Are all orchids hard to grow? ~ Not reallly ! !

It's true that some orchids can challenge the most skillful gardener, but a number of orchids are simple to grow. My favorite in the simple to grow category is the phalaenopsis or moth orchid.

Phalaenopsis flowers are borne on stalks above large waxy leaves. Flowers are about 2 inches across and are shaped like a moth. My phalaenopsis orchids begin blooming about November, and the flowers can last until May. Stalks can hold 15 or more blooms, but seven or eight is more likely. Colors range from pure white through pink and deep lavender.

I grow phalaenopsis orchids in a bark medium (chunks of bark), which takes a little getting used to. It makes you want to water frequently, because it is hard to understand how the plants can absorb enough water and nutrients from it. The advantage of bark is that it drains well, so you can hardly over water.

Dendrobium, cattleyas and oncidium orchids also are fairly easy to grow. Apply these tips listed below from the Alamo Orchid Society for growing those varieties and phalaenopsis.

Light: Bright light from an east- or south-facing window is ideal. Avoid midday sun. Too much direct sunlight will burn an orchid; too little results in weak, dark green leaves and no flowers.

Temperature: Orchids are comfortable when you are. Perfect temperatures are 55-65 degrees at night and 70-85 degrees during the day.

Water: Water when the growing medium is nearly dry.

Humidity: Many orchids are native to tropical and subtropical areas with high humidity. To simulate those conditions, place the pot on a saucer full of moistened pebbles. Do not allow the bottom of the container to sit in water.

Fertilize: Orchids experts say, "Fertilize weakly weekly." Apply a diluted (¼ strength) balanced fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 after each watering (don't fertilize dry medium). Water without fertilizer once a month to leach accumulated salts.

Grooming: Cut spent flowers at the stem with clean, sharp scissors. Remove flower stems when they've dried up.

Repotting: Orchids grow better when their roots are pot-bound, but repot when plants have obviously outgrown the container. Repot when the growing medium breaks down. Do not repot while plants are in bloom.

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