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Orchids are not an ordeal to grow

One of the thrills of gardening is walking outside and discovering a new bloom. Recently I spotted a splash of color in a shady corner of my landscape. What did I place in that neglected portion of the yard? To my delight, it was a lovely orchid bloom.

I’m not an orchid expert—far from it. I’ve had several over the years, and I’ve managed to lose my fair share of them. However, some have survived under my neglectful practices and I’m always amazed at how they will grow even for the most novice orchid grower.

The bloom was a good reminder for me to review how to care for orchids. A good resource for the novice grower is a University of Florida/IFAS DVD called “Growing Orchids: Easier than You Think!” available through the IFAS Bookstore at http://ifasbooks.ifas.ufl.edu. Tom Sheehan and Bob Black use hands-on demonstrations to discuss easy-to-grow orchid varieties; selecting appropriate containers, planting medium, and fertilizers; watering requirements; and many more tips for caring for your orchids.

One of the points emphasized on the educational DVD is that orchids require repotting on a regular basis. Orchid plants need to be repotted when the potting mix breaks down, often evidenced by dead roots, or the plant outgrowing the container. In this case, a larger pot may not be required, simply replace the growing medium. Another reason to repot is when the plant has filled the pot in which case it may need dividing.

Cattleyas, Oncidiums and Dendrobiums in particular need to be repotted every two to three years as the medium decomposes or when new growth extends over the edge of the container. Vandas require potting less often because of their single-stem growth habit.

Repotting calls for new potting media. You can choose from bark, bark mixes, sphagnum moss, or even volcanic rock. Epiphytic orchids can be grown in just about any media, except soil, as long as you adjust your watering and fertilization practices to that media. Bark will typically last about two years whereas sphagnum moss may need to be replaced every six months.

Next, be sure to pick an appropriate container. Clay pots are the most common containers, but you can also choose plastic pots or wooden baskets. Use a pot that drains well. Choose a pot that will accommodate about two years of new growth, based on your observation of the plant. If you are using an old pot, wash it thoroughly and soak it in a 10 percent solution of chlorine bleach for 30 minutes, then rinse it well.

To repot an orchid, first slide a kitchen knife around the inside of the pot to cut the roots growing on the pot. Gently pull the orchid from the pot.

Once you have removed the plant, carefully pry the roots apart and shake off as much of the old potting mixture as possible. Don’t worry if some still clings to the roots. Remove any dead or damaged roots. Dead roots are mushy and light brown; healthy roots are firm and white and have light-green growing tips.

When placing the orchid in the pot, position the older pseudobulbs against one side so that the new lead has room to expand. Pack the potting media around the roots, firming it with your thumbs as you go. The top of the rhizome should be level with the top of the bark.

After repotting, use clips to secure the orchid until it’s established. Water your plant right away.

Permanent link to this article: http://santarosa.ifas.ufl.edu/blog/2012/04/24/orchids-are-not-an-ordeal-to-grow/