University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter News Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

The orchid family is one of the largest and most varied in the plant kingdom. Some root in the soil, while others cling non-parasitically to the trunks of trees or rock cliffs. Some orchids require moderate shade and others thrive in full sunlight.

Additionally, some can withstand long periods of drought, while others require constant moisture. The key to successfully growing orchids is the proper choice of species and an understanding of the environment in which they grow naturally. The following are a few orchids recommended for a beginning grower.

Paphiopedilum species and hybrids (Lady's Slippers) require relatively low light levels. Some need cool (45 to 55 degrees F) growing conditions while others do well at intermediate temperatures (55 to 65 degrees F). They are terrestrial and should be potted in a finer textured potting mix than epiphytes.

Coarse sand and peat make a good potting medium. Paphiopedilum will not tolerate drying but should not be kept in a soggy condition. These species are good candidates for growing under fluorescent lights.

Cymbidium species and hybrids require high light intensity and cool temperatures. These terrestrial orchids will not flower without low night temperatures (33 to 40 degrees F). The miniature species and hybrids are somewhat less demanding with regard to temperature and are the best candidates for indoor culture. A well-drained potting mixture is required for best results.

Cattleya species and hybrids are the most common commercial orchids. These orchids are epiphytic and require intermediate temperatures and high light intensity. They should be potted in a coarse, well-drained potting mix without much water-holding capacity. The species often have a stringent rest requirement between flowering cycles. Many hybrids are much less demanding and make good indoor plants.

Dendrobium species, especially Dendrobium phalaenopsis, are good candidates for indoor culture if large size is not a problem. D. phalaenopsis is an epiphyte requiring intermediate temperature and relatively high light intensity.

Most of the varieties will grow and flower well if given a four-week rest period as new growth matures. Watering should be reduced during this period but not stopped. Some varieties may flower without a rest period.

Phalaenopsis species and hybrids (moth orchids) are epiphytes requiring warm temperatures. They grow well under relatively low light intensities and are good plants

to grow under fluorescent lights. These plants must have a very coarse potting medium that drains rapidly. They do not tolerate drying and must be watered frequently.

It is not uncommon for individual flowers to remain in good condition on the plant for two to three months. A well-maintained plant may flower up to 18 consecutive months.

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