Photo/Illustration: Scott Phillips
Orchids have a reputation for being finicky. And yet, if you take a trip to your local supermarket or garden store, there are dozens of orchids for $15 apiece, blooming under less-than-ideal conditions. What gives?
The hybrids for sale today have been bred for generations, not only for their big, bright, colorful flowers but also for their toughness, ease of growth, and dependable blooming. The ubiquitous moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp. and cvs.) has passed poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima and cvs.) as the world’s number one potted plant precisely because it blooms for months at a time and survives under average household conditions. Problems occur, however, when it is treated like any other houseplant.
The bottom line is that orchids aren’t difficult; they’re just different. For starters, most orchids grow epiphytically—that is, aboveground on tree branches or rocks. Their thick, strong roots have adapted to anchoring onto bark or stone, and they are accustomed to the drenching-and-drying routine of tropical rainforests. They need air and space around them, which is why they rot in regular potting mix. In fact, roots are the key to growing healthy orchids. Following these basic care instructions will help ensure that your orchid has the strength to bloom year after year.