Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

What are some good orchids for the beginner?

If you can grow plants on a window sill you can grow orchids. The key is to pick the right ones. Most beginners will probably like to buy a plant in bloom. They are a bit more expensive than non-blooming plants but you will be able to see what the flower looks like without having to wait 2 to 3 years.

To get started stick to three kinds which are easiest to grow: Cattleyas, warm climate Phalaenopsis and Dendrobiums such as Dendrobium phalaenopsis. These orchids are all "epiphytic", meaning they do not grow in the ground but on trees with their roots exposed. Consequently, they need a special light growing medium such as fir bark which provides rapid drainage and good air circulation around the roots. Your plant should come planted in the right type of medium. When you repot the plant be sure you use a similar material.

As other plants vary in their light and water requirements so do orchids. Give cattleyas bright light. The leaves should be a yellowish-green not a bright green. Plants which bright, dark green leaves may look health but they will not flower. Water and fertilize cattleyas regularly in spring and summer when the plants are growing actively but reduce watering in the fall and winter. Depending upon conditions you may need to water orchids only once or twice a week during the summer. Be sure and allow the growing medium to dry before watering again. Excessive water will cause the roots to rot. Cattleyas can withstand higher daytime temperatures but prefer to be cooler at night.

Phalaenopsis orchids, also called moth orchids, like average home temperatures and do well with less light. A bright east window is good for a Phalaenopsis. The plant should be kept evenly moist but not wet at all times even during the winter months. Fertilize when the plant is growing actively.

There are many kinds of Dendrobium orchids some require exacting conditions to grow and flower. Some are also deciduous meaning they drop all their leaves for part of the year. Dendrobium phalaenopsis is an easy one to grow because it is evergreen. Give it bright light and average home temperatures. Keep moist at all times and fertilize when it is growing actively.

Although these orchids can be grown indoors year round they benefit by being outdoors for the summer. Choose a location protected from intense sunlight and water and fertilize as needed. Phalaenopsis orchids and Dendrobium phalaenopsis will need more frequent watering than will cattleyas. Be sure and bring the plants indoors before temperatures fall into the 40 degree F. range.