HomeHome & GardenAwesome Orchids! Ciar Byrne says these revered tropical plants will thrive with...

Awesome Orchids! Ciar Byrne says these revered tropical plants will thrive with tender loving care

Awesome Orchids! Ciar Byrne says these revered tropical plants will thrive with tender loving care

With a cascade of flowers resembling poached eggs in pink tutus, it’s like no plant I’ve ever seen before.

This unusual specimen is a Dendrobium primulinum, part of the National Collection of dendrobiums recently taken over by orchid enthusiast Marius Grzelik.

In China, the orchid is considered one of the four noble plants, admired for its beauty and elegance, along with bamboo, plum blossom and chrysanthemum. In spring they are at their best, flowering in a multitude of colours from now until early summer.

The orchids we grow indoors in this country hail from South-east and East Asia rather than being European natives, which have a humble beauty all their own but are best spotted in the wild. 

These decorative blooms are sometimes seen as difficult, but the key to success is understanding how they grow in their natural habitats.

Forest floor: Phalaenopsis Crown Stripe is also known as the moth orchid

Watering is the most vital element of orchid care, explains Grzelik, who keeps his collection — one of the many overseen by conservation charity Plant Heritage (plantheritage.org.uk) — in a large greenhouse at his home in Hove, East Sussex.

‘In nature they always have contact with moisture — even on a dry day the humidity is very high. Many dendrobiums come from monsoon parts of the world. I’m trying to mimic the same thing,’ he says.

How to water

There’s an art to watering orchids, as sitting in damp material can damage the roots. For most of the year, watering once or twice a week should suffice, but in the hot summer months this could be as much as once or twice a day. Over winter, it can be reduced to once every couple of weeks.

Grzelik recommends growing orchids in transparent containers, so you can keep an eye on whether the growing medium is drying out. He also advises using rainwater, if possible.

Dendrobium and Phalaenopsis are two of the most common families of indoor orchids. In nature they are often epiphytes, meaning they grow in trees — the name is derived from the Greek ‘dendron’ for tree and ‘bios’ meaning life. Others are lithophytes, living on rocks, or terrestrial, growing in the ground. They take their food from rainwater and debris rather than from the trees they live on.

When it comes to feeding them, you can use either a specialised orchid food or a general feed for potted plants at about half the recommended strength. Feed every three weeks from spring to autumn.

Comfort and light

How much light your orchid likes depends on the species. Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum, which grow on the forest floor, prefer low light levels, whereas Dendrobium and Laelia are sun-loving.

Most orchids like a good flow of air but don’t like sitting in a cold draught. The ideal temperature is between 15c and 30c.

‘If we feel comfortable, the orchids will feel comfortable. If we feel chilled, the orchid feels the same,’ says Grzelik.

Although they are readily available in garden centres and supermarkets, the best place to buy orchids is from specialist growers. There are also many orchid societies throughout the UK.

But be warned. There are so many different types to choose from, once you get started you might become hooked.

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