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Oooh La La—The Orchid as a Houseplant.
 
Orchids are often stereotyped as the Mother’s Day corsage or as an adornment on the wrist of a prom date. The elegant houseplant is more than that and is not the prima donna plant one often associates with the orchid.
 
On the contrary, an orchid is easy to care for if you know the particular needs of your special plant. The lush, tropical rainforests are the habitats for the majority of orchids. Orchids do best if you provide a similar environment in your home.
 
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR ORCHIDS
 
Like any houseplant, orchids require a certain amount of humidity, light, air, feeding, temperature and special potting.
 
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Orchids prefer to have about 60% humidity. I achieved this by placing a tray filled with gravel underneath and around my potted orchids. About once a week, turn on a fan to give the orchids ventilation and to eliminate the risk of pests and bacteria.
 
To test if the orchid needs watered, lift the pot, and if it feels light, that means the orchid is thirsty. A major rule is not to over water. To avoid fertilizer build-up, feed the orchid with a weak solution. According to Gene Hausermann, owner of Orchids by Hausermann in Villa Park, Illinois, “When the weather turns warmer in the summer months, feed with a solution of 30-10-10.” Once a month in the winter he recommends feeding with about half of that solution; in warmer months, fertilize each time you water.
 
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Misting orchids is a good way to regulate room temperature. Orchids are unique in that some prefer a warm environment while other orchids cannot take the heat.
 
Repotting every year or two will keep your orchid healthy. When the potting mix appears old, it is time to repot your plant. You may need to repot your orchid if pests are a problem. If you can identify the bug, use a spray suited to eradicate the particular pest. Or give the plant a thorough cleaning with mild dish soap mixed with lots of water. Just spray and repot the plant.
 
POPULAR ORCHIDS 
 
I began my orchid selection with a Phalaenopsis and an Oncidium. They are easy to care for and will flower for two to three months. The Phal is located in a shady spot out of direct sunlight and blooms last up to two months. Often referred to as a “phal” and pronounced “fail,” this one is nearly fail proof for a beginning collector. Besides white, they come in pink, purple and yellow and can have spots, stripes and other interesting markings.
 
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The Dendrobium prefers to grow in a bright light, and Oncidium likes to be in a sunny spot. Gene Hausermann told me, “There are other choices that require more care. One is Cattleya that does best in a sunny window and blooms for about two to four weeks and can have six-inch flowers in lavender or white.” Another one his company offers is Miltoniopsis; it likes indirect sunlight and blooms last for nearly a month. Hausermann said, “It is often referred to as the “pansy” orchid because its markings resemble that of the flower in shades of dark purple and red.” Paphiopedilums or “slipper” orchids placed in a shaded spot such as a north-facing window can hold blooms lasting almost two months. Vanda prefers sun and flowers about two months. “We offer it in blues and hot pink,” Gene Hausermann said.
 
CHOOSING YOUR ORCHID
 
When shopping for your orchid avoid, a plant with drooping or weak looking blooms. This indicates it lacks the proper amount of humidity, and often it means the blooming period is finished.
 
Ask questions at the store where you will be shopping for your orchid. Explain about the environment where your orchid will be living, how much light or shade you can provide and any other helpful information to make a good selection.
 
To select the best plant for your environment, read about orchids. Don’t let the Latin names intimidate you; it helps to be familiar with them since there are so many varieties of orchids. Learn how they grow and know about the care and the environment they require. This information will prove valuable in helping you decide which orchids are best for a specific location in your home.
 
Friends who grow orchids are good sources to learn about orchids. Ask them questions about their plants before you select your orchid. Maybe they will gladly accompany you when you shop for orchids.
 
While care is relatively easy, the difficult task is patiently waiting for the blooms. Beautiful to look at and with long lasting and magnificent blooms, the wait is worth it.
 
Reading Sources:
Orchids to Know and Grow by Thomas Sheehan, University of Florida Press.
 
300 Orchids: Species, Hybrids and Varieties in Cultivation by Jane Boosey, Firefly Books.
 
Mail order orchid sources:
Orchids by Hausermann
Phone: 630-543-6855
 
Zuma Canyon Orchids
Specialty: Phals
 
Santa Barbara Orchid Estate
Phone: 805-967-1284

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Carole McCray is an award-winning garden and lifestyle writer and artist who lives, writes gardens and paints in the scenic Laurel Highlands in southwestern Pennsylvania. She won the 2003 Garden Writers Award of Achievement for her article on Native Seeds published in The Christian Science Monitor Newspaper. You can read Carole's profile on the Mulch.

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