By Jacqueline Soule, Special to The Explorer - The Explorer: El Sol

By Jacqueline Soule, Special to The Explorer

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Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 8:16 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Orchids are gorgeous, magnificent, intricate, spectacular, elegant and a number of other superlatives. They also have a reputation as being hard to grow, but that "ain't necessarily so."

To grow orchids, it helps to know they are perhaps the largest plant family on earth with over 20,000 different species. Not to mention commercial hybrids.

This makes for good news, with orchids for virtually every combination of differing levels of light, temperature, humidity and care. Meanwhile, commercial orchids are almost entirely tropical in origin, and prefer to be kept at the same temperatures we humans prefer to be kept at. This makes them good house plants.

Most likely you have seen orchids at the grocery store and were intrigued by their exotic beauty. Indulge yourself. They make a lovely bouquet, lasting for months.

To get orchids that will survive and rebloom, choose from these: for high light situations, look for oncidium, dendrobium or cattleya, and for lower light situations look for phalaenopsis, paphiopedilum and cattleya. The key to care is to remember that these commercial orchids are genetically programmed to perch on tree branches in the rainforest. Technically they are epiphytes. Bear this in mind as we go through care tips.

Water. Never overwater. It is a quick way to kill an orchid. These perching orchids get rain, but then they dry out. Likewise, make sure the media your plants are in dries somewhat between watering. But not bone dry.

Water, part two. No chlorine. Allow chlorinated water to sit out overnight for the chlorine to evaporate. Better yet, use distilled water, it is more like rainwater.

Potting media. Notice I didn't say soil. Most orchids are sold in either moss or lava rock. This is fine for them, and you shouldn't need to repot for years. (But you will need to add some fertilizer.)

Container. A tiny container for a large orchid is fine. It may actually be better, to help avoid excessive moisture around the roots. If it is tippy, don't repot. Instead, put the entire orchid pot in a larger pot filled with decorative rock to keep it from tipping over.

Light. Don't overdo it. In the wild, these orchids perch on branches in filtered light. Thus indoors in a sunny room is good, but not on the windowsill. Regular indoor florescent lighting is also fine for orchids, so you can take them to the office.

Humidity. This is the kicker. Our indoor environments are generally too dry for orchids. They do better if leaves are misted once a day (or more often). Use distilled water for this. In winter, make sure they are not getting blown on by heated air.

Temperature. These orchids need to stay between 50 and 80 degrees. Again this means you can't keep them on a windowsill. Too hot in summer and too cold in winter. Orchids are not outdoor plants in Tucson.

Fertilizer. Use care. Do not fertilize at all when the orchid is in bloom, it will cause flower drop. I am usually a generalist when it comes to fertilizer, but orchids do best with an organic orchid fertilizer that includes all the trace minerals they need.

Flowers. Depending on species, the flowers may last for months. Most orchids flower February through May. You can often get them to flower again the following year if you follow the care tips above.

Orchids are beautiful. They can be fun to grow. They are low care, needing little water, occasional fertilizer, and not much else. They reward you with spectacular, long lasting flowers. If you buy an orchid and it doesn't survive, remember it fondly as a very nice bouquet of flowers — a bouquet that had roots. Besides, you can always try again with another species.

Registrations now being accepted for spring gardening classes including "Design Your Own Landscape" "Winter Vegetables,"  and many more. Visit: oasisnet.org/Cities/TucsonAZ/Classes, and scroll down through the Wednesday classes, or call Oasis at 322-5627 for a catalog.

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