Growing  Orchids:

  Tips from Tom Wise Judge and Owner of Johns Island Orchids

            There are between 22,000 and 26,000 accepted species of orchids, and they grow on every continent except Antarctica.  Most are tropical but the richest concentration is at the foot of the Himalayas.   Some are epiphytes which grow on trees and get nutrients from rain and passing detritus. Others are lithophytes which grow on rocks. Still others are terrestrial which grow in the ground and these grow in cooler climates such as southwest Australia and are encouraged by wild fires.  Slipper orchids have a lower lip (pouch). Characteristics of all orchids is their bilateral symmetry, the column of fused stamen and pistol, the waxy mass of pollen grains called the pollinium, and the lip. 

            The conditions for growing at home are:  bright indirect light, air movement ( helped by a fan), and humidity.  They may and should be moved outdoors when the temperature is over 50 degrees.  Humidity trays help, or they can be grouped with other houseplants, which provides humidity. 

Tom’s tips:

Learn more about your orchids, from the Orchid Society or the internet such as the Orchid Source Form website.  If you go into a forum, some of the lingo is:  “noid” meaning no ID, because you’ve lost the tag; “dimp” which means died in my possession; “UFO”, the same as noid.  A “keiko” is a baby orchid plantlet, as it’s the Hawaiian word for baby.   There is also a program called Orchid Wiz.

Pay attention to your orchid.  There’s an old Chinese saying, that “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow”.  Examine them often and move them around when you do.  Remove weeds and dying leaves.  Kill insects with Bayer Advanced Rose and Flower insect killer, which kills scale and mealy bugs.  Spray on the roots as well as the leaves.  Water when the pot feels light, don’t overwater!!

Orient the front of the orchid towards the light.  You can tell because the leaves will tilt towards light.  Growth begins at the rear and grows upward.  The roots need air to prevent root rot.  Repot at least every two years.  Use fir bark or long-fibered Chilean sphagnum moss.  Include perlite (sponge rock, volcanic glass.)  Try Cyprus and Cedar mix mulch and lump charcoal (natural not briquettes). 

Fertilize.  Do not use Osmocote, rather use Nutracote which is very slow release, 6-8 months.  You can use liquid Miracle Grow, always low in phosphorus, look for 15-5-15. It can be sprayed on (when the orchids are outside.)

Choose containers wisely.  Plastic is fine but must have holes in the bottom and sides.  You can use unglazed clay pots with holes in the side or bottom, as they wick moisture away from the potting medium.  You can enlarge the hole in the bottom very carefully.  Use tak baskets for orchids which bloom from the bottom.  Don’t use plastic baskets as they don’t rot and the roots will be hard to remove when you want to move the orchids. 

If having difficulty, try mounting your orchid, using tree bark or a teak plank.  You want dry roots.  Hickory bark or wild grapevine are good mounts.  Wire “S” hooks are good for Vanda orchids, which you attach with cable ties, and add Spanish moss for humidity, but just a little.


Don’t stress out if your orchids die, even professionals kill orchids.  Just move on and start again!


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