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Beginners Guide to Growing Orchids

Updated on November 28, 2010

Types of Orchids

The orchid is a highly developed monocotyledonous plant. There are three types of orchids – terrestrial, epiphyte, and saprophyte. The terrestrial and epiphyte are grown in containers for their very ornamental flowers.

The terrestrial or land orchids are grown in potting compost suitable for other ornamentals. They, however, prefer humus in form of leafmould. Therefore, potting compost for terrestrial orchids should be enriched with an adequate quantity of leafmould.

Epiphytes have a queer form of body structure. On the basis of their stem structure, they are grouped into two categories – monopodial and sympodial. The former grows to form one stem but the later forms a number of thick, short stems. This kind of stem is known as ‘Pseudobulb’. Like the bulbs of other plants pseudobulbs store food and water, to withstand adverse conditions.


About one third of the pot should be filled with small pieces of broken bricks. For better anchorage tie a small stick with the plant so that the base of the stick can touch the bottom of the pot. Hold the top of the stick vertically with the left hand so that the base of the plant remains just above the rim and the roots inside the pot.  Put the wads of compost round the roots and make it tight with a small planting stick.

At an interval of two three years the compost should be changed. Orchids do not like decayed compost and frequent disturbance. Complete stripping down of compost should be avoided. Only a part can be replaced with fresh compost.

Containers and Potting Compost

Burnt clay pots with a number of holes at the bottom and on the sides are suitable for orchids. Wooden baskets can also be used with advantage. They are highly suitable for hanging from rafters.

The suitable material for potting compost includes:

  • osmunda fern roots
  • tree fern blocks
  • leafmould
  • bark
  • sphagnum moss
  • coir
  • bamboo chippings or shavings
  • wood shavings, etc

The material which gets decomposed quickly is not suitable for this purpose. For this reason sphagnum moss is not suitable for hot climates. Osmunda roots are imported from Italy and Japan. The compost that accumulates water and becomes sour should not be used in potting an orchid. Generally, polypodium fern roots, tree bark and coir are mixed to make a compost. The material should be clean and dust free. To make the compost clean and pliable it should be chopped up, beaten and sieved. Some small pieces of broken bricks (overburnt) and charcoal should be added to the compost to facilitate drainage. Hoof and hornmeal and small pieces of broken bones can be added for a better result. Five grams each of hood and hornmeal and bone are enough for a pot.

Division of Orchids

The orchids grow on the branches or forks of trees of a rain forest. But they should not be mistaken for a parasite because they do not have nourishment from the tree on which they grow. The trees are for shelter. For their nourishment, the leaves absorb carbon dioxide from air and the roots absorb soluble food with water. The food is absorbed from decayed branch, bark and lichen available on trees. But when reared in gardens, they are supplied with food in both organic and inorganic forms.

The orchids are multiplied by division. All species should be propagated at the commencement of the growing season.  A few pesudobulbs with a portion of the rhizome from the growing side are cut off and planted in separate containers. In dendrobiums old canes after flowering are separated from the plants and laid down on wet sphagnum moss. New growths with roots with emerge from most of the nodes. Each piece with shoot growth is separated for planting.


Orchid prefers diffused sun. The direct morning sun is, however, helpful. As a natural vegetation they grow on branches of the trees of a rain forest. In order to provide the right environment they should be reared in a greenhouse, conservatories or under a shade made with wooden laths, bamboo laths or evergreen creepers. A greenhouse is absolutely necessary in cold countries because artificial heating is needed when the temperature is low. In places with a heavier rainfall, a glass, fibre glass or alkathene shade is also necessary because orchids prefer high humidity but not frequent showers.


  1. For watering orchids rain water is preferable to tap water.
  2. Alkaline, saline or cold water should not be used.
  3. Water copiously when watering at all. An everyday practice of religious sprinkling is not recommended.
  4. Over watering and water logging are very detrimental to health of orchids.
  5. Plants grown in hanging pots or baskets need more water because these containers run dry quickly.
  6. Some species become dormant before flowering. In their dormancy they need not be watered. 


  1. Orchids are very fond of atmospheric humidity. Their roots can absorb moisture from humidity. Their roots can absorb moisture from humid air. Hence damping of the surroundings is an important operation of orchid culture.
  2. Spraying the floor, walls and benches with water increases the humidity of orchid house.
  3. By using sprinklers at a certain interval the required amount of humidity can easily be maintained.


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    • KevinTimothy profile image

      Kevin J Timothy 6 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      I like to keep orchids indoors but still trying to find the best window for them. I keep one under a west window where it gets "setting" sun. I know diffused light is best but what time of day?

    • profile image

      Freak 6 years ago

      Thanks, dud

      Love ya!

    • profile image

      Orchid Care 7 years ago

      Good guide if you're new to growing orchids. If you're interested, one of my favourite ways to display orchids (epiphytic species only) is to mount them on a suitable piece of material, bark works great but stone and other craggy materials can look great too.

    • mega1 profile image

      mega1 7 years ago

      I'm a huge orchid fan - their variety - the scented ones! ooooh! thanks for the info