How to grow Orchids for displaying indoors

To many people Orchids are the finest of all plants. There are some that can be grown in the home as pot plants without much difficulty, provided each is given individual care and attention. An Orchid may be bought already in flower at various times of the year, but it is preferable to get it in the spring so that it has time to settle in its new home during the summer months. It is also advisable to buy a mature plant rather than a seedling, even if it is more expensive, as the results are likely to be much more satisfactory.

Initially you should be able to keep your new Orchid in flower for several weeks if you treat it correctly right from the start. It should then produce a fresh crop of flowers regularly each successive year. In general, Orchids like a light but not sunny position and one which is draught-free – though they need plenty of ventilation, provided it is not an icy blast. (Orchids preferring shady spots include the Paphiopedilutns and Masdevallias.) A round-the-year temperature of around 60°F (16°C) is about right for most varieties, though they can well stand a few degrees higher or lower. Like many plants, Orchids have a growing season and a resting period each year. During their growing period, in order to help give them the conditions they like best, each pot should be stood on a tray or shallow container with a 2 inch layer of gravel or pebbles at the bottom.

Water should be poured over this layer to a depth of 1 inch. In this way the plants have a moist atmosphere, but the base of the pot and the plant’s roots are not in direct contact with the water. The 1 inch of water in the tray should be kept topped up, and occasionally the tray and gravel or pebbles should be washed to ensure clean growing conditions. During the resting period of the Orchid, the pot can be stood in a dry container – just something to catch any surplus water drips. When the plants are growing well and freely, water the compost thoroughly whenever it appears to be drying out; also spray the plants from time to time. During the resting period, however, when the Orchids are making little growth, water them sparingly – just enough to prevent the compost from drying out completely. If possible always use soft water like rain water, at room temperature.

The less you re-pot Orchids the better. However, it will probably become necessary every other year and should be done just when the plants are starting to grow again after their resting period. For re-potting, buy special Orchid compost containing a lot of peat, sphagnum moss and charcoal; alternatively, get Osmunda fibre and mix three parts of that with one part of sphagnum moss. This is a particularly good mixture because the Orchids feed on the Osmunda as it breaks down.

Most Orchids require little artificial feeding but they do benefit from a very weak solution of liquid fertilizer in the water during their growing period. When re-potting, fill the pot one third full of crocks before putting the compost in. Then remove the orchid from its pot, cut off any brown roots or bulbs, and plant it firmly but gently in its new container. As many Orchids are epiphytes (plants which grow on trees and feed by aerial roots), do not be surprised to find roots growing above the compost. If your Orchids get too big and you want to divide them up into smaller plants, simply separate the bulbs or plants when they are not in flower but growing freely and keep the new ones in a warm, moist place until they are growing freely again. There are quite a number of Orchids which can be grown in the home and one of the easiest is Cypripedium insigne (Lady’s Slipper), with flowers that really look like slippers in brown, yellow and green and are waxy and speckled. This Orchid’s natural habitat is N.W. India. It is completely untemperamental and requires no particular culture. It is equally indifferent to overwatering and underwatering and flowers regularly each year.

Another Orchid which grows happily indoors is Epidendrum vitellinum (small, single, scarlet). Its natural habitat is Mexico, where it grows at high altitudes in the tops of trees. A great favourite in Victorian greenhouses, it is not often seen today but it deserves a place in any collection of pot plants. The scarlet flowers appear each year and last for about six weeks on the plant. Another easy to grow Orchid is Odontoglossum and its hybrids. The species comes from Central America but the hybridizing has been done in Britain. It was popular early in this century as a button-hole flower for the well-dressed man. Now it is grown rather for its lack of any particular flowering season, so that a well selected group of plants will provide flowers all the year round.

Other recommended orchids are: Coelogyne cristata (snow-white with yellow lip) and its varieties Dendrobium nobile varieties (white and rose)

Laelia anceps (pinky red spikes) Lycaste skinneri (single flowers of pink and white) Maxillaria picta (creamy-yellow dotted brown)

Odontoglossum grande (orange-yellow and brown) and other varieties Paphiopedilum insigne (very variable – greenish-brown, white or purple spotted)

Cymbidium eburneum (white). If you become an Orchid enthusiast, one of the simplest ways is to grow a collection of plants which all require the same type of treatment and care in either Ward cases or heated propagating cases with raised domes. £ pips and stones

Plants grown from the pips and stones of fruit native to warm climates can be cultivated in a cool climate, provided you have central heating or even a cupboard with a hot tank in it.

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