My top ten include some surprises that aren't found on anyone else's orchid list. These are the easiest, most beautiful, and most affordable orchids. Each variety comes in many different colors except true black. True blue is rare. This list is also a quick guide to orchid care. But don't stop here! A bit of research to fine-tune the care of your particular orchid will greatly increase the health and longevity - not to mention your joy and appreciation - of their stunning beauty.
Phalaenopsis are also known as moth, phal, and ice orchids. They're first on my list for beginners because they're the most available and inexpensive, they're adaptable to home and office, and phals are among the easiest to grow. They come in every size, shape, and color except blue, with blooms that last 3 to 6 months. They come loosely potted in chunks of bark. Don't repot thinking that the soil is a cheap mixture. Phal roots love this chunky medium that allows light and air circulation, as well as excellent drainage. Note that the soil is not the only odd thing about orchids. They have needs unlike any other houseplant for water, light, humidity, and fertilizer. So follow the instructions attached to your orchid.
Phaius or nun orchids are also easy to care for. You won't find them on any other list, and I'm at a loss for why! These orchids are even easier than phals because they grow in regular but well draining potting soil. They are terrestrial orchids meaning that they grow in the ground rather than the epiphytic phals whose roots in nature cling to tree bark and rocks. You can put nuns outside in the summer and bring them indoors in the winter. They bear dozens of fragrant, 2-3 inch blooms that last a month, and come in a variety of colors including orange and gold.
Cattleya or corsage orchids also come in a variety of colors and sizes. Some blooms are as big as your hand. Like phals they are epiphytic and therefore love bark medium with air circulation and immediate drainage.
Dendrobiums are the most numerous orchid species and found in the most disparate places ranging from the tropics, to 10,000 ft mountain elevations, to swampy lowlands. Like phals and cattleyas, in the wild they cling to trees and thus love a bark medium. Dendrobium is Greek for "life in a tree". Dendrobiums are the second most readily available orchids after phals. The hybrid "nobile" is the easiest. The hardest thing about this orchid is not doing anything for the dormant period of 2-3 months in the winter, when the leaves completely drop. You must not water or feed during this time. Just mist once a month.
Miltonias or pansy orchids have no set blooming time. A large plant can be blooming intermittently throughout the year. Note - do not rub the flowers. They are very soft and bruise easily as their structure is essentially similar to a butterfly's wing. Microscopic villi (hairs) cover the entire surface and bear most of the pigmentation.
Paphiopedilum, or venus slipper orchids, are terrestrials or soil-dwellers. Most have a single flower per stalk, but there are varieties with multiple flowers. They are relatively easy to care for if you provide the plant with the right temperature range: mottled leaves need warmer conditions than do solid green leaves. Blooms typically last 2 to 3 months.
Phragmipediums or phrags are similar to paphs, but phrags are the lady slipper orchids. Most bear multiple flowers per stem, opening only one at a time, and have plain green leaves. Unlike most every other orchid, phrags like to be kept soaking wet. This is one kind that actually can sit in 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water most of the time.
Oncidiums, commonly referred to as dancing lady or dancing girl orchids, are also easy to grow. Since this is a large genus with different species originating in a wide variety of climates, it is helpful to know the growing requirements of the particular species you select. Oncidiums have smallish flowers in clusters of 50 or more in colors of yellow, purple, red, pink, and white, often with unique markings.
Zygopetalum orchids are very fragrant and easy to care for. They fall in the general category of "soft leaf" orchids because of their leathery leaves. These orchids have colors of green, purple, burgundy, and raspberry, with a variety of patterns. The scent is strong like a Hyacinth or Narcissus. Most are terrestrial, but a few are epiphytic. They must have fall nights in the 40s in order to bloom. Leaves will spot when temperatures are high, but this does not harm the plant. Also, leaves may drop each year or be held on the plant for 2 years. When they become unsightly they may be clipped off. Do not allow water to enter the funnel-shaped growths or they will rot!
Epidendrum orchids are epiphytes. Also called the poor man's orchid, star orchid, and crucifix orchid, they too are among the easiest to grow. This was the first epiphytic orchid to bloom in captivity in 1787, in England. Many of the flowers are fragrant. Some plants are almost everblooming. Colors range from white, yellow, pink, orange and purple.
Water and Humidity - imagine a tropical rain forest where moisture is abundant with frequent rainfall and high humidity, but also where heat dries everything between rainfalls. These are the conditions your orchid loves. To achieve this, water once a week by placing the pot under the faucet, and running tepid water for 15 seconds, allowing the water to run over the roots and immediately out the bottom of the pot. Most orchids hate any kind of soggy soil conditions. Morning is the best time to water. You can also water with an ice cube on the top of the soil once a day, or 3-6 ice cubes once a week - follow the instructions that came with your orchid. If you do this "ice cube method" be sure to water under a tap once a month to flush away harmful deposits. You have to get to know your orchid - cattleyas for instance take a rest after blooming and want far less water during this period. It's possible to give your orchid higher humidity by keeping the pot on a bed of wet stones in a tray or deep dish. Be sure the roots do not touch the water.
Temperature - most orchids do well in home and office environments of nights in the 60's and days in the 70's. Many orchids need a cool spell after they bloom in order to bloom again.
Light - east facing light is best, filtered by a white shade or curtain. Imagine the bright but mottled light of the tropical rainforest floor. Direct sun will cause sunburn. Orchid leaves will generally tell you if they are getting enough or too much light: cattleya leaves for instance turn jade green if they don't get enough light, yellowish green with purplish blushing around the edges when they have good light. Yellow leaves generally mean too much light or an orchid disease.
Fertilizer - all orchids like a very mild diluted fertilizer on a regular basis such as every other week. Whatever the mixing instructions are, cut them in half or a quarter. Be careful of orchids with a dormant phase where no watering or feeding should occur. Flowering orchids like more frequent fertilizing.
Conclusion. So there you have it - my absolute favorite orchid varieties. Have fun and enjoy.
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