Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Orchids are not finicky divas of the plant world, though you may think of them as a plant that needs endless attention and specialized equipment. On the contrary, orchids are some of the hardiest plants out there.
The epiphytic types, which grow on top of rocks, trees, or other plants, have evolved to survive without soil! Nurturing orchids and having them thrive indoors does not take advanced horticulture knowledge, just a little common sense. Many are trying their luck with orchids, as they are now second only to poinsettias in flowering potted plant sales.
In my opinion, phalaenopsis is the best beginner's orchid. If you can grow an African violet, you can grow phalaenopsis. The rule of thumb for orchids that thrive and bloom is to re-create their natural environment as closely as possible, paying particular attention to the major factors temperature, light, and water.
For phalaenopsis, average home conditions are ideal. Most homes are in the 60 to 75 degree range, which phalaenopsis loves. Light from an east, west, or shaded south window is best. Phalaenopsis should not be allowed to completely dry out between waterings. That can be tricky–the difference between moist and too wet can be a fine line. Most people tend to overwater, and that will kill the roots, and ultimately the plant in a short time. It would be better for the plant to get a little too dry than to overwater. At each watering a good practice is to use a dilute solution of balanced fertilizer. If possible, pots should be set on dishes filled with pebbles and water (without the pot touching the water) to increase humidity around the plant.
Phalaenopsis are widely available, from specialty growers to mass merchants. One word of warning–they become addictive! I started with one, and now have many, many more. For more information, call U of I Extension at 877-6872.