Gardening: The exotic orchid

Eileen Ward
Columnist
Orchid

The orchid is said to be the most exotic of all flowers. Their fragile beauty has made them a favorite corsage flower. This plant family comes in a stunning array of shapes, sizes and colors.

Orchids grow wild all over the world except in the coldest climates. Some orchids are epiphytal and will grow on trees and rocks needing no soil. The other type is terrestrial. These grow in the ground like the Lady Slipper orchids.

Hybridizers continue to develop innumerable varieties. Many are raised in greenhouses by florists, but it is also a great hobby plant. They can be grown on the lanai, sun porch or in terrariums. To grow them inside your home requires good ventilation and light, humidity (by daily spraying if necessary), proper potting material with good drainage and timely watering and feeding. This is not your average corn plant or fern, but home orchid growers insist it is easy and simple to grow these beauties inside or outside. Here in South Florida our climate does allow us to grow orchids in the yard as well. Many people tie them to trees and forget them until the beautiful flowers appear.

The orchid is said to be the most exotic of all flowers.

Some amateur orchid growers enter their plants in shows. Following are some tips on how an amateur’s orchid can win the show.

First you need to know the preferences of the orchid you are growing. The different varieties prefer potting mediums with different moisture retention properties. Potting mediums to choose from include bark, tree fern, lava rock and a blown clay product called Aliflor. I have a friend who swears the Styrofoam packing peanuts are the best. These mediums can be used in clay, slotted pots or baskets lined with moss or fern. Also, different varieties have different light requirements. Some tolerate full sun while others would burn if put in the sun. Watering twice a week and fertilizing once a month is a must for most varieties. There are those that prefer only small amounts of fertilizer so know your orchids. Experiment while you learn. You will lose some orchids but will eventually get the idea.

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Some of the varieties of orchid are the Cattleya which is the corsage orchid. It prefers bright light and will tolerate some morning sun. The Vanda/Ascocenda will tolerate full sun outdoors. Dendrobiums like bright light but not quite full sun. Phalaenopsis is the perfect indoor orchid as it prefers filtered light and no direct sun. The paphiopedilum is another excellent plant for the home preferring shady conditions.

If your orchids are not grown under cover, protecting them from wet weather, you should have a fungicide regiment as their leaves tend to develop fungal spots. You will also have to watch for insects. There are many which will attack orchids. These include thrips, aphids, scale and mealybugs, mites and snails and slugs. It is important to follow label directions on the insecticides and fungicides, so you don’t damage the plant. Most growers treat as needed when these pests appear. There are many safe, nontoxic sprays you can use as well as the usual chemicals like malathion.

The orchid is said to be the most exotic of all flowers.

If you are a member of the local orchid society members will share their knowledge and information, such as which insects are a problem at certain times. The Naples Orchid Society usually meets every month, but you should check to see if Covid-19 has changed that. The trading of information with other orchid growers will help you overcome the problems you may experience as an amateur orchid grower.

The Naples Orchid Society puts on shows and you need not be an expert or a member to enter. Although there are special trophies for members of the Naples Orchid Society. To prepare your orchids for a show you will want to stake and separate your flowers. Unless you have a cluster flower variety, you want each flower to stand alone. The background is also important to show off the flower. So even if your leaves are not perfect, their placement behind the flower is important in this category.

This is not true however if you are entering for a cultural award. In this category they will be looking for clean leaves with no fungal spots or signs of insect damage. This is where the fungicide and insecticide regiments come in to play. Color and vigor of the plant are also important.

Even if you don’t want to enter a Naples Orchid Society show, you can go and enjoy a lot of beautiful orchids and get an idea of which varieties you might like to try growing. Call or go online for information on their next meeting or event.

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Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or 239-394-1413.