Orchids - Hints tips and cultural advice...

How to grow orchids successfully

 

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Ray Creek Orchid Nursery

on line store

I hope you enjoy this, our new on line orchid store, take the links to our catalogue pages, browse through the orchids we have for sale, and buy with ease -  you order from your desk top - we deliver to your door!

 

   

 

More Orchids

 

In addition to all the popular orchids you can buy through our on line orchid store, we do have a more comprehensive mail order price list which covers our full range of stock plants, please contact us for details.

 

   

 

See me out and about

 

Upcoming shows and events

Over the year you can meet me and buy orchids from me at many different events.

 

I attend local orchid meeting, giving talks and selling my plants to anyone who cares to come along; as well as being present at some of the larger orchid events.

 

For a full list of where I will be during the year, see the events pages

 

   

 

Orchid Growing Tips

 

This is just a short attempt to give the basic requirements for growing tropical and sub-tropical, epiphytic orchid plants in temperate areas.

Please be aware that orchids are a huge and very diverse family of plants and each individual species should be studied to understand it’s special requirements.

 

How Do I Grow Orchids?


Growing orchids is like growing any other plant in that it comprises of making a series of judgements rather than following a pre-defined set of rules and instructions.

 
We need to learn the rules of watering, feeding, re-potting, temperature-control and light availability.

 

We then have to assess our plants and the environment around them, making a series of decisions as what or what not to do.

Be patient, don’t feel that you must always be doing something, it may be that the best course of action is to do nothing and just look at and enjoy our plants.

Remember there is always the option of thinking about it again tomorrow.

Essential elements


Let’s now look at the various elements that we need to understand. It is important to understand that the balancing of these elements is just as essential as the supply of them. One thing often affects another.


Watering and Water Quality


The first thing most people think of in relation to looking after a plant is how to water it. To determine this we have to think about the plant’s needs rather than what is convenient to ourselves.

We must never fall into the habit of thinking that the needs of our plants are constant as they vary tremendously depending on several variables like temperature, humidity and speed of growth.

 

The last thing they need is to be treated to a programme of watering.

 

For example: - Once a week, Twice a week etc. A plant is a living thing and like all living things it’s needs vary as it’s environment changes.


Remember that most of the orchids we grow have evolved to soak up water when it is available and then survive until the next rains come.
Watch and wait until the growing medium (compost) is completely dry.

At this stage water your plant generously by giving it a good soaking. Don’t worry about where you apply the water, plants can’t tell whether it comes from the top, bottom or sides, the only thing that concerns them is whether water is available or not.


An important point here is that you should use a method of watering that is convenient. You can try dunking, filling the pot with a jug, putting it under a running tap or any other method you please.

Just be sure it is thoroughly wet before you finish.

Once your plant is wet, drain away any excess water and then leave it alone until it is dry again.

Don’t worry, strong healthy plants will wait for several days in a dry state with no ill effect.

Therefore you needn’t be afraid that your favourite plant is going to drop dead the minute it is dry.


The length of time between wettings will vary depending on things like temperature, time of year, humidity, availability of light and state of growth.

Is the plant growing vigorously or not?

Small, young plants have less of a reserve than bigger, older plants.

The volume of compost available in relation to the plant size also makes a big difference to the rate at which the plants dry out.

It is worth remembering at this point that every time the compost dries out we kill many of the rot-causing fungus spores that may infect our plants.
Tap water seems ok in most instances.

 

My customers seem to be fairly evenly divided between hard water users and soft water users, both seem to grow perfectly good orchids even those in hard water areas.


One practice that is well worth maintaining is to keep flushing your pots through with water whenever you water your plants.

By using copious amounts of water and allowing it to run through the pot any impurities are diluted automatically each time you water.

Caution should be observed when using the contents of rainwater butts as they can pick up contamination from several sources.


Most orchids are not particularly susceptible to cold water shock but it may be good insurance to take the chill off very cold water before using it.

This may be as simple as taking some of the water from the warm tap if that from the cold tap is liable to cause problems.


Heating Ventilation And Temperature


If we are growing orchids in the home, temperature control becomes academic because we cannot let our plants dictate the temperature levels at which we live our lives.

It is therefore a great advantage if we take the trouble to learn a little about our plants needs before we buy.

Enquire of the vendors as to what sort of conditions his plants are going to need and if they can’t answer satisfactorily it may be worth buying from another source.

It is imperative when buying a plant to choose a variety that will suit the environment it will have to grow in.
With this in mind we can go forward, remembering that orchids can be adaptable and will usually tolerate short periods of time when temperatures are not exactly to their liking.

If the published information advises a certain range of temperatures for an individual species of orchid we can be fairly sure that a few degrees above or below these levels will not cause problems.


Growing in a greenhouse or special structure is very different to growing in the home environment, as here we need to learn how to control the environment.

A heater with a thermostat and a maximum-minimum thermometer are essential pieces of equipment.


Light


Light is the energy source for plants helping them to build substance and strength.

Too much light is rare unless it is too bright in which case it can cause scorching and burning. Not enough light results in soft, weak, pale-coloured growth that is prone to pests and diseases.


Two things affect the amount of light available to the plants.

Light intensity or brightness and day length.

Day length is perhaps the most important as it is the main factor affecting the amount of light our plants receive.

It can also influence the growth and flowering patterns. (Sometimes plants tell what time of year it is by the length of the daylight hours)


In the home we are virtually stuck with the conditions that prevail.

However if we consider that light is always going to be in short supply during the short, dull days of winter we should try to give our plants as much light as possible.

Moving plants closer to south-facing windows is perhaps the best option, if it is possible.

Certainly most orchids need to be fairly close to a window during the winter to give of their best.

Weak sunshine at this time of year is actually beneficial.

This does not mean however that they are going to die if they get a little deprived of light.

Often the only damage we notice is a reluctance to flower or we may get a little bud drop on plants that have already started to flower.


During the summer months our plants can live further away from windows and sources of light as there is no shortage at this time of year.

The real danger in summer is sun-scorch caused by the hot rays of the sun burning leaf tissue.

For this reason we must keep our plants away from direct, hot sunshine.


In the plant-house things are different in that we have more light available to start with because it is able to get to our plants from above as well as the side.

This means that there are not many days in the year when light intensity is too low for most orchids.

The big problem here is the probability of the light being too strong in summer, causing leaf scorch and raising the temperature to unacceptable levels.

The best way to counteract this is by applying some form of shading and giving maximum ventilation during the brighter, warmer summer months.

The period between April and the end of September is the time that the danger of scorch is highest. (This period may vary depending on what latitude you are growing at)

Several different methods of shading and ventilation are available and it is up to the individual, which they choose to use.


 
Feeding


Feeding need not be complicated and can be dealt with simply by buying a purpose made, specialist orchid fertiliser and then following the instructions.

Despite the many pages written and the hours of discussion by various authorities I would heartily recommend the following course of action as the simplest and best method....


The rules of normal good feeding apply as follows.....


Little and Often
It is better for the plants if they have a constant supply of nutrients.

For this reason it is beneficial to use feeds at a low concentration regularly rather than a feast and famine situation of occasional, stronger feeds.

However we must balance this with convenience.

It is also necessary to find a practice to suit ourselves.

Putting feed in the water every second or third watering is perhaps a good compromise.
Do Not Over Feed
Stick to the manufacturers instruction.

A little extra for luck is not a good idea and can result in bad luck for our plants.
Beware of Dry Roots.
If your plants are dry either water them well before feeding them or use a weaker solution.

Strong feeds on dry roots can damage them.
Beware of Salt Build-up
Feeds contain a lot of mineral salts. Unless these are regularly flushed out with water they may build up and damage root systems. See watering.

 
Trust The Experts
It is better to do the majority of feeding with a good quality, well balanced feed that is targeted at orchids rather than to try finding the correct balance and mixtures for ourselves.

Fertiliser firms all over the world are constantly researching to find the best balance of materials to give maximum growth and productivity.
Lime/Calcium (pH)
Much is talked about this subject in relation to hard water and pH. (Acidity/alkalinity) After many years of reading and listening to, so called informed sources the only thing that I have concluded is that not enough is understood about this subject.

I have even come across one book that calls for the use of soft water because orchids don’t like hard water (water containing lime) and in a later chapter recommends including lime when mixing composts.

Here are a few facts that I know to be true.
All plants need some Calcium. Even the ericaceous plants such as Azaleas and Rhododendrons need some calcium and orchids are no exception.


Different species have different requirements, some orchids are known to grow on limestone cliffs and rocks that are alkaline.

Others grow in moss and decaying plant detritus, which tends to be acid.

 The majority of orchids probably grow in neutral or near neutral conditions
Proof in the pudding I have been growing orchids in an area with hard water for many years without being aware of any problems that were caused by the high lime content of the water.


In conclusion, there are many types of orchid all having their own individual requirements.

I think it is fair to say that the more commonly grown, houseplant type orchids, can safely be grown in a normal, neutral or near neutral pH. In cases where soft water is being used then it may be necessary to raise the pH a little (make it more alkaline) by the addition of ground limestone or chalk.


Humidity


Not all species of orchid need steamy wet jungle conditions, as is proved by the millions of Phalaenopsis and other orchid species growing in our centrally heated homes.

It seems that many orchids are able to cope with quite low levels of humidity.

Certainly healthy plants with healthy roots can obtain all the moisture they need through their root systems.

On the other hand a little damping down or spraying of water around the plant-house when temperatures are high and background humidity low can help our plants.
There are however dangers in providing too much humidity as this in itself can encourage fungus diseases like Botrytis (Grey Mould), Leaf Spots and Stem Rots all of which thrive in conditions of high humidity.

This is especially true in winter when our plants are already under stress due to poor light levels and low temperatures.
The rule of safety for humidity is - `If in doubt do nothing’. Plants rarely die for want of moisture in the air but can die or be severely damaged by the diseases that are encouraged by atmospheric moisture.

A good damping down when the temperatures are high and everything will dry quickly can help with growth rates.

Later, as your experience builds you may feel able to increase humidity a little.


Resting


Sooner or later the budding orchid enthusiast will meet the term ‘resting or rest’.

This refers to a period in some plants growing cycle when it stops all active growth and goes dormant.

At this time the plant stops all visible activity and will sometimes lose some or all of its leaves.

This state would normally coincide with the dry season in the native country of that particular species.
In more temperate climates we can duplicate that dry season by withholding water and possibly reducing temperatures as well.

Some thought should be given to this practice as although it may be possible to rest plants within the confines of a plant-house it is not so easy in the home.

Where ever you grow your plants, due regard should be given to your plants needs rather than following books and rigid instructions.
A rule of thumb is that if a plant is in active growth it will probably need watering.

If it is not showing any signs of active growth, don’t be in a hurry to water even if it seems a little dry.

If it is growing in low humidity (In the home) it will need some water to stop shrivelling.

Most houseplant orchids don’t need appreciable rest periods.


To Sum Up


Most plants have to be very adaptable in the wild due to the wide range of conditions that they have to endure.

We grow orchids for pleasure and so it is important that we enjoy them.

To this end let’s all relax, sit back and first and foremost enjoy our plants and not let them become a source of worry.

Make your own decisions so that you get from your plants what you want.

   

 

FAQS....

 

Q. Can anyone grow orchids?


A. Yes and most people find them surprisingly easy once they have learned not to over care for them


Q. Can I grow orchids in my

 conservatory?


A. Yes! By controlling the environment in any building we can make it suitable for growing orchids of one type or another


Q. How much do I need to spend if I want to grow orchids?


A. Whatever you can afford or have a desire to spend. Young orchid plants and plants for growing on can be picked up relatively cheaply and grown on in the home. If you have the means then fortunes can be spent on greenhouses, equipment and plants, plus there are many intermediate levels. The only important criteria being that we all enjoy orchids at a level we feel comfortable with.


Q. How often should I water?


A. When the plant needs it, usually when it has dried out completely after the previous watering.


Q. How much water should I give my orchids?


A. When your plants are ready for watering they should be thoroughly soaked. It is also good to flush plenty of water through the pot which prevents the build up of damaging minerals and salts.


Q. Should I water from the top or the bottom?


A. It doesn’t matter. Plants can’t tell which direction water comes from, all that affects them is whether they are wet or dry. It is probably best to think of using a method of watering which is convenient to you.


Q. Should I use rainwater or soft water?


A. Usually there is no need to use special water. Tap water is a safe, clean and convenient source and in hard water areas the lime in the water may even be beneficial.


Q. Do I need to keep misting and spraying my orchid with water?


A. Misting is not essential if your plants have strong healthy root systems. If however you have plants with poor roots, wetting the foliage regularly can help with recovery. Be sure that the plant dries completely between each wetting


Q. Do orchids need high humidity?


A. If an orchid has been ill treated and lost some of it’s root system then high humidity may help it until the roots recover. However if your plant is completely healthy and has a good root system it obtains all the moisture it needs from the root. Remember high humidity can encourage damaging fungus diseases.


Q. Should I feed my orchids?


A. Yes! Buy a good specialist orchid feed and follow the instructions.


Q. Why won’t my orchids flower?


A. There can be several reasons for this. (a) The plant is not old enough.

(b) Wrong temperatures. Some orchids are shy to flower if they are kept too warm, especially during the night.

(c) Not enough light, this can be a particular problem in houses with small or leaded windows.

(d) Are you feeding correctly? Use of high nitrogen feeds or a shortage of nutrients can discourage plants from flowering.


Q. How long do orchids flower for?


A. This varies tremendously. Most of the orchids sold as houseplants have a very long flowering
period with some species like Phalaenopsis flowering almost perpetually if they are happy. At
the other extreme, some of the species grown by hobbyists may only flower for a few days.

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever"?
 
 
Q. How long will my orchid plant live?


A. Many years if it is well cared for. Remember orchids don’t usually die for no reason, we have to take care not to kill them.


Q. What do I do when my orchid has finished flowering?


A. Wait and see! Some orchids will flower from old flower stems others will not. Continue to treat the plant as before and watch to see what happens. You can then react in an appropriate way to whatever happens.


Q. When should I re-pot my orchid?


A. Leave it for as long as possible, most orchids grow best when they are pot bound. If you suspect that the compost has started to go off or decompose then you must re-pot as soon as possible.


Q. Do orchids need special compost?


A. Yes! Make sure you obtain good quality compost from a source you can trust to sell you the right material for your orchids.


Q. Should I put my orchid outdoors in summer?


A. This depends on the type of orchid. Some orchids like to be cool especially at night others like to be warm. Before making the decision we need to know what sort of orchid we have. Cymbidiums are probably best out-doors in summer and early autumn.


Q Can I use ordinary sprays for controlling pests and disease?


A. Yes! There are many rumours about orchids being susceptible to insecticides. But through experience and experimentation I have become convinced that there is no risk to most orchids so long as the manufacturers instructions are followed correctly

.
Q. Can I bring orchids home when I go abroad?


A. If you are travelling within the European Community the answer is yes. However don’t try to bring orchids or any other living things from further afield or you will be breaking the law and risking importing serious pests and diseases from other countries. We don’t need another Dutch Elm Disease situation! So please obey the rules!


Q. Can I grow orchids in the garden?


A. Yes there are many hardy orchids but it is best to obtain them from a specialist grower, he can advise you. Do not collect from the wild it is anti-social and illegal!


Q. Do they need feeding?


A. Yes. All plants need nutrients. Buy a good orchid feed and follow the instructions.


Q. Can they grow in full sun?


A. Usually not in hot summer sun, though there are a few species that are tolerant of bright sunlight. Winter sun is good.


Q. Do I need clear pots?


A. They are not essential. See-through pots can help to keep the roots of Phalaenopsis in the pots. They also help with watering as we can see if the compost is wet or dry more easily.


Q. Are they poisonous?


A. I have never heard of a poisonous orchid but it is not a good idea to go round eating plants unless you know they are safe.


Q. I suffer from Hay fever, can I still grow them?


A. Good news! Orchid pollen sticks together in little parcels that are transported by insects. It is never released into the air so cannot cause hay fever.


Q. Where do they grow?


A. Almost everywhere, orchids grow on every continent except Antarctica they even grow inside the Arctic Circle. Different orchids grow in soil, in marshes, on rocks, on trees and bushes, on cliff-faces.

 

There are even orchids in Australia that grow underground as parasites on the roots of other shrubs. They really are the largest and most diverse family of flowering plants on earth.