Orchids: Caring for Orchids

Dig into what you need to know for growing hardy orchids.
Bletilla striata  (03) Habit

Bletilla striata (03) Habit

Chinese Ground Orchid Bletilla striata

Chinese Ground Orchid Bletilla striata

Explore hardy orchids for exotic flowers on a plant that grows like a perennial. Caring for orchids that belong to the hardy group isn’t difficult. These are low-maintenance native plants. The easiest types of hardy orchid plants to grow are bletilla, which is also known as ground or Chinese orchid, and calanthe.  

The hardy species bring classic orchid flower forms to the garden. Some of the blossoms appear individually, like the lady slipper orchids, and some appear in spikes, like bletilla. Orchid flower hues among the hardy types vary from white, to pink, to bronze, to red. There are also yellow, purple and greenish blooms.  

Caring for hardy orchids won’t require much more than basic gardening knowledge. These plants can bring a hefty price tag, though, varying from $12 to over $120. If you’re just starting to growing orchids, you might want to focus on the easy-growing types until you have a successful track record.  

As with any garden perennial, caring for orchids starts with choosing the right site. Few terrestrial orchids want a full sun location. Most crave a spot with dappled light, like along a wood’s edge or in a woodland-type setting. Think about native wildflowers, like trillium, fringed bleeding heart or solomon’s seal. The conditions where these plants grow are the same conditions where many of the native terrestrial orchid flowers grow.

Providing the right type of soil is one of the most difficult aspects of caring for orchids. In a pot, you can use a commercial orchid potting mix. In the garden, you want to create a rooting environment that is cool, well-drained and moist. The consistency you want is similar to a damp sponge, which has plenty of air pockets and is moist at the same time.

To create this type of soil, mix humus-rich compost with the native soil your potential orchid garden offers. It’s a good idea to amend an entire planting area, instead of just one planting hole. Consider taking a soil test to get a read on soil fertility. 

Most hardy orchids can obtain enough nutrients from the compost you added to soil, but some need additional fertilizer. If your soil is healthy and nutritious, you can bypass orchid fertilizer and use annual layers of compost around orchids to provide food to roots.  

One other aspect of caring for orchids in the garden has to do with root protection. Orchid roots are fragile, and it’s a good idea to mulch planting areas in regions that freeze through winter. Applying a 2- to 4-inch-thick layer of mulch after the first hard freeze can insulate roots and soil and help prevent frost heave.

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