Welcome back, friends! Let’s talk about orchids. They’re a darling of the design world because they have a timeless, elegant look to them, and they bloom longer than any other indoor plants. Now, we think it’s time to do a little bit of orchid PR. We want to dispel some myths about orchid care, and to give you all a clearer understanding of some different varieties of orchid and their needs. In spite of their impressive beauty (or maybe because of it), Orchids have a reputation for being fussy and intractable, but they’re no more troublesome than most blooming plants. Some varieties do require more specialized attention, but if you can keep a primrose or an African violet alive, you can probably manage an orchid too.
These are our most popular orchids, and they’ll serve as our baseline for comparing the needs of other orchids. They can be identified by their large, moth shaped blooms, which come in a wide range of colors. If you plant to gift an orchid to someone, or are a prospective first time orchid owner, these are a great choice (e.g. the “Orchid Garden in Mossed Clay” on our website). Their care is relatively simple, and if you keep them happy, they’ll reward you with stunning blooms. With that in mind, let’s give a care breakdown. For light, these orchids can take medium light up to bright, indirect light, but keep them out of direct sun. When thinking about watering, the first thing to know is that if you’ve ever heard anything about ice cubes, it’s not true. That was a marketing tactic concocted to make orchids look super easy. But the truth is that, generally, that’s just not enough water, and the cold can shock the orchid. We find the best method to be inserting your finger into the moss or bark around the roots (many orchids hate to be potted in soil) to check for dryness. When the moss is almost completely dry, soak it, let the water drain off, and leave it alone until it feels dry again. The one caution we offer is this: water under the leaves. Water left sitting on top of the plant can cause crown rot. Note as well that these orchids prefer warmer temperatures, and very cold air can shock the buds, and prevent them from opening.
These are a type of boat orchids, so called for their boat shaped blooms. If you’re excited about using plants as living home decoration, cymbidium orchids will give you the most height. They have long, almost grasslike leaves, and their blooms grow on tall stalks. For this reason, they look great flanking either end of a table, or as a tall accent in the corner of a room. As for care, their lighting needs are like the Phalaenopsis. Their watering needs, however, are not; they take slightly more water than Phalaenopsis. As for when to water, you can’t go wrong checking the soil with your finger. Cymbidium can also take slightly lower temperatures than Phalaenopsis, so keeping them in the front entryway is perfectly safe. An occasional blast of cold air won’t hurt them.
Also called Pansy Orchids, these plants have bright, round blooms, and they look really fantastic when three or four specimens are potted together (see “Pansy Orchid in Green Ceramic” on our website). They do very well in medium light, so they’re a great option when creating a single variety indoor container garden. When planting Miltonia, you’ll need a barky mixture, and you’ll need to keep that medium lightly moist at all times. You’ll notice too that Miltonia have pseudo-bulbs at the bottoms of their leaf stalks. Just know that when these bulbs shrivel, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the plant is too dry, just that the plant has spent the stored energy in its bulb on blooming, Miltonia also prefer lower temperatures than more topical Phalaenopsis (think 50º – 70ºF as opposed to 60º – 80ºF).
These are really something special, but they are not ideal for beginners. Vandas are actually grown out of any media, with their trailing roots hanging beneath them, and they bloom in striking, vibrant color. In nature, Vandas cling to trees with these long root structures, so their care is actually almost analogous to that of an air plant. They prefer indirect, filtered, or dappled sunlight, which mimics the shade they would receive from the canopy of leaves above. When watering, you need to mist them once or
twice a day. You can mist the roots alone, or the whole plant, as vandas can hydrate through their leaves and blooms as well. We keep these orchids in two ways, hanging on hooks with their roots draping beneath, or coiled into a vase with some decorative stone (called “Enchanting Vanda” on our website if you’d like to have a look). Warm air and humidity really help these orchids give their best too.
Some additional thoughts –
One more thing that we need to discuss before you go is drainage. We’re willing to admit that orchids do look really impressive in glass or in cachepots that lack drainage, but this is really detrimental to the long term health of the orchid. Any plant left sitting in water will develop root rot. So, if you must have an orchid in a container without drainage, be cautious. Dispose of any excess water. Otherwise, we always carry a selection of sleek pots with drainage, which may save you a headache or two.
We realize that we’ve given you a lot of warnings and instructions, but you shouldn’t let these scare you off of orchid ownership. The fact is that if we were to offer you detailed care notes for any blooming plant, the write up would be just as long. Some of the same warnings apply to other plants too – water left sitting in the on African violet leaves or in primrose blooms will cause rot just like water left on Phalaenopsis Orchids. If you can keep this information in mind (or just to hand if you don’t have much head space left; I know I don’t), you really don’t need to cosset orchids.
We’ve only chosen to highlight four types of orchid here, but our orchid guru, Melissa, orders a number of varieties and colors that you’ll never see at the local grocer. We also carry orchid supplies including potting media, fertilizer, &c. and are a great resource for questions on Orchid care. We hope we’ve been able to rehabilitate orchids’ reputation a bit with this post. Now that you’re armed with some knowledge and a little confidence, check out the orchid selections in our store and on our website. You never know when you might need a beautiful gift, or some living décor for your own home.
by Justin Lievano, an orchid aficionado, floral expert and frequent McArdle's blogger.