Orchids are fascinating plants due to their origin and the beautiful inflorescences. Until a few decades ago their cultivation was reserved for an elite: it was in fact almost always necessary to have greenhouses or environments where high temperatures and humidity could be maintained.
Over time, however, varieties from more cold environments have become widespread, more adaptable to European living conditions. In addition, researchers have created new, less delicate and more easily reproducible hybrids. Today they are more popular, less expensive and more widespread in homes and gardens.
The name "orchid" comes from the Latin and means "testicle" in reference to some tubercles present at the base of terrestrial species endemic to our country.
Description and origins
The orchids they are mostly endemic to the tropical and subtropical areas of the Asian and American continents. Some species, almost two hundred, are also found in the spontaneous state also in Italy, especially in the hilly and mountain areas.
Those coming from temperate and warm habitats are almost all epiphytes: they cling to the roots of other plants, which serve only as a support.
The others, of altitude, are instead called "terricolo" because they sink the roots in the ground.
The leaves are in any case entire, almost always oval or ribbon-shaped, arranged alternately. Their consistency sometimes fleshy seen that they also serve as a reserve of liquids and nutrients. In other cases this task is instead performed by the pseudobulbs that are found at the base, ovoid or cylindrical in shape.
The shape of the flowers is typical and very recognizable: in the upper part there are three sepals, in the lower three petals. The central one, called labellum, varies in shape and color depending on the species and cultivar and has the function of attracting pollinating insects.
Roots, in the epiphytic and sapropidic species, are aerial and often fleshy. On their surface there is a thin layer called velamen whose task is to absorb the humidity of the air and the surfaces to which they anchor.
As we have said, however, there are also terricolous species, such as those that can be found in the spontaneous state in Europe. In this case the hypogeum apparatus is composed of bulbs or rhizotubes.
THE ORCHIDS IN BRIEF
|Culture||From easy to difficult|
|Height||From 10 to 60 cm|
|Composting||Every 15 days|
|Minimum temperature||Generally 10 ° C, much depends on the species|
|Exposure||Very bright, no direct light|
|Propagation||Division, keiki withdrawal|
|Avversitа||Aphids, snails, cochineal|
Three species of orchid are more easily found on the market, as plants or even as cut flowers: phalaenopsis, dendrobium and cymbidium.
The first two species are orchids that love the heat; the Cymbidium instead are orchids that can easily be grown in the garden, they do not fear slight frosts; in northern regions it would be better to place them in a protected place during the winter months. The cultivation of Cymbidium in the apartment leads to the absence of flowers, and to a slow deterioration of the plants, which tend to produce little dull foliage and to be easy prey for various parasites. So if we buy a Cymbidium plant we try to set it to live outdoors, perhaps on a terrace, so that we can enjoy over the years flowers and healthy and lush plants.
Phalaenopsis and dendrobium are the most widespread species, but even in a small nursery we can find many species of orchid of tropical origin, definitely not suitable for cultivation in the garden. Each species obviously has different needs, and if we are fans of these magnificent flowers we will soon learn to inform us whenever a new specimen is placed in our collection. In case you want to grow many tropical orchids it is the case that you equip yourself with a terrarium or a small greenhouse, in which to maintain humidity and temperatures suitable for the growth of these beautiful plants.
If, on the other hand, you just want to grow one or two orchids as houseplants, the advice is definitely to devote yourself to phalaenopsis, which among the various species seem to be the ones that best adapt to the climate in the home. Dendrobium, cattleye and cambrie can also be grown in apartments, often with repeated flowering and good cultivation successes.
More features/climate needs
Cold greenhouse orchids
Large flowers with a waxy consistency
Very simple cultivation
Stems in the form of bamboo with alternate leaves and long pseudobulbs
Large multicolored flowers, up to 8 cm in diameter
Blooms in winter.
Delicate because it requires specific thermal shock
Very small golden or brown flowers
Between 10 and 25 ° C
Temperate greenhouse orchids
Ribbon-like leaves, very decorative
The labellum is similar to a pocket
Simple cultivation if you have the right temperatures
Thick and leathery leaves
Very large, lasting almost a month. colorful
Of medium difficulty
Thin light green leaves
Flower similar to pansy
Delicate cultivation, very common root and collar rots
Warm greenhouse orchids
Ribbon-shaped leaves, very long
Diameter up to 15 cm, beautiful in blue and fuchsia
Fairly difficult crop
Thick and rounded leaves
Large flowers in the shape of a butterfly, in many colors
Very simple hybrids. The most common and widespread in the apartments
Light for orchids
Although each orchid species has specific needs, which depend on the place of origin of the species found in nature, we can indicate general rules for plants that are recommended as apartment species.
One of the fundamental elements is light; in fact most of the tropical orchids live in very bright places, but hardly receive the direct rays of the sun; the ideal is to place them near a window, but away from heat sources or drafts; therefore it is advisable to keep the vases of the orchids in the most luminous areas of the house, so that they can enjoy a good amount of light without being burned by direct sunlight; especially during the summer months we repair the plants from the direct sun, and if we move them outdoors we remember to repair them, especially during the hottest hours of the day.
In any case, let's avoid placing our orchid in a dark or dark place, because this would lead to the plant not producing flowers and having little or no root and foliage.
If we decided instead to cultivate a deciduous species, remember to place the pot in a dim place during the resting period of the plant, or when it has no vegetation.
Almost all require a very bright exposure, but you must avoid direct sun, especially from mid-spring to autumn. At home the ideal is a room with a window to the south, possibly shielded with a light colored curtain. In fine weather, outside, we can place them under a deciduous tree or under a pergola.
Most of the orchids that can be cultivated in the apartment are of tropical origin, therefore they are adapted to the warm and humid climate of the tropics, with frequent and light rainfall and almost no temperature changes. So they prefer a warm cultivation climate, with average temperatures around 20-25 ° C, all year round. Watering must be very frequent, but avoiding soaking the substrate: every 3-5 days we moisten the soil with demineralized water at room temperature.
The password is high environmental humidity; this type of humidity is not given only by watering, but depends on the amount of water present in the environment; due to a correct development of the orchids and to favor the flowering the environmental humidity must be quite high; to obtain good environmental humidity it is advisable to vaporize the leaves of the orchids often, using demineralised water.
During periods of summer heat and even when the heating or air conditioning system is active, the climate in the apartment tends to be very dry; we can overcome this problem by placing a humidifier near our orchids.
Another valid method to increase the quantity of water dispersed in the air consists in positioning the vases of orchids in a tray filled with pebbles or expanded clay; we will always keep the tray full of water, up to at least half a centimeter from the vase of orchids, so as not to wet the soil; in this way the water in the tray evaporating will keep the ambient humidity high.
How to water the orchids
As written in the previous paragraph, orchids are plants that require heat and humidity. Environmental humidity and humidity at a radical level. If humidity at the root level can be easier to obtain (just drown the roots in water when needed), due to environmental humidity things get complicated because we need a whole series of tricks we have just seen.
However these tricks serve to water the plant precisely, as the orchids absorb water mainly from the atmosphere.
For a correct watering of the orchids therefore it is necessary to adopt all the precautions seen in the previous paragraph, as although they represent good cultivation practices of these plants, they are actually fundamental to guarantee the plant a good dose of the water it needs.
Fertilizer and soil
Most tropical orchids are epiphytes, that is, they do not root in the ground, but live between the intersections of the branches of tall trees, or between rocks, where decomposed or decomposing materials are deposited; therefore they prefer very soft and incoherent soils; in the nursery this type of substrate is imitated by mixing pieces of bark with peat or sphagnum, pieces of coconut fiber, or even polystyrene. Orchids in general they are not repotted regularly, but moves to a larger container only when the roots come out copiously; or divide the clumps to place them in different pots and obtain two specimens of the same plant.
Even orchids need fertilizing, but in very limited quantities; usually they are fertilized throughout the year, every 12-15 days, but using a specific fertilizer and in a very small quantity, so that there are not excessive amounts of mineral salts inside the water of the watering.
Orchids cannot get nutrients from the substrate. They should therefore be helped with synthetic fertilizers, mostly liquid or water-soluble.
Generally, at the vegetative restart, a product is given in which the nitrogen is prevalent. From mid-spring to autumn, instead, a more balanced formulation will be chosen. In autumn and winter it is important to prefer a greater administration of potassium, so that the plant is stimulated, at the end of winter, to emit flower stems.
Almost all of them require a practically inert substrate. The materials commonly used are: pine bark (specially prepared), charcoal, expanded clay, agriperite, polystyrene, rock wool. In case you want to slightly increase the humidity you can add a little sphagnum.
More cultivated orchids
Orchids can be considered in all respects cosmopolitan plants because, in their different species, they are found everywhere on our planet, with the sole exception of deserts and areas constantly covered by ice.
Those more decorative and consequently widespread in cultivation are however mostly native to tropical areas. Tens of thousands of hybrids have been obtained from the 25,000 species found in nature.
Their specific needs are determined by the natural environments from which their ancestors derive: in general they grow vigorously when temperatures are between 15 and 25 ° C.
Here are the most common species:
- Le cattleya: from Central and South America, they have high-impact and often fragrant flowers. They must grow at temperatures between 16 and 25 ° C and a high rate of air humidity (at least 70%)
- I cymbidium, endemic to the highlands of the Himalayas and Australia, are considered to all intents and purposes houseplants. In some areas of our country, in the Center-South and on the coasts, they can also be used as outdoor specimens, in open ground or in pots. They can withstand a minimum temperature of 4 ° C, especially if it is not very long. However, it is important to keep them in the autumn for about a month at about 10 ° C, to induce the production of flower stems. The issue can last several months and be repeated in the same year. Corollas are very durable and colorful (especially in hybrids).
- The oncidium they require temperatures between 10 and 25 ° C and have corollas with temperatures between yellow, bronze and brown
- I dendrobium they come from Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The type called "Nobile" prefers cool environments, especially at night. Those instead known as "phalaenopsis" are less demanding in terms of temperature changes and they bloom easily even without being subjected to them. They are therefore very suitable for growing as houseplants.
- Le Miltonia they come from the Andean regions. They adapt well to a mild climate, with temperatures between 12 and 25 ° C. They bloom between summer and autumn. They have very showy and colorful corollas.
- Le Vanda they come from tropical Asia, particularly from the forests of Burma. They want temperatures between 16 ° C and 30 ° C. The flowers are large and of very bright colors (including blue). Some have an excellent and intense fragrance.
Where to grow orchids
Almost all the orchids are cultivated in pots, in our country, with the exception of the cymbidium which, in some areas, can be kept outside, in a sheltered position.
A nice alternative for epiphytes is the creation of a so-called "raft". For its creation branches or portions of cork are used, to which the plant clings, similarly to how it would do in its natural environment. You can create very elegant compositions that are also quite simple to maintain.
They are almost always kept indoors (or, in summer, on the veranda or in a sheltered area of the garden). However, they must be protected against drafts, especially if they are cold. The proximity of heat sources, which cause too dry an environment, should also be avoided.
Irrigation and humidity
To always have beautiful plants and avoid the onset of rot, it is good to irrigate only when the roots are silvery. You can choose to distribute the water from above or do it by immersing the jar at least half in the liquid (then letting it drain well for at least all night). The second method, if well executed, avoids the onset of rot at the base of the leaves (where water often settles).
Plants, however, need a lot of environmental humidity to keep themselves healthy. It must always increase with rising temperatures. To obtain it you can vaporize the leaves several times a day or place in the area of the flower beds filled with expanded clay and water.
For all these operations it is very important to use only demineralized or rainwater. Limestone (and other salts) can in fact, in the long run, seriously damage both the leaves and the root system of the orchids.
How to induce flowering
To obtain a new flowering it is almost always necessary to expose the plants for a period to a drop in temperatures, especially at night. This simulates the winter that they would have lived in their natural environment and, at the end, the normal vegetative restart with the consequent production of flowers. Each species requires adequate temperatures and timelines: it is therefore necessary to obtain in-depth information.
Propagation by seed can only be carried out by professionals or experts.
It can however operate, depending on the species, by division of the pseudobulbs or by taking the suckers, also called keiki.
Once the part of the plant necessary for reproduction is taken, it will be necessary to proceed with the repotting. To carry out the repotting it will be necessary to find suitable land, available at any nursery or garden center. The perfect soil for orchids is an organic substrate rich in vegetable components such as bark and wood, necessary to give the roots of these plants the indispensable ventilation and the support necessary for their growth.
The new plants will be positioned trying to put the collar of the plants not too low and not too high compared to the upper end of the vase.
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