NAIROBI: Did you know that orchids are the largest plant family in the world? It is estimated that there are over 3,000 species and many more man-made varieties. But orchids are hardly commonplace.
In Europe during the Victorian times, these fabulous plants used to be only for the eyes of royalty and wealthy aristocrats because they were very expensive at flower auctions. They were only grown in elaborate and costly glasshouses, usually by a staff of professional growers.
Today however orchids have entered the mainstream. They are now the second most popular pot plant in the world! Because of new techniques and modern growing methods, they are available to just about everyone with a keen interest. Here are a few tips to get started with orchids.
Reproduce natural settings
Orchids, contrary to popular myth are actually quite easy to grow! The key is to try and replicate their natural growing environments.
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These include adequate but not direct sunlight, humidity, water, and ventilation. However unlike ordinary flowers, orchids are not grown in a normal soil mix.
In nature, orchids grow in the tropical rain forests on trees or on the ground among rocks below the trees. Growing orchids therefore means replicating these conditions within your home.
Typically, they are grown in bark, moss or coconut husks instead of your normal soil mix. There are also specialised double orchid pots that make the process much easier and neater.
When growing outdoors, a sheltered place near a tree or on the patio is desirable. In the house, you can grow them on the window sill of a west or east facing window.
The spot also need to have high humidity. Typically this is provided by placing a dish of water and some pebbles under the orchid pot or container.
Ventilation can be improved by having an oscillating fun at low a speed to improve your air circulation. Similarly if natural light is a problem, artificial lighting from a white light source will do just fine.
Maintaining orchids involves fertilizing, re-potting, insect and disease control, as well as some watering. None of these is daunting but using the right technique and timing are critical. Watering should be done no more than once a week and the roots should never be allowed to stay in water for long periods.
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Feed your orchids once a month with soluble fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace elements of iron. Start with one with a higher percentage of nitrogen during active growth then shift to more phosphorus and potassium later. Remember to water them before feeding.
Re-potting is necessary when the roots outgrow the container or the container is worn out. Re-pot only when your orchid in not in flower. Look out for any spotting, yellowing or wilting of the leaves. Wilting is normally an indication of inadequate water. Spotting or discolouration could indicate sun burns, over watering or an infection although the latter is rarely the case.
The writer is a landscape architect