How to grow orchids: part 1
Now here's the good news and bad news. The bad news is that I cannot tell you how to grow orchids, nor can anyone else. However, the good news is that I can tell you how I grow my orchids and why. No two orchid people grow under the same conditions, yet there are thousands and thousands of successful orchid growers all over the world. That means that orchids are adaptable and, with a bit of basic knowledge, we can all be succesfull growers.
Let's just browse through a list of basics to get us introduced.
Water: Too much kills quickly; too little kills slowly. The symptoms are the same. We grow epiphytic-type orchids. This type includes cattleyas and their relatives, dendrobiums, phalaenopsis, oncidiums, and vandas. Simply explained, these orchids grow on the sides of trees where they receive rain and then dry out. Therefore, it is best to allow these orchids to dry between waterings. This also induces a better root system and healthier orchids. The center of the pot holds moisture longer than the sides and top of the container. Picking up the pot gives a "feel" for moisture content. A very light pot is dry. A very heavy pot is wet. Err on the side of dry.
Air Circulation: Required! Fans help. Not crowding your orchids also helps. Properly spacing your orchids will also deter the spread of diseases and insects.
Humidity: This is a challenge inside or outside. We have seasons in Florida. You laugh! We have hot and very dry which can cause orchids to shrivel and sunburn. We have hot and very wet when orchids are more susceptible to rot. We have "cold" and very dry which may cause buds to drop. Finally during our fourth season, we have "cold" and very wet, which can contribute to fungus and flower spots. Interspersed we have perfect days when we enjoy the blooms! The important thing is to be aware of these fluctuations in the humidity and compensate for any potential problems.
Potting Mediums: Bark; bark with additives such as perlite and charcoal; peat mixes, especially for phals; sphagnum moss; treefern; osmunda; slabs and mounts of wood or cork; coconut parts; old tires (believe it or not); wood or plastic slatted baskets with no medium; charcoal in baskets; lava rock; aliflor. We even met a grower who used corks from wine bottles in his baskets! He had a lot of baskets. Voluntarily, he told us that his friends saved corks for him. Whatever. All of these mediums have been used successfully to grow orchids. What you use depends on what is available to you and your watering habits. It is always easier if you use the same or similar medium throughout your orchid collection. Our basic potting mix is bark with sponge rock. When we use inorganic mediums such as lava rock or aliflor, we sprinkle some type of peat mix or sphagnum moss on the top of the pot to hold the moisture and nutrients long enough to be absorbed by the roots. This allows us to water all of our orchids on the same schedule.