Once used primarily as fashion adornments for special occasions, orchids have become prized by gardeners for their elegance as potted plants.
And they're not all that tough to grow, says Tom Purviance, co-owner of Parkside Orchid Nursery in Ottsville, Pennsylvania.
"They are the largest plant family on the planet -- they would not be if they were difficult to grow," Tom says. "They are really quite tough and resilient."
Tom shares six of his favorite varieties.
Grown mostly in Brazil, these plants are known for their strong fragrance, waxy flowers, and robust growth. The long-lasting flowers are mostly intense shades of purple and green. They can withstand a wide range of temperatures but grow best in the intermediate range, 55 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
These plants, considered miniatures, come in a wide array of warm colors such as red and orange. They grow well in sphagnum moss as a media but also can be grown in traditional orchid fir bark mix. It's best to keep them constantly moist, but not soggy. They like bright light as long as temperatures remain cool, but it's best to reduce light levels as temperatures rise.
Commonly known as "pansy orchids" because of the appearance of its flowers, these flowers come from South America. The most attractive varieties are cool-growing plants from Columbia that bloom in winter and spring, but modern hybridizing has introduced more warm-tolerant plants with a longer blooming season. These do best in bright light.
Tolumnia are very popular for their wide range of vivid colors. They are true miniatures, reaching about 3 inches in height at maturity. In cultivation, it's very important not to overwater. They like bright light, and they do best mounted on cork or other wood.
This is a good plant for cultivation in the home -- it's not particularly difficult to raise. Native to Asia, these flowers are known as "lady's slippers" or "slipper orchids" because of the unusual shape of their lips. They're somewhat unique in the orchid world in that they can't be cloned to produce large numbers of the same plant.
6. Intergeneric Oncidium Group
This is a very large family of plants, with more than 300 diverse species. Their culture is easy with good light, so they're becoming very popular pot plants. The flowers generally last eight to 12 weeks, and mature plants can bloom two to three times a year.
An Easy Basket-Planting Technique
While you can grow orchids in pots, planting them in baskets is an appealing way to mirror their natural surroundings.
To repot an orchid in a basket, you'll first need to remove it from its pot and clean its root system. Trim as necessary.
Then, line the basket with a precut plastic screen and add media. Once you've positioned the plant properly, add additional media and begin to pack into place.
Finally, secure the plant, attach a hanger, and label with the date.
Individual orchid photos by John Salventi/Parkside Orchid Nursery. For more information about orchids, including listings of nurseries and shows, visit aos.org.