How To Grow Orchids

To many amateur orchid growers, the questions of how to grow orchid is sort of a large question.

There is really no one way to grow an orchid since each genus is different from each other. What may be great for one genus may actually kill another.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to go over one aspect of how to grow orchids. This is the resting period, which is very important to the orchid grower.

With the end of the flowering season for most plants and with potting under control, the grower finds next that all orchids need rest—some going into such deep rest or dormancy that they appear dead. In a state of nature this rest is provided by the change of seasons.

It will be found that those plants requiring a long spell of complete rest in the greenhouse come from regions where long periods of hot wind occur.

During such times these plants shrivel and dry, giving no sign of life. In the native habitat of many orchids these extremely dry seasons will be followed by torrential rains, during which the plant awakens and puts forth new growth that will culminate in bloom.

It is during the time of dormancy that collectors gather and ship orchids with the least danger of shock and damage.

Many a plant has died en route, having been shipped after growth has re-commenced, when the fresh young roots and tender bulbs are easily broken or rotted. If shipped when completely dormant and dry, they will comfortably survive the long overseas journey and the fumigation, required on arrival.

By watching her plants, the grower will learn to recognize their needs. When the plant feels the need of rest, usually during the winter months, active growth ceases and the plant 'stands still.'

There are no new roots and buds seem to remain endlessly in the sheath. Most orchids cannot be induced to break this dormancy until they are ready, but others, if conditions encouraging growth surround them when they normally rest, will begin premature growth.

If this happens, the flowers will not have a chance to mature and the plant will refuse to flower for a season.

For a weak plant this may be a good idea, but usually the grower expects a yearly flowering. Other orchid plants, notably deciduous Dendrobes, will throw new plantlets if watered during the rest period.

If a treatment inadvertently breaks dormancy, the amateur will be startled to find his collection increased by small additions, when what he expected was blooms.

When it comes to how to grow orchids, watching the roots is one means of judging a plant's needs. Old roots that are still performing their special functions will be white and tough, and very hard to break.

Dead roots turn black and wet or dirty-brown and dry according to the cause of death. If the plant needs to be removed from badly decomposed material and repotted, the roots may be green and slimy from fungus.

But the most heartening sight to the orchid grower is the new roots of a plant awakening from rest. New roots, of a bright, clear, translucent green with a rosy glow, can be described only as jewel-tipped.

When plants are resting and the roots are inactive, it is only natural that they should require little or no water.

They usually need more air, more sun, and less heat. In addition to these general rules, each of the genera, according to their native climate, has certain special needs.

The Cattleya orchid is moderate in its demands for heat, air, and moisture at all times. It does not require complete rest.

Withholding water from the pot for a short time after repotting or after flowering will suffice, but the bulbs should not be allowed to become dry to the point of shriveling.

Humidity in the air and overhead spray will help keep them plump and firm. They should be well watered in the pot and then allowed to dry out until the pot feels light when weighed in the hand.

The 'prima donna' of the genus, Cattleya Warscewiczii or gigas, requires special treatment in resting; withholding water is not sufficient.

If not properly handled it will put on new bulbs and leaves and refuse to bloom. Stern measures will be required to shock the plant into flowering. Cattleya gigas is one orchid that really demands neglect.

When the new growth and roots start, the plant should be well watered until the new bulb is completely made up—the flower sheath will appear at the same time, but without buds.

The orchid should then be placed in a very sunny spot and water withheld. Occasional overhead spray will meet all its needs during the winter months. As root activity begins anew and buds are formed in the sheath, watering may be gradually resumed and the plant moved to a warmer, shadier spot until after flowering.

A slight rest may take place again after flowering before the new growth starts, and water should be used sparingly at such a time.

Flowering takes place during the summer months. The genus Laelia requires a great deal of light and air plus a more decided rest period than the Cattleya orchid. The plants should be hung against the glass in the sun after flowering. While growing they need much water at the roots.

They thrive on extremes, heat and air in the daytime, and less heat and air at night. They should be kept in the sun and fairly dry during dormancy, but the bulbs should not be allowed to become shriveled.

The Brassavola orchid calls for a warm temperature and copious amounts of water while growing and up to the point of flowering, which in most species takes place in autumn. After the growth is made up, during resting, less water will be the rule.

The Dendrobium orchid, owing to its many locales, is as perverse in its rest demands as it is diverse in its beauty. Rest is essential if the cane-like bulbs are to ripen and grow strong enough to bear the blooms.

While the evergreen and the deciduous varieties follow the same cycle of maturation, rest, and flowering, means of securing rest differ.

The Cypripedium orchid grows in a locale conducive to almost continuous growth. It has no pseudobulbs and its evergreen leaves make water at the roots a 'must' at all times. The genus Cymbidium tends to produce vegetative growth if not rested properly.

It should be watered more sparingly beginning at the end of August, and should be allowed to dry out fairly well between waterings. Always syringe overhead on sunny days, but make sure that the house dries out before night.

The artificial feedings so beneficial during the growing season should be withheld from the time the new bulb is made up to the time when flowers appear. After flowering it may be resumed.

The Cycnoches orchid is a genus requiring special dormancy treatment. It goes completely dormant after flowering and water is completely withheld. If watered during the winter months, when the plant is dormant, it will succumb to rot and die.

Much water is needed when the rest is over and the new bulb is being made up, but even then care must be taken not to allow water in the crowns. Flowering takes place immediately after new growth, usually in the summer.

The Coelogyne orchid rests according to species, but all species require some rest. The condition of the bulbs is an accurate gauge of the needs of the plants. They should always be kept plump.

Coelogyne Pandurata and C. asperata come from warm, moist, marshy habitats and so will grow most of the time in congenial environments.

If the temperature can be kept at 6o? F., they will take water at all times. If the temperature is lower, the water supply can be cut down after growth is completed.

Coelogyne cristata benefits from sun and reduced water supply during the resting period. It should be watered profusely while growing. Vanda is a pseudobulb-less genus. Growth is continuous.

It appreciates a warm, moist condition, with slightly diminished water at the roots during winter. It requires little shade, since it seems to rest but little.

When grown in good conditions, V. coerulea has an unusually fine root system for an orchid and will bloom prodigally, sometimes twice and, less frequently, three times a year.

Vanda teres and V. Agnes Joachim seem difficult to bring to bloom in the temperate zones, their requirements for heat, intense sun, and much air being difficult to fulfil in a greenhouse.

Vanda tricolor and V. suavis, whose roots require air and moisture at all times, are more easily accommodated. Vanda San-deriana requires more heat than V. coerulea and needs air and moisture at all times.

The Phalaenopsis orchid is also pseudobulb-less, and, if properly nourished, will bloom constantly and never rest. When the potting material is Osmunda, this tendency to excessive activity must be curbed or the plant will bloom itself to death.

Buds can be pinched off unless at least one pair of the firm, leathery leaves have been formed since the last flowering.

Old flower stems may break into bloom anew, which weakens the plant and should be discouraged by cutting stems close to the plant.

The plant should be kept well watered, but the roots should not be allowed to become soggy from lack of air.

The genus Epidendrum rests somewhat, requiring slightly less water at the roots. It needs almost daily syringing, however, to prevent fatal drying out.

The genus Odontoglossum, native to elevated parts of tropical Central America, requires no rest. The roots must be kept moist at all times. Care must be taken to prevent the compost from becoming sour. Odontoglossum require more shade than most orchids.

Genus Stanhopea, on the other hand, responds gratefully to a period of rest after growing. Rest can be induced by allowing the roots to dry out fairly well and by providing plenty of light and air. When new growth starts, water in quantity is resumed.

For most species blooming time comes in summer and should be immediately followed by a rest period.

The Miltonia orchid is sensitive and delicate. Root activity is slight during damp winter months, so resting must be aided by very careful watering. The potting mixture, since the plants have very slight bulbs, must never be allowed to dry.

They should be syringed with a fine mist because they chill easily. They are susceptible to thrips in dry conditions. Humid air provides the answer to both problems.

To the amateur, each factor in the raising of orchids is likely to seem most absorbing and demanding in its turn. In reality all phases are equally important. Each factor must be right and must be combined harmoniously for perfection in growing and flowering.

The grower will discover, as he watches and studies his orchids during periods of rest and activity, that he is actually serving an apprenticeship to the orchids.

No matter how much he may read or study, in the final analysis the surest way to success in orchid culture is through day-to-day acquaintance with the plants.

Matters that appear mysterious or confusing at the beginning will soon become second nature. A habit of doing the right thing, a 'green thumb' or 'orchid touch,' will develop from this close relationship.

Whatever it is called, it enables the grower to tell, when he enters the greenhouse, whether or not the air is sufficiently sweet and moist; to determine, by lifting or glancing at a pot, whether water is needed; to decide, after inspection of a plant, whether it needs repotting and the precise time for repotting; and, finally, to determine with great accuracy how much or how little rest each plant needs.

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