Orchids - The Growing Environment

Orchids in the home

These days it is not necessary to have a greenhouse or to have access to one for growing orchids. People who can grow any houseplant can also take delight in growing orchids. Moreover, if the climate in your region is favorable, you can also grow orchids indoors during the winter and you can move them outside during the summer months. However, when the orchids are outside, you need to provide them with adequate and necessary protections.

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Several types of orchids grow better indoors - in fact, they are rewarding. After a homeowner has fallen to the temptation and acquired his or her first orchid or obtained it as a present, the plant can be persuaded to continue growing and bloom after fulfilling a few requirements.

Compared to the common perception, orchids are very tough and resilient and generally very adaptable. In fact, there is an old falsehood that it is hard, if not impossible, to grow orchids, particularly in the absence of a greenhouse. Apart from nearly 20,000 orchid species and about 100,000 hybrids created by horticulturalists, some orchids are infamously fussy. On the other hand, there are several orchids that are popular and hardy and can be grown easily. These orchids can adapt to a range of temperatures as well as light conditions prevailing on any windowsill or average home. Therefore, it is advisable that you explore the various options available and bring together a collection of orchids that will bear exotic blooms throughout the year.

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As one would expect, orchids differ from any other houseplant. Different from palms, ferns, Swedish ivy and philodendrons, orchids are never found growing in soil. In fact, growing a potted orchid in soil is the best means to kill the plant. Majority of the orchids growing in nature do not have their roots in the soil. On the contrary, these plants bind them to branches or sides of trees with the help of their thick roots.

By clinging to the bark of trees or their branches, orchids can take up nutrients and water from the atmosphere and rain or any organic debris that falls from the supporting tree. These plants possess the ability to adapt themselves to survive even when there is scarcity of rain. They can store up water in their thick leaves, roots and stems.

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Since orchids are not parasites and require light to manufacture their food, it is necessary for them to be near a window facing the east or west or in a south-facing windowsill receiving only light shade. Although many people have successfully grown orchids under such conditions, it is advisable that you should avoid growing orchids that require more light. When grown on an east or west windowsill, Phalaenopsis will thrive provided the temperature of the room does not drop too much during the cold months or when the weather is cold outside. There are a number of orchids that will grow well and even bear flowers in such conditions where the level of light is somewhat low. Some such orchids include Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium and Miltoniopsis. In addition, Masdevallia, which is more tolerant to warmer temperature, will grow well in some locations.

The shade house

Irrespective of the climatic conditions in your region, in any case orchids will require the amount of shade that they usually enjoy in their native habitats. Hence, sometimes the plants are also grown in a shade-house, which is basically a structure made from wood or any metal and covered with a single large filament of synthetic black-shade fiber. It is important for the pitch to be moderately steep or have some type of support like a wire mesh positioned below the shade-cloth with a view to put off sagging. Earlier, people used shade-cloth made from plastic and the wooden framework to support them. This type of shade-house was generally constructed using wooden laths with a view to control the amount of light received by the plants. Even today, you will find lath houses and they are effective in providing extremely solid housing requiring low maintenance.

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Generally, the shade-house is covered with a transparent plastic cover with a view to shield the blooms during the flowering season. Superior quality plastics available these days come with an ultraviolet (UV) inhibitor, which protects the plastic from being damaged due to the sun's ultraviolet rays. In addition, these modern plastics also last for long periods. Having a completely enclosed shade-house will not only help you to control the amount of light, but also provides protection from winds, insects and light frosts, whenever required. A house having a permanent roof but with open sides is helpful in preventing rain from entering. In fact, this type of structure is very popular as it allows you to undertake cultivation of orchids that are cooler growing, for instance cymbidiums, which only require protection from light frosts. This is a very common arrangement even in countries in the tropics, where growers construct similar structures to protect their plants from rain.

The greenhouse

When we talk of a greenhouse we generally refer to an enclosed structure wherein a grower can try and create climatic conditions similar to those that orchids experience in their natural habitat. Controlling the intensity of light, however, creates some practical issues. Glasshouses existed before the greenhouses and then one could easily coat the glass with paints and shading materials or take most of them away during the winter months. To a great extent, an assortment of plastics have replaced glass these days, as the plastics do not require an exacting framework and they can also provide more waterproof protection for a longer period of time. Although some of the material available these days seems to last long, but their precise longevity is yet to be ascertained. However, it is not possible to paint any shading material on most of these plastics.

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Therefore, people looked for a suitable alternative and found the shade-cloth appropriate for this purpose. When you position a shade-cloth on the outside, the temperature inside will be cooler as no unwanted light is allowed to enter and raise the temperature. Precisely speaking, shade-cloth prevents light from adding to the interior heating. You have the same level of shade when you fix the shade-cloth inside, but the temperature rises owing to the unwanted light. Generally, people fix shade-cloth inside a greenhouse for, notwithstanding the shortcomings, it is easier to control them when fixed inside.

Currently, a wide assortment of greenhouses with aluminum frames is available commercially in a kit and you can assemble them by yourself using just a screwdriver and a spanner. In fact, you do not need any other tool to erect most of these ready-to-assemble greenhouses. Majority of these greenhouses come with transparent plastic that usually goes down to the ground level. While orchids are not grown on the ground, you should bear in mind the fact that any light entering the greenhouse from below the benches contribute to the internal heat, especially during the hot weather. On the other hand, if there are open spaces in the greenhouse below the bench level, they result in heat loss during the cold weather. A greenhouse should be reasonably large for it has been found that the smaller ones develop greater temperature extremes compared to the larger ones. Therefore, an ideal greenhouse is one that is erected on a wall of bricks, cement block or poured concrete having a height similar to those of the benches inside. Alternatively, you may cover the outside walls below the level of the benches with insulating materials or any material that obscures light. Moreover, in an ideal greenhouse, the benches should have a height of approximately 76 cm (30 inches) or even lower for growing orchids like cymbidiums.

Usually, greenhouses that are free-standing have a saddleback roof or pitched roof. Interestingly, people have been debating for more than a century to decide whether it is best to have the greenhouses oriented east/ west or north/ south. Positioning the greenhouses in an east/ west direction will help more light to enter through the roof, especially those located closer to the equator, during the winter months, but they are most likely to suffer from intense temperatures during the summer months.

If you have a small plot of land, usually there is not much choice either regarding the location or the orientation of a greenhouse. In such conditions, you will have to locate the greenhouse in the place where it will be most convenient. It is important to ensure that there is no shade from trees or nearby building at the site where you plan to erect your greenhouse. On the other hand, leaning the structures against a building's side or a solid wall may give fairly good results. Preferably, the greenhouses should somewhat be leaning against a south-facing wall, as this will allow it to receive sunlight for a considerable time. If you have a sunroom in your house that receives sufficient amount of sunlight for significant hours, then it is possible that you have a greenhouse from before, as this room can be shared by people as well as your orchids.

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