tampabay.com

Variety of orchids requires a range of care

By Mary Collister
Published June 29, 2007


Recently I gathered a wealth of information from the president of the Tampa Orchid Club, Doris Cook. She attributes her knowledge to her fellow club members and to "killing many plants with kindness."

Everyone suffers a learning curve with the culture and care of a new plant. I've had my orchids a few years now and have been gathering information on the fly. Doris filled in many blanks.

There are so many genres of orchids that it is almost impossible to generalize about the care. But Doris rejects the idea that orchids require some sort of exotic care. Some basic tips will get you started.

The fundamentals, of course, are water, fertilizer, soil and light. As long as you meet these needs you will have beautiful plants. Orchids generally do not like to have their feet wet, just moist.

Doris recommends watering well two to three times each week. The water should run out the bottom of the pot. Don't leave them in standing water.

Of course, there is an exception. The vanda, one of the popular orchids you probably see, requires water every day. And when you water your phalaenopsis, make sure you don't leave standing water in the crown but keep the potting medium slightly moist at all times.

The phalaenopsis may be a good starter orchid. I have found them cheaper and easier to grow than other orchids.

You see them in garden centers and even grocery stores. The blooms last for weeks, longer than a bouquet of flowers, and a plant full of blooms will usually cost less than $20.

When fertilizing orchids, Doris recommends a "weekly weak dose." It's best to mix your fertilizer half strength and apply it during your normal watering.

Orchids do not use the typical potting soil. The growing medium is often fir bark and tree-fern fiber. You will probably find perlite or pumice in the mix and also redwood bark, sphagnum bark, charcoal, lava rock or cork.

Each type of orchid requires a bit different medium. Some orchids prefer to be mounted to a slab of bark and are happy with no medium.

Light requirements vary. Phalaenopsis requires less light than other orchids. Cattleya (most often found in corsages) don't like direct light but need bright light. Dendrobium requires more light than the others. Hopefully one of these types of orchids will fit the light situation you have at your lanai or yard.

I felt bad when Doris explained to me that she likes to keep the temperature around her orchids at 55 degrees or above.

In the winter, she moves them - all 350 - to her lanai and then drops plastic around the area so it can be heated. I, on the other hand, leave mine outside to fend for themselves unless the temperature is predicted to dip below 45 degrees.

Even then I just drag them onto the lanai with no supplemental heat. I obviously have much to learn.

When starting your hobby, Doris recommends buying a good book, joining the Tampa Orchid Club (see them on the Web at www.tampaorchidclub. info), talking to people who raise orchids and speaking with commercial growers.

Gathering information from all these sources should give you a good starting point.