Orchids For Dummies
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Choosing the right orchid for your home requires some consideration. Few beginning orchid growers take the time to consider their environment before they buy, but it's easy end up bringing home a gorgeous orchid that's completely wrong for your home. Before you bring home an orchid, you need to consider the average daytime and nighttime temperatures in summer and winter where you live, and the amount of light the orchid will get in your home.

When orchid publications refer to temperature preferences, they always mean the evening temperature. The daytime temperature is usually about 15 degrees F (9.5 C) higher than the evening temperature. To determine your home's high and low temperatures indoors, get a maximum/minimum thermometer that records this information and place it in your growing area.

The following table lists some of the most common types of orchids by temperature requirements. Notice that some orchids are adaptable enough to fit into more than one temperature range.

Orchid Temperature Preferences
Temperature (Nighttime Minimum) Genus
Cool 45 to 55 degrees F (7.2 to 12.8 degrees centigrade) Cymbidium
Cool 45 to 55 degrees F (7.2 to 12.8 degrees C) to Intermediate 55 to 60 degrees F (12.8 to15.6 degrees C) Cymbidium
Intermediate 55 to 60 degrees F (12.8 to 15.6 degrees C) Aerangis
Cattleya and hybrids
Intermediate 55 to 60 degrees F (12.8 to 15.6 degrees C) to Warm 65 F (18.3 C or higher) Aerangis
. Angraecum
. Ascofinetia
. Brassavola
. Cattleya
. Dendrobium
. Encyclia
. Epidendrum
. Neofinetia
. Neostylis
. Oncidium
. Rhynchostylis
. Vanda
Warm 65 degrees F (18.3 degrees C) or higher Angraecum

Just as important as temperature is the amount of light your orchid will get. Orchids that thrive in high light need several hours of direct sunlight (preferably in the morning to early afternoon), while those that thrive in lower light will perform with less direct and more diffused light in a windowsill or under lights.

Perform this shadow test to measure light intensity.
Perform this shadow test to measure light intensity.

The following orchids require a bright greenhouse, a very bright south-facing window, or very-high-output (VHO) fluorescent lamps (which require specialized ballasts to operate) or metal halide lamps:

  • Angraecum

  • Some varieties of Cymbidium

  • Some varieties of Dendrobium

  • Vanda

The following orchids need a shaded greenhouse, an east-facing window, or a four-tube 40-watt florescent light fixture:

  • Amesiella

  • Ascocenda

  • Ascocentrum

  • Ascofinetia

  • Brassavola

  • Brassia

  • Cattleya and hybrids

  • Some varieties of Cymbidium

  • Some varieties of Dendrobium

  • Epidendrum

  • Laelia

  • Leptotes

  • Masdevallia

  • Miltonia

  • Miltoniopsis

  • Neofinetia

  • Neostylis

  • Odontoglossum

  • Oncidium

  • Paphiopedilum (strap-leaf multiflorals)

  • Phragmipedium

  • Rhynchostylis

  • Zygopetalum

The following orchids do well with a low level of light, easily attainable with two 40-watt florescent lamps or on an east-facing windowsill:

  • Paphiopedilum (not including strap-leaf multiflorals)

  • Phalaenopsis

  • All orchid seedlings

In addition to considering temperature and light when growing orchids, consider these questions:

  • Does the growing area have moist (humid) air, or is the air very dry? If it is already humid (50 percent or greater), it's perfect. If not, your orchids will be happier with moister air.

  • How much space do you have to grow orchids? If you have plenty of head room, you can grow some of the taller orchids, like cane dendrobiums and full-size cattleyas. If space is at a premium, search out very compact or miniature growers.

  • When do you want your orchids to bloom? Spring, summer, fall, or winter? In the evening or during the day? Armed with this information, you can pick those orchids that will be in bloom in the season and time of day of your choice.

  • Do you have air circulation in the growing area? Most homes have adequate air circulation, but if your orchids are going to be located in the basement or some other spot where the air is stagnant, you'll want to consider a fan of some type to provide them with fresh air.

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