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How to Grow Orchids

The Martha Stewart Show, April 2011

Colorful, fragrant, and exotic, the beautiful orchid is truly one of the world's most revered plants. But don't let its impressive appearance fool you: Armed with the proper information, anyone can grow orchids at home. Here Marc Hachadourian, the New York Botanical Garden curator for orchids, shares some foolproof tips for growing them successfully.

Know Your Plant Type
There are two main types of orchid: Epiphytic orchids, which establish themselves on trees, and terrestrial orchids, which grow on the ground. Epiphytic orchids can be grown in pots as well, but require slightly different care than other plants that grow in soil. To grow epiphytic orchids in a pot, gardeners must try to replicate conditions the plant would experience when attached to a tree branch.

Use Proper Potting Medium
The key concept behind orchid potting mixes is getting the right balance of air and moisture around the roots of the plant; orchids require well-drained conditions, and their roots will literally suffocate in too dense a soil mix. Use a free-draining potting or bark mix composed of orchid bark, charcoal, and sponge rock or perlite for both terrestrial and epiphytic plants.

Pick a Pot with Good Drainage
Orchids will grow equally well in plastic or terra-cotta pots, as long as the container has adequate drainage. Look for pots with good drainage holes that allow water to flow freely through the potting mix; this will help create the balance of air and moisture the plant is craving.

Water Thoroughly
Orchids like lots of water: Make sure to thoroughly saturate your plant by bringing the pot to a sink and flushing with tepid water. This will also help to remove accumulated fertilizer salts and get air down around the roots of the plant, preventing stagnant conditions that would otherwise breed bacterial and fungal diseases. Let the orchid dry out slightly between waterings, and remember that plants in bloom require slightly more water than plants out of bloom -- many times, flower buds will not open properly if the plant is not getting enough water. Try to keep water off the blooms themselves, as too much moisture on the petals can lead to color-spotting.

Let There Be Light
Most orchids enjoy bright, indirect light for approximately four to six hours per day -- an east- or south-facing window would be ideal. Just be sure and observe the foliage of the plant for any signs of yellowing or sunburn, and move the plant if it's getting too much light.

Maintain Moderate Temperatures
With few exceptions, if you're comfortable, your orchids will be comfortable. Don't expose the plants to cold drafts or too much heat, and be sure not to set them on or near a radiator. For the best growth and flowering, orchids prefer a drop in temperature between day and night of about 10 degrees.

Don't Neglect a Dormant Plant
The most important time to pay attention to your orchid is when it is out of flowers, as this is when the plant is growing and storing energy for next year's blooms. When the orchid is finished blooming for the season, remove the old flower spike and continue to water and care for the plant. If the orchid receives proper water, light, and fertilizer throughout this period, it will continue to grow and thrive. With few exceptions, most orchids will bloom once per year.

Orchid varieties seen on the show include phalaenopsis hybrids, cattleya hybrids, dendrobium, vanda hybrids, oncidium hybrids, lady slippers, phaius, and cymbidiums.

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