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Growing the ‘gardener’s pride’

Orchids have unique environmental requirements that differ from many other plants.
Last Updated : 23 June 2024, 02:09 IST

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Whenever I go to a nursery, I’m charmed by the beautiful and vibrant orchid. It is an exquisite flower, both a gardener’s pride and challenge. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Madhusudan, the technical manager at the Orchid and Succulents division of a nursery. He willingly shared his knowledge on how to cultivate these plants properly. I’ve summarised the key insights from our conversation so that we can all grow orchids more confidently.

Orchids have unique environmental requirements that differ from many other plants. According to Dr Madhusudan, the key to successfully growing orchids is understanding their natural habitat. Orchids are native to the tropics and subtropics, where they flourish in humid environments. Cool-growing orchid species, such as Miltoniopsis, originate from high-altitude, cloud-covered forest environments. In contrast, orchids like Cattleya, are found naturally in subtropical climates and are adapted to warmer but not overly hot temperatures. Vanda comes from the steamy, moisture-rich rainforests at or near sea level. The common factor for all orchids is the necessity of high humidity, without which they cannot survive.

If you wish to grow an orchid garden, dedicate a space for them. Here are the things that you need to do: cover the space with a green net to trap sunlight, add misty water sprayers, and provide good air circulation to pump up the humidity. You can also use pebble trays or place the plants near a small water feature like a fountain. A relatively
stable temperature range is essential for orchids to develop well, whether they’re cultivated indoors or in a greenhouse setting.

Once you have the setup ready, select the right plant. Here are some things to look out for while buying orchids: Make it a point to buy from authentic sellers. Check the tag or label for the orchid’s species name, native habitat, and optimal growing conditions as this knowledge will guide your care strategy. If you are a beginner, Dr Madhusudan recommends growing simple ones like Phalaenopsis or Dendrobium because they adapt quickly to subtle changes. Look for orchids with bright, non-drooping leaves and healthy roots free of rot. It should be in an active growth phase with fresh leaves. If buying a blooming plant, choose one with a few unopened flower buds. Avoid plants showing signs of disease like spots or sogginess.

Many orchids find a home when mounted on wooden planks or tree bark, which provides ideal aeration and drainage for their roots. When potting, use a well-draining medium like the one formulated specifically for epiphytic orchids. Orchid placement is also crucial—orient them towards the east or north to provide appropriate light.

When you bring a new orchid home, it’s best to keep it isolated for a few days before introducing it to your existing collection. This quarantine period can prevent the spread of any diseases or pests.

Orchids require regular fertilisation with both macro and micronutrients to stay healthy. A well-scheduled feeding regimen is essential. Additionally, preventative treatment with pesticides and fungicides can ward off common issues. Orchids prefer a fine mist of water. It is best to use distilled or rainwater, as tap water may contain harmful salts. For orchids growing on barks and wooden planks, throw a mug of water aimed at the roots.

Orchid blooms stay for nearly two to four months in a year. When the flowers are nearing the end of their blooming phase, cut the spent blooms to redirect the plant’s energy into producing new leaves rather than maintaining the old flowers. This helps delay leaf yellowing and drying.

Orchids are perennial plants. As they mature, they develop more branches and flower spikes. I picked up a Phalaenopsis after the interview and it is now growing along with other moth orchids on the bark of my Patens tree. Hope yours does too!

Motley Garden is your monthly kaleidoscopic view into a sustainable garden ecosystem.

The author believes gardening is more than just cultivating plants. It’s also about the bees, butterflies, insects, flies, and bugs that make the garden their home. She posts on social media as @all_things_in_my_garden.

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Published 23 June 2024, 02:09 IST

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