Home & Garden

Orchids for beginners: buying and growing tips

By: Donna Paris

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

Orchids for beginners: buying and growing tips

By: Donna Paris

For Jane and Robert Johnstone, the passion started one Christmas 20 years ago when Jane's brother Alan quite innocently gave them an orchid. It lived happily on their windowsill and was so lovely that they decided to get another one…then another one…then another one. Not long after they had so many orchids that they decided to move them all into their sunroom-turned-greenhouse. They joined an orchid society, and Robert became the president. Now they have about 1,000 orchids. “It all started with that plant,” says Jane. “It was so beautiful we were hooked.”

Orchids, once rare and costly, are currently one of the most popular houseplants and available almost everywhere. Some bloom twice a year – the blooms often last for months – and prices start around $20. But be warned! Buying that first orchid could be the beginning of a growing obsession.

Orchids for beginners: buying and growing tips
• Orchid shows are good places to talk to knowledgeable growers, and orchid-society members often swap plants. Try Internet and mail-order suppliers, too. Orchids vary; ask the supplier to specify the cultural requirements for the particular plant you are purchasing.

• There are about 30,000 species of orchids worldwide, but not all will thrive on a windowsill. See our trio of best bets and look for blooming plants or mature specimens with flower-stem spikes thrusting up from the base.

• Orchids don't thrive in soil. Instead, they're grown in charcoal, Styrofoam, cork, rock wool, fir bark, stones or minerals, either alone or in a mix (all available at garden centres).

• Most orchids love bright, filtered sunlight such as that found in an east or north window or a shaded south window.

• Most orchids prefer daytime temperatures of 15 to 27C (59 to 81F) and nighttime temperatures of 11 to 15C (52 to 59F). This daily range promotes flowering.

• Place a layer of pebbles in a tray; on pebbles, place potted orchids. Keep tray filled with water to just below pebble tops. Give humidity-loving orchids a morning spritzing once a day. The humidity helps keep spider mites away, but ensure good air circulation, too, to avoid mould.

• A weekly watering is the general rule. Some varieties need more frequent watering, especially while flowering, and some should dry out completely between waterings. Rainwater is best.

• Dilute houseplant fertilizer, such as 30-10-10, to quarter or half strength. Feed plants as you water: submerge pots in a bucket of water with the food solution; let sit for several minutes, then drain thoroughly.

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Photograph provided by Jane and Robert Johnstone.

To learn about orchids, swap them and show them, contact:

Central Ontario Orchid Society
P.O. Box 40074, 75 King St. S.,
Waterloo, Ont.
N2J 4V1

Eastern Canada Orchid Society
699 Cardinal Street,
Mont-Saint-Hilaire, QC
J3H 3Z5

The London Orchid Society
509 Commissioners Rd. W., Suite 162,
London, Ont.
N6J 1Y5

Manitoba Orchid Society
PO Box 7, Group335, RR#3
Winnipeg, MB
R3C 2E7

Orchid Society of Alberta
PO Box 33169
15557 Stony Plain Road
Edmonton, Alta.
T5B 4V8

Orchid Society of New Brunswick,
(This society has disbanded but local information is available)
Coreen Smith
271 Smith Road
Waterville, N.B.
E2V 3V6

Orchid Society of Nova Scotia

c/o the N. S. Museum of Natural History 1747 Summer St.,
Halifax, N.S.
B3H 3A6

Orchid Society of the Royal Botanical Gardens
P.O. Box 399,
Hamilton, Ont.
L8N 3H8

Ottawa Orchid Society
P.O. Box 38038, 1430 Prince of Wales Dr.,
Ottawa, Ont.
K2C 1N0

Saskatchewan Orchid Society
P.O. Box 411,
Saskatoon, Sask.
S7K 3L3

Southern Ontario Orchid Society
P.O. Box 241,
Goodwood, Ont.
L0C 1A0

Vancouver Orchid Society
P.O. Box 23932, Airport Postal Outlet,
Richmond, B.C.
V7B 1Y1

Information on the Internet

Visit the Internet Orchid Photo Encyclopedia and check out CanadianOrchidCongress.ca.

Mail-Order Orchids

Clargreen Gardens,
814 Southdown Road
Mississauga, Ont.
L5J 2Y4
(905) 822-0999

Southlands Nursery,
655- Balaclava Street
Vancouver, B.C.
V6N 1L9
(604) 261-6411

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Orchids for beginners: buying and growing tips