower stems.
Pests and Diseases in orchids
Regardless of where you grow your orchids, whether it’s indoors, outdoors, in pots, or in a controlled greenhouse environment, you will eventually have to deal with pests and diseases.
It can be devastating to discover that the orchid you have carefully tended to for months has been attacked by slugs, had its pollen eaten by a mouse, or been infested with mealybugs on its new growth.
Prevention is better than cure and can go a long way in extending the life of your orchid and its blooming period. One good practice to start with is to buy orchids from a reputable nursery or garden center. These carefully grown plants are typically resistant to bacterial and fungal diseases and are less likely to have pests.
Additionally, if possible, place newly purchased orchids in a quarantine area before integrating them with the rest of your collection or at least keep them separate until you are sure they are disease and pest-free.
The common pests
Ants are an indication of aphids on orchids as they feed on the honeydew that aphids secrete. Ants can also transfer scale and make nests in pots, which break down compost and prevent proper aeration. Use organic insecticide and treat the entire plant to counter the problem.
Aphids can be green, black, brown, or orange and multiply rapidly in warm, dry weather. They also secrete honeydew, which attracts ants and results in sooty mold. For minor infestations, spray aphids with tepid water or wash the infected areas with insecticidal soap. For serious infestations, use a general insecticide. Check regularly as aphids can be persistent.
False spider mites are smaller than red spider mites and cause silvery-colored pitting on the top and underside of leaves. Mist the leaves or clean them with insecticidal soap and water to kill adult mites. Use a miticide and repeat the treatment every ten days to kill any eggs to prevent recurrence.
Leaf hoppers are tiny, white, sap-sucking flies that stay on the underside of leaves, flowers, and new growth. Use sticky fly-traps or appropriate insecticide to counter them.
Leaf miners are little grubs that spread virus-related disease, destroying leaves and stems. Cut away damaged stems and apply a systemic insecticide.
Mealy bugs are oval-shaped, grey-whitish fluffy-looking insects that attack the underside of leaves and new growth, even the flower. They secrete honeydew, causing sooty mold. Use a cotton swab and clean affected areas with a mild liquid detergent or insecticidal soap for minor infestations. Apply drastic measures for bad infestations, such as cutting off an affected orchid flower if necessary.
Snails and slugs eat through root tips, flower buds, and pseudobulbs of orchids. Use organic control, such as luring them to a saucer of beer or collecting them by hand in the morning. Commercial slug and snail pellets can be used, but they are harmful to pets.
Red spider mites attack Cymbidium and Lyscastes orchids, leaving web-like film on the underside of leaves. Mist the leaves regularly and use the same countermeasures as for false spider mites.
Rats and mice can be destructive as they eat orchid flower pollen. Use commercial poison and set traps to counter them.
Scale insects attack orchids and are sap-sucking insects that leave yellow patches on the leaves and secrete honeydew, resulting in sooty mold. Use a soft brush and insecticidal soap and water to remove scale, taking care not to damage leaves. Use a 50:50 solution of water and denatured alcohol. For serious infestations, repeat the treatment and use systemic application of organic insecticide.
Thrips are tiny winged insects that chew up orchids, causing scarring and discoloration. Use appropriate organic insecticide to counter them.
Weevils are hard-bodied beetles that chew into the soft tissue areas of the orchid plant. Spray or dust the orchid with appropriate insecticide to counter them.
The common viruses
Sooty mold is a black fungal growth that develops on orchids due to the honeydew secretions of aphids, mealy bugs, and scale insects. It blocks the light that reaches the leaves and leads to the deterioration of the orchid. To treat it, you can wash the orchid leaves with a soapy solution or a 50:50 mix of water and denatured alcohol. It’s important to eliminate the pests that are causing the honeydew to prevent further growth of sooty mold.
Cymbidium mosaic is a common orchid virus that appears as a dark, sunken patch or streak on the leaves. It can cause a lack of vigor in the plants and may even affect other orchids. The best approach is to prevent the virus from spreading and remove affected plants.
Tobacco mosaic and yellow bean mosaic are viruses that cause mottled patches of yellow and green on orchid leaves, as well as streaky, dark-colored flowers. These viruses pose the most significant risk to Cymbidium and Masdevallia orchids. The solution is to remove the affected orchids.
The Odontoglossum ringspot virus appears as circular blemishes on orchid leaves, which can eventually cause deformities in the flowers. The best course of action is to remove the affected orchid.
Preventing orchid pests and diseases
- Prevention is better than cure: Prevent disease in your orchid.
- Be vigilant. Check on a regular basis for any visible sign of pest and disease infestation.
- Maintain a clean, well-balanced growing environment.
- Buy only healthy, quality plants from a reputable source.
- Quarantine all new plants for a minimum of two weeks before integrating it with an existing collection.
- Use only sterilized cutting tools.
- Only reuse pots that have been disinfected with a bleach solution.
- Do not reuse compost or potting soil.
- Do not water an orchid with the runoff of another.
Tips for using insecticides
- Select the appropriate insecticide or pesticide for the specific affliction the orchid is suffering.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions and be sure to mix and apply the products precisely according to the instructions.
- Apply insecticide in moderate temperatures to avoid damage to the orchid.
- Keep pets and children away from the area while spraying.
- Make use of gloves and a face mask as well as goggles when applying spray.
- Wash any part of your shin thoroughly if it came into contact with the insecticide solution.
- Safely dispose of all unused mixture.
- Store insecticide out of reach of children and under lock and key.
Providing a controlled environment
If you have a small number of orchids, you may not need to worry much about regulating their environment. However, as your collection expands, it becomes more important. The type of environment control you choose will depend on the types of orchids you grow, whether it’s one genus or many. Options for controlled environments include sun-rooms, conservatories, shade houses, lath houses, or even polythene tunnels.