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Orchids

Antje Sommerkamp Antje SommerkampRebecca Ilch Rebecca IlchUlrike Hanninger Ulrike Hanninger

The Orchid plant group is quite extensive and fascinatingly diverse — it is hardly a surprise that the exotic species are among the most popular plants worldwide. Here you will find all the major Orchid species and tips on caring for them.

The Orchid plant group

Orchids are popular all over the world — even though they are not quite easy to maintain. Every tenth flowering plant in the world belongs to the large Orchid family, which is native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The mostly perennial, herbaceous plants radiate elegance and the exotic and are more popular than ever as house plants. Among the wide range of species, everyone from the hobby gardener to the expert, will find their favorite — and with the right care tips, the plant can also be cultivated successfully.

When Columbus first entered the tropical rainforest, the trees with several different leaves appeared strange to him. Only later did he realize that they were home to epiphytes — apart from Bromeliads and Ferns he noticed several Orchid species. We now know that around 70 percent of Orchids live on trees. However, the plants are not parasites: They live from the frequent rainfalls and from the foliage-humus, that deposited itself in branch-forks. But there are also Orchids that grow on earth — so called terrestrial Orchids or earth Orchids. These also include around 60 different Orchid species native to our region. The most popular terrestrial Orchids by far are the Lady's Slipper Orchids.

General care and maintenance tips for indoor Orchids

All indoor Orchids thrive in bright, but not too sunny places, for example, near the east and west windows. Take care that the leaves do not touch the cold windowpanes in winter and don’t keep the plants in direct sunlight during summer. Orchids require high ambient humidity — avoid placing them in locations with dry heated air. Depending on the species, it is also necessary to lower the temperature at night and to strictly adhere to a dormancy phase.

Nowadays, you get special Orchid planters for indoor Orchids. These planters have a raised section inside, so that the water can drain off easily. Orchids are also kept in vases, glass containers or in transparent pots — for the roots (as well as in the great outdoors) to get light. It is important that the holes in the pot are big enough for the water to drain off easily and waterlogging is prevented.


Experts also recommend the use of special Orchid substrate for indoor Orchids. This substrate is made of pieces of pine bark which is enriched with fertilizer, peat and calcium carbonate. Normal potting soil should never be used for Orchids, only use special soil for Orchids. It is coarse-grained and airy so as to prevent waterlogging and to maintain the structural stability of the substrate.

Watering the Orchids

Several Orchid newbies mean almost too well when they water their Orchids, however, they forget that waterlogging is deadly for any Orchid species. Consequently, the roots begin to rot and the plant ultimately dies. In most cases, watering your Orchids once a week is quite sufficient. Watering every 14 days also suffices for temperatures under 68 degree Fahrenheit. Room-temperature water that is left to stand out and which is preferably deficient in lime, should be used. Water that has accumulated in the coaster must be discarded immediately. If the humidity in the room is below 40%, then you must also spray water on the Orchids several times a week.

Fertilizing Orchids

During their growth phase, Orchids should be supplied with a special orchid fertilizer every three to four weeks. Orchid fertilizers are formulated to cater to the low nutrition requirement of the rainforest plants. If you do not have Orchid fertilizer, you can also use normal flowering plant fertilizer — at the most half the concentration. A fertilizer stick specially formulated for Orchids can also provide a balanced supply of nutrients.

Repotting Orchids

Orchids must be repotted at most every two years . You need a special Orchid substrate with a structure similar to bark mulch that is permeable to both air and water. Before placing the plant in the fresh soil, shake-off the old soil and simply cut off the dried roots. The new pot should ideally be big enough for the Orchid plant to just fit in. Late winter to early summer is a good time to repot Orchids. Tip: Plenty of nurseries also offer a repotting service for Orchids.

If you find it difficult to remove the Orchid from the pot, carefully roll it back and forth on the table. Take care that the aerial roots don’t break off in the process. Loosen the roots using your fingers and remove the old substrate. Use a garden shear to cut off old and rotten roots (healthy roots are gray-green in color). Hold the Orchid with one hand in the pot in such a way that the root neck is approximately 0.78 inches above the pot edge. Gradually fill the fresh Orchid soil in the pot with your other hand. The best way to distribute the soil evenly, is to shake the pot repeatedly so that the small pieces can settle in the gaps between the roots. The Orchid is sufficiently anchored if you can lift it holding the root neck and the pot is lifted along with it, without the Orchid coming off the pot.

Trimming Orchids

Correctly trimming the Orchid is an important part of Orchid care and maintenance. Use a scalpel or shears: The cutting tool must be sharp and clean as far as possible. Experts go so far as to using sterile knives to reduce the risk of infections. Monopodial (single-stem) Orchids are pruned immediately after flowering, as each stem only flowers once. Remove it directly at the base. Sympodial Orchids (multi-stemmed, branched orchids) rebloom, that is, they develop several flowers on each stem. So if you want to remove dead flowers, cut over the second or third eye — there might be a possibility of the same stem sprouting again.

You can trim any Orchid in a similar manner, if the stems turn brown or dries up: Remove it directly at the base. The same applies to withered side stems. On the other hand, leaves are never pruned They fall off by themselves or come off with a gentle pull. Are the leaves are diseased, they must be removed to prevent the spread of the disease.

A special feature of Orchids is cutting the roots. It is best to carry out this care measure during the repotting process. At first, remove the substrate, if any, and identify dried or rotten roots: They are cut off mercilessly. With older Orchids, occasional pruning of the healthy roots can stimulate the plant to grow again.

Propagating Orchids

The method of propagating depends whether the Orchid is a monopodial or a sympodial. Examples of monopodial Orchids are Angraecum or Vanda Orchids. They can also be propagated by division, however, amateur gardeners have not had a high success rate. Experienced hobby gardeners rely on peat moss with which they wrap their monopodial orchid: This promotes the formation of side shoots with roots, which can then be separated for propagation and replanted.

dividing Orchids
Indoor
To stimulate the growth of Orchids and ensure that it does not stagnate, they should be divided regularly and propagated with offsets. The right time for this is when you are repotting them.

Sympodial Orchids are much easier to propagate because they produce pseudobulbs that can easily be separated from the mother plant. Sympodial Orchids also rejuvenate at the same time. Popular varieties in this group are the Dendrobium or Cymbidium Orchids.

Special care tips for terrestrial Orchids

Terrestrial Orchids are of interest to hobby gardeners who wish to have Orchids in their garden even in our part of the world. Most species need less light than the indoor Orchids and thrive best in partial shade. Moreover, several varieties of terrestrial Orchids are winter-hardy shrubs such as the Lady's Slipper Orchid, wild Orchids or Helleborine, so that you have the pleasure of having these exotic beauties in your flower bed for several years. The most important thing when choosing a location is permeable garden soil at the planting location. A layer of gravel, sand or similar is required at the bottom of the planting hole so that rain water can drain away easily. A layer of mulch made of leaves or bark humus prevents the Orchid roots from drying out. At the same time, it protects the plants from cold and frost. If the terrestrial Orchids are planted in containers, a functioning drainage is required. Pot Orchids must be placed in a frost-free location in winter.

Species and their care requirements

Estimates suggest that there are around 20,000 to 30,000 species in the Orchid family. The enthusiasm to breed this plant, which closely followed the discovery of the new world, is also the reason for the thousands of varieties and hybrids. Since even Orchid species of different genera can often be crossed without any problems, many of the Orchids offered in the gardening trade carry the genetic material of several, sometimes very different species. Breeding of these Orchids still focuses largely on making the tropical and subtropical plants more robust and easy to care for.

Phalaenopsis

If you are looking for particularly uncomplicated variety among the countless Orchid species, the easy-to-care-for Butterfly Orchids or Moth Orchids are Phalaenopsis) your best bets. As they are relatively robust and can withstand slightly lower humidity levels, they are now among the most popular indoor Orchids. There are approximately 70 species in the genus. They are at home in the rainy forests of India, Indonesia and Northern Australia. Breeding of the Moth Orchids began in the end of the 19th century and has resulted in countless varieties. Most of them have white to pinkish red flowers; you will also find multi-colored flowers with fine patterns.

Like all tree Orchids, the Phalaenopsis needs a bright place on the windowsill, it should not be too sunny, the substrate should be very loose and the humidity should be as high as possible (even if it can survive in lower humidity). Water the plant with room temperature water that has been left to sit out for a long time. Make sure, however, that the excess water is drained out completely — waterlogging is a death sentence for all tree Orchids! Only low doses of special Orchid fertilizers should be used to fertilize your Phalaenopsis. If your Phalaenopsis has withered flowers, you should leave the old flower stalks on the plant until the blooms have dried up completely. During this time, new buds for the next inflorescences already start forming at the base of the stem. Cut off the dried flower stem up to the “green” portion and leave the base of the stem with at least two new buds. Repotting every two years is recommended so that the Orchids get a fresh substrate. Don’t worry, a few roots might break in the process, despite all precautions: Unlike other Orchids, the Phalaenopsis doesn't mind a few damaged roots.

Note: Unlike other Orchids, you must never water your Phalenopsis after repotting! You should instead spray the substrate with water every day to keep it moist. After two to three weeks, you can water your darling or give it an immersion bath, just as you would normally do.

Vanda Orchids

The genus of Vanda Orchids has approximately 50 species, most of which are pure epiphytes. Their native habitat extends from India, China, Indonesia and New Guinea to the Philippines. The huge, fragrant and multicolored blossoms of the Vanda Orchids are what makes them especially attractive — now even blue-colored Vanda Orchids are available. The monopodial Orchids grow up to 47.24 inches high.

Unfortunately, they are demanding plants. Vanda Orchids require high level of humidity which is only possible in the green house or the conservatory. A bright spot in the garden that doesn’t receive direct sunlight, is ideal as a planting location. The plants form aerial roots and are therefore not kept in soil, but rather completely without substrate in a hanging basket or pot or even in a glass jar. Parts of the plant above the substrate are sprayed with water and the roots are immersed in water twice a week. Fertilizer is supplied in the summer months. Regularly check if your Vanda Orchids are infested with pests: Indoor planting of these orchids makes them highly susceptible to scale insects, wooly bugs and mealy bugs.

Cattleya-Orchids

Cattleya Orchids Hybrid
Plants
The fascination for Cattleya Orchids has remained unchanged since the 19th century. The ornamental plants, with their exceptionally large and beautiful flowers grow well as houseplants and are an eye-catching beauty.

The Cattleya was first introduced in the 19th century by the Englishman William Cattley, who brought it to Europe from South America and caused there a selective breeding mania. It was very easy to cross-breed them with other Orchid genera. In this way, so-called genus hybrids were created with names like Epicattleya (cross between Cattleya and Epidendrum). The palette of flower colors is accordingly rich: If you consider all genus hybrids, there is hardly a color other than blue that is not found in these Orchids.

Cattleya is well adapted to drier conditions through its bulbs, tuberously thickened storage organs. It can tolerate a bit more sunlight than the other Orchid species and can also be placed at the south window if required. A bit of air circulation and regular ventilation are important. A slightly lower humidity level works well too. Watering should be minimal and spraying of water should be done only in case of dry heating air. In the dormancy period, it is best to limit the watering or immersion of the plant to every two to three weeks.

Cambria Orchids

A large group of cross-generic cultivated Orchids are typically available under the collective name Cambria. Actually, these are different genera or cross-breed of up to four different Orchid genera. In addition to Butterfly Orchids, Cambrias are now among the most propagated indoor Orchids. However, if you are a real Orchid fan and want to know exactly which genus your Cambria belongs to, you will hit a wall fairly early on. An exact determination is difficult even for orchid experts. If you want to buy a multi-genus hybrid under its real name, you have to go to a specialist Orchid nursery.

There are many beautiful varieties of the Cambria Orchid, which are also - for Orchids - relatively easy to care for. They are content with normal humidity levels, room temperature and a light to partially shaded location. If they are planted in a coarse, airy substrate, spray them occasionally with water and use water with low lime content, then nothing will come in the way of beautiful Orchid blooms.

Cymbidium Orchids

The Greek word "kymbos" for "boat", which can be found in the botanical genus name of the Cymbidium Orchids refers to the boat-like flowers that are so typical of this Orchid species. The genus originated from the cross-breeding of various Orchids from northern India, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. Commercially, you can usually find hybrids specially bred for indoor planting.

Cymbidium Orchids are very demanding in terms of maintenance and care and are often only cultivated by enthusiasts and collectors. This is especially true for the tall representatives of the genus, which can reach over 39.37 inches in height. Smaller varieties are considered more robust and are also suitable for experienced Orchid cultivators. A night temperature reduction of 46.4 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit is very important for maintaining them; Cymbidium Orchids have to be placed in an unheated but bright room in the winter months. Both high-quality Orchid soil and rock wool or a peat-bark mixture can be used as a substrate. Weekly fertilization is required. As an extra care measure, the bulbs of older Cymbidium -Orchids must be peeled: Otherwise there is a risk of rot, pests or diseases.

Dendrobium Orchids

The sympodial Dendrobium Orchids (Dendrobium nobile), also called Grape Orchids, grow as epiphytes in the Himalayas, West Asia and Taiwan. If properly cared for, they form numerous pseudobulbs through which they can propagate well. Dendrobium Orchids are only 17.71 inches high and give off a sweet scent when they bloom in spring.

The most important thing when caring for this type of Orchid is to maintain the dormancy phase — otherwise the growth phase and flowering will be over quickly. The dormancy phase lasts from fall to spring. During this time, the plant should be in a bright location that is around 59 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and only around 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. During the growth phase, Dendrobium Orchids must also be placed in a bright, but shaded location. But then they prefer very warm temperatures between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Watering and fertilization must be done all year round. Reduce it significantly during the dormancy phase. In the growth phase, the plant must also be sprayed daily with water. Bark substrate is a good option.

Miltonia Orchids

Pansies Miltonia Orchids

The flowers of the Miltonia Orchids resemble pansies

The Orchids of the genus Miltonia are also known as Pansy Orchids because their flowers resemble Violets. The intense colors and the unusual design of the petals make them striking. The ancestors of today's Pansy Orchids — 30 wild species in all — come from the rainforests along the South American equator. Miltonia Orchids have bulbs similar to Cattleya Orchids and are therefore bound to a fixed dormancy period. But they need more moisture and get by with less light.

During the summer months, Miltonia Orchids feel comfortable outdoors under a shady tree canopy. The humidity must be consistently high all year round, so you should spray the Orchids in the heated room every morning and evening if possible during the winter months. In summer months, you need to water it a bit more than in winter months. As is the case with any Orchid plant, drainage is crucial even for the Miltonia Orchids, as they are highly susceptible to rot.

Zygopetalum Orchids

The Zygopetalum hybrids are native to South America and are fond of a bright to partially shaded location without direct sunlight. Their upright or overhanging multi-flowered flower stems are up to 23.62 inches long and tower above the leaves. The Zygopetalum thrives particularly well in a special Orchid substrate that should never dry out completely.

Lady’s Slipper Orchids

The Lady’s Slipper Orchids (Paphiopedilum) were the most popular Orchid genus before the Butterfly Orchids. The parent species of the genus Paphiopedilum come from Asia. Like all Lady's Slipper Orchids, they do not grow on trees, but belong to the terrestrial Orchids family.

Nevertheless, Lady's Slipper Orchids also need a very airy, humus-rich substrate and contrary to the requirement of the epiphytic species, they need regular lime fertilization. You should mix prepared Orchid soil with half-rotten beech leaves and cover the root ball with a thin layer of moss. Good drainage is also extremely important. The location should be bright but not too sunny. Moreover, high level of air humidity level is also important. If the air in the room is dry, spray the plants regularly with rainwater or distilled water.

Expert tips for Orchid care

The flower island of Mainau in Lake Constance has a large collection of Orchids in its greenhouses. We asked the Stefan Reisch, the gardener responsible for the Orchids, for his best care and maintenance tips for the vibrant exotic beauties.

Orchid expert Stefan Reisch

Orchid expert Stefan Reisch

Mr. Reisch, what should you keep in mind when buying an Orchid?
Even if it tempts you: It is better to leave fully flowered plants alone and take specimens with several closed or open buds instead. The leaves should be firm and green and the roots should not grow too much out of the pot. A word of caution: If it is too cold on the way home, the buds are often shed.

Why are Phalaenopsis particularly suitable for novice gardeners?
Butterfly Orchids are extremely rewarding house plants with flowering times of up to six months - without a break! If you follow a few basic rules, they are quite easy to care for. They are available in almost all colors and now even in different sizes. The blue varieties are, however, artificially colored.


What does the right location look like?

Phalaenopsis “Kolibi”

The exotic flower stars need a bright location with no harsh sunlight, for example an east or west window. South-facing windows are a taboo for Orchids

A bright east or west facing window is optimal. Butterfly Orchids are native to the rainforest, where very little light can penetrate through the treetops. Even they cannot tolerate direct sunlight. If the plants are placed at the south window, they should be covered and moved a good 15.74 inches away from the window. Leaf spots might form if they are sunburnt. If it is too hot or too dry, you will have to deal with the spider mites menace. Also, avoid drafts, otherwise the buds will be shed. In general, the Phalaenopsis are now relatively insensitive to dry heating air. Most other species, such as Cattleya Orchids, have to be sprayed very often with lukewarm rainwater, otherwise they will not survive the hot season. They thrive best in a bright bathroom window because this is where the humidity is highest.

How often must you water it?

It is often advised: a shot glass full of water once a week. That doesn’t always work! Immersion baths work best. To do this, once a week, place the Orchids in a bucket of lukewarm rainwater up to the top of the plant pot. Alternatively, you can also use boiled tap water. Thereafter, let the water drain out well.

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