Easy-to-Grow Orchids

Get tips on growing these lovely flowers.

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Practically everyone loves orchids. But practically everyone also thinks they’re impossible to grow. That's just not so, says Gardening by the Yard host Paul James.

Most orchids are easy to grow because they are epiphytes. That means they extract their nutrients and water from the surrounding air and don’t require soil to thrive.

Paul James met with prize-winning orchid grower Dotty Woodson at her huge greenhouse in Fort Worth, Texas, to learn her best tips for growing orchids successfully. Four types of orchids fall into the very-easy-to-grow category:

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Cattleya orchid

Dendrobiums (prefer low light)

Oncidiums (can be grown outdoors in summer, indoors in winter)

Paphiopedilums (prefer low light)

Phalaenopsis (prefer low light and rebloom)

A little more difficult to grow, but extraordinarily beautiful, are the showy and fragrant Cattleya orchids, which can feature flowers of spectacular size. And here's a surprising fact: Cattleyas are as sweet to eat as they are to smell!

How to Keep Orchids Happy

  • Thoroughly water the potting material they are in. The roots act like a sponge and swell when they absorb the water. Allow plants to dry out between waterings.
  • Create a source of humidity; for example, place the orchid pot in a saucer with moist gravel.
  • Provide sufficient light.
  • Fertilize. Woodson recommends every two to three weeks during the summer while they are growing with a quarter-strength fertilizer.

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Potting mix elements

When repotting orchids, says Woodson, it's less important what you pot them in than how you manage the plants after repotting them. She uses a combination potting mix of Douglas fir bark, giant perlite and activated charcoal. And don’t be afraid of hurting the plant while you’re repotting it. Orchids are tougher than they look.

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Healthy roots

While repotting, check orchid roots to be sure they are white, turgid (swollen, not shriveled) and healthy. Use sterilized shears to snip off any unhealthy roots before transferring to a new pot. Viral diseases are common among orchids and can be spread with contaminated tools. Choose a plastic or terra cotta pot for your plant, depending on your budget (plastic is less expensive) and the size of your orchid (terra cotta is heavier and will balance a large, top-heavy orchid).

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