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Allure of orchids

Dec 28, 2012

GARDENING

Orchids are exotic species of flowers and are nice additions to your garden. But they easily wither if they are not tended the right way. Surabhi Johri offers suggestions on how to grow these beautiful flowers.

The exotic nature of orchids has always attracted flower lovers. It is one family of flowers which has a huge variety in terms of shape of petals, size, colour, and habit. Orchids belong to a large family of around 25,000 species. Besides naturally occurring species, newer hybrid varieties keep making an appearance in the market, thanks to tissue culture. Today, orchids can be found in all colours, except blue and black.

Though orchids grow almost all over the globe, a good majority are in the tropical regions. India’s northeast region and the Western Ghats have rich orchid populations. Tropical climate favours epiphytic orchids, and therefore many orchids grow on tree trunks drawing moisture and nutrition from the air.

Many grow in the ground and on rocks too. Singapore’s national flower happens to be an orchid. It comes as no surprise that the country has a dedicated orchid garden, an absolutely delightful and inspiring garden to visit. Then, the vanilla flavouring agent which we all come across very commonly happens to be extracted from the bean of vanilla orchid. The unique thing about orchids is that they lend themselves wonderfully to chic and contemporary arrangements, both as a whole plant and as cut flowers. Also, the life of an orchid bloom is much longer than most other flowers. Therefore, even if it is expensive to begin with, it turns out cheaper.

Their mesmerising beauty and fragrance makes us want to grow orchids successfully.
Many orchids are not difficult to raise, rather, they need to be treated differently from other plants. Once the natural environment is understood, it becomes easier to grow your own blooms. Humid air, good air circulation around plant and roots, indirect light, freely draining growing medium and orchid fertilisers are all that are needed. So it’s simple but just different from the regular plants.

Flowering patterns

Among species, the flowering pattern varies. Monopodial orchids bear many flowers on a single stem whereas sympodial have many stems coming out from the base and each bearing a flower. Depending on the genus, flowering can last from a couple of weeks to up to two months. The easiest orchids to grow and bring to bloom are phalaneopsis, cymbidium, dendrobium, cattleya, paphiopedilum and oncidium.

Though orchids can be grown in any suitable pot, there are special orchid pots with big slits all around so that the water drains away freely. The growing medium mostly is sphagnum moss, bark or cocopeat. All have moisture retention capacity and therefore keep the roots moist without wet feet. Just like many other plants, too much watering can suffocate the orchid to death. You should water when the medium begins to feel dry and during the non-active phase, you should water even lesser.

The growing mix should be changed every couple years or earlier as it decomposes. Feeding orchids is essential, but only use orchid fertiliser as its composition differs from the regular fertilisers. Feeding frequency of once a month is recommended.

Light requirement, bloom life, and number of flowers varies hugely among various types of orchids. Phalaneopsis and paphiopedilum require low lighting and blooms stay for ten weeks whereas cattleya needs bright light and its blooms stay for a week or two.
Cymbidium can yield more than 20 flowers lasting around three to six weeks, while paphiopedilum has one flower per spike. Phalaneopsis and dendrobium have five or six buds while cattleya varieties will have one or two. Dendrobium flower also lasts for three to six weeks. Once the flowering is over, orchids bloom again. Cattleya is one that usually flowers throughout the year, and the primary reason of not flowering is low light.

When all orchid requirements are met optimally, new plants may grow and should be suitably transferred to independent pots. From new plants to bloom, depending on variety, it may take one year to seven years. These easy orchids should get you started on growing your own exotic blooms.

(The writer is a landscape consultant.)

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