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How to Grow Orchids in the Home

Nov 25, 2007
To those of us who live in crowded cities where a window box or terrarium is the only means we have of indulging a desire for green and growing plants, orchids offer special attractions. Indoor gardeners say that a house full of plants is soothing. This is certainly true of the frequently grasslike and gracefully arching foliage of orchids. But orchids in flower are wondrous beyond all other plants. Ordinary house plants have an air of quiet respectability. Orchids bring to your home an exotic touch, a hint of faraway lands.

For orchid growing, a window on the south side of your house is ideal. It gets a full eight to twelve hours of sunlight. Sun on windows on the east and west rarely lasts longer than five hours, and west windows receive an intense light which may prove harmful. North windows rarely have enough light. Orchids should normally receive ten or more hours of mellow light.

As sunlight becomes brighter in summer, a muslin or close-net curtain is drawn across south and west windows from midday to late afternoon in order to protect orchids from direct light. In winter, although drapes are not desirable for diffusing light, they are needed.

At night when frost, snow, and ice chill windowpanes, curtains are drawn to protect orchids from the cold radiations of the glass. Each morning, as soon as the sun warms the windowpanes, curtains are drawn back in order that plants may have full benefit from the available sunlight. East windows, receiving only morning sun, rarely need to be shaded.

Our grandmothers covered their plants at night with newspaper cones or placed folded newspapers against the windows. This is still an excellent practice. Few materials have a better insulating value than newspaper. It may be less laborious to keep orchid plants on a movable table. Move the plants away from the cold windows at night, push them back in the morning.

One of the most successful ideas devised by an amateur's ingenuity is the plant tea table. Any tea table that is set on casters can be used. On top of the table place decorative trays filled with moist gravel. Set the potted plants on slats above the gravel. That is all there is to it, providing the gravel is kept continuously moist.

In very cold sections of the country a plant table may have removable glass sides and top which can be set up over the plants. The table may be further improved by using water instead of gravel in the trays. Into the water dunk a flat aquarium heating unit, and plug it into a wall socket on cold nights and days. Water evaporation will be faster and the air will be kept a bit warmer.

Window Box

If a movable table is not desirable, aquarium heaters and chicken-brooder heating units can be adapted to window ledges and shelves. Small heat lamps with reflectors can be installed at the top of a window. The lamps can be controlled by a thermostat and they will heat and light the window at periods when orchids need stimulation. Such supplemental light is beneficial on cloudy and rainy days and is sufficient in intensity to benefit orchids.

Sometimes orchids have been placed in trays of moist gravel set above steam radiators with excellent results. Gas heaters in a home are not always practicable; they dry the air, combustion is often incomplete, and the gaseous products often are poisonous to plants. Before you use a gas heater, check with your gas company. Use only natural gas.

The requirement of orchids for continuously fresh and buoyant air is not so difficult to meet in winter as it sounds. Open any window except that in which the orchids are kept. Don't open the window enough to create a draft or chill the room, but just enough to keep the room from being stuffy. In summer most windows will be open anyway, and all that matters then is to protect plants from dry, hot drafts.

With a little care and patience you can have a wonderful display of orchids inside your home.
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