Growing an upper-class flower |

Growing an upper-class flower

by Sam Bauman
Sam Bauman/Nevada Appeal Paula Helvik, in the Carson City Safeway flower shop, shows off some of the orchids the store offers. Orchids can be grown in the home with the right conditions.

For most of us, our first experience with orchids came when we either pinned one, gingerly, to the bodice of our senior prom date or, vice versa, we hoped that the date had pinned the orchid on carefully.

Other than that, for most of us, orchids were something that the upper class grew in greenhouses. Now millions of Americans are growing orchids, some with more success than others.

Which is why Dr. Eugene Horsley of the Northern Nevada Orchid Society will discuss “How to Care for Orchids” at 11 a.m. today at Greenhouse Garden Center, 2450 S. Curry St. To prepare would-be orchid growers for his presentation, we’ve gathered some garden talk about orchids.

Orchids are now sold just about any place that boasts a flower vase. At Safeway on Carson Street, Paula Helvik, of Carson City, says prices for potted orchids range from $11.99 to $20.99, “depending on color and size.”

“Orchids sell best in the spring, but our last shipment of 24 is now down to five or six. Easy to grow, water lightly regularly, and not too much direct sun.”

Which is pretty much what we had heard.

One of the easiest and most popular orchids to grow in the home are the Phalaenopsis, better known as the “moth orchid.” They require average house temperature and moderate light, much like the African violet.

Other commonly grown orchids are the Paphiopedilum (lady slipper), another low-light grower. The Cattleya (Catt.) is a very rewarding plant and often used in corsages. Oncidiums (dancing dolls), Vandas and Dendrobiums all need bright light to flower. If you have a cool area, try growing the beautiful “pansies,” the Miltoniopsis.

Most orchids can be grown in your home if you give them what they need:

• Don’t overwater, this kills more orchids than anything else.

• Too much light will kill your orchid as will too little light.

• Orchids like a comfortable temperature.

• Orchids like 40-70 percent humidity.

• They don’t like stagnant air.

Most orchids are epiphytes and planted in orchid bark, lava rock or mounted on pieces of bark.

Got that? Well, now let’s look at orchids as a plant.

Orchids produce pods with hundreds of thousands of seeds that are released and scattered. Seeds must establish a symbiotic relationship with a special fungus to survive the first year. The fungi gathers water and minerals for itself and the seedling, and the seedling shares its sugars from photosynthesis with the fungus.

All orchids belong to the Orchid family, Orchidaceae. Orchids are divided into two basic growth types: monopodial and sympodial. Monopodials have a central stem that grows continuously from the tip. Flowers are produced from the stem between the leaves, usually alternately from side to side. Sympodial orchids, such as Cattleyas, Laelias and Paphiopedilums, possess a rhizome which sends out a shoot. This develops into a stem and leaves and eventually produces flowers.

There are many types of orchid-potting media. The idea is to provide structural support for the orchid roots and lots of air spaces. Many orchids are grown in osmunda fiber. Fresh pine bark is also a popular medium, but usually mixed with other amendments. Some orchids are even grown in pebbles mixed with bark.

The ideal place for growing orchids is a bright window, free from drafts, where the plants receive indirect sunlight both morning and afternoon. A south window is best. In winter, give orchids all the light possible.

Potted orchid plants may be set on decorative pebbles in a water-filled tray, saucer or other container. Evaporation from pebbles provides humidity. Pebbles also make the growing area more attractive, while assuring good drainage.

With all this stowed in the brain cells, you’re ready to listen to Dr. Horsley, who will be fresh from a meeting of the Reno Orchid Club with details on just what kind of orchid is best for you.

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Orchids are not as delicate and temperature sensitive plants as most people think. Most will adapt readily to conditions offered by any home or greenhouse. Group orchids into three temperature classes:

• Medium: Represented by many Cattleyas, Epidendrums, Oncidiums and Laelias and most other commercially available orchids. The ideal minimum temperature is 60 degrees nights and high 70s during the days. This group will do very well with the air, temperature and light facilities in the average home.

• Cool: Includes Cymbidiums, Cypripediums, Odontoglossums and Miltonias, and should be grown 5 degrees to 10 degrees cooler than the medium class. These plants also require high light.

• Warm: Represented by Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilums, Vandas, Rhynchostylus and Dendrohiums. These plants should be grown 5 degrees warmer than medium class.

During freezing night temperatures, all orchids should be moved away from the window to provide a protective airspace against freezing.


Watering is the most important factor in orchid culture. Water whenever the potting medium is dry. If you grow the plants in pots suspended in the air, they will dry out more rapidly than bench-grown plants and need watering more frequently. Orchids in bark require more frequent waterings than those in most other media, just as plants in clay pots require more frequent watering

than those in plastic.


Fertilize orchids with soluble plant food. When fertilizing plants growing in osmunda, bark or peat/bark mixes, use a complete liquid fertilizer with a 20-20-20 analysis or a 30-10-10 orchid-special fertilizer.

Don’t fertilize more than once a month. Apply the fertilizer in place of a normal water application. Use fertilizer at half the recommended rate. Orchids are adapted to environments where nutritional levels of the soil or bark are very low.

Orchid pests and diseases

Orchids have few insect pests or diseases, if properly cared for. Have a problem identified before attempting control. Take a sample to your county extension agent and follow recommended treatments.