KINGSTON  orchid  society  





   General Orchid Culture and Preparing Plants for Showing

Reprinted from a 2003 Canadian Orchid Congress article

Orchids are in fact the largest and most varied family of flowering plants and number to the tens of thousands of species. both natural and man-made. But it is only recently that some of them have started to be grown commercially on a large scale, for what is known as the "pot plant" market. These are orchid plants that can be quickly grown to a saleable blooming-size while remaining compact, and are also the easiest for novice growers.

Probably the best plant for anyone just starting out with orchids is the Phalaenopsis (pronounced "Fail-en-OP-siss"). Sometimes it is called the "Moth Orchid due to its resemblance of its flat round flowers arranged along an arching spike to a group of moths in flight. Its native origins are in warm Southeast Asia, India and the Philippines, and it does well in normal indoor conditions such as those favoured by African violets. Light should be bright but diffused-no direct sun. it can also be grown under florescent lights. The most important thing is to be consistent in watering, avoiding extremes of wet or dry. Good air movement is also necessary, with sufficient humidity. if the buds on a newly purchased plant turn yellow and fall off, the change to a much drier environment is often the cause.

Other readily available and easily grown orchids are Dendrobiums, Oncidiums and their various hybrids and Paphiopedilums. The first two require more light  in order to bloom than Phalaenopsis while paphs get by with less. if you can provide a cool but bright location and have enough space, then you can grow Cymbidium orchids, with their long arching grass-like leaves and tall spikes of large and very long lasting beautiful flowers.

As an orchid beginner, you should always buy a mature plant already in bloom, or "in spike" and soon to open its buds. All of these orchids mentioned are very long-blooming and in fact a Phalaenopsis will often produce a secondary flowering if the spent bloom is cut off just above the second node (joint) up the spike. Once your plant has finished blooming, continue to give it the same care indoors until late spring when outdoor temperatures are warm and settled (i.e., tomato weather).  Then your plants would very much enjoy spending the summer outdoors in protected and partly shady conditions. Be especially careful to acclimatize them gradually to the stronger outdoor light, as orchid leaves can sunburn very readily. Continue to water and care for them outdoors until cooler weather returns (but well before danger of frost).  Then they can come back to their indoor location, and hopefully provide another season of bloom. (Cymbidiums should remain outdoor for a longer period in the fall, as they actually require a spell of colder temperatures in order to "set" buds)

As you progress in growing and blooming your orchids, the desire to learn more about this most fascinating family of plants will also grow.  There are numerous books written on that subject, many available at your club library and other libraries, and there are organizations specifically devoted to orchids. The premier organization is the American Orchid Society (AOS), founded in 1921, and based in Florida.  Membership is open to anyone with an interest in orchids, and will bring a subscription to their glossy lavishly illustrated monthly magazine "Orchids", as well as discounts on books and supplies, and often specials on orchid plants from advertising growers.



  • Orchid roots require more air than roots of most other types of plants


  • Pot in a medium that provides air at the roots.

  • Pot orchids that need a lot of air at the roots in a coarse mix of fir bark, possibly with charcoal chunks and perlite. Use granules of 1.5-2.5 cm diameter, larger in more humid growing areas.

  • Other media, including sphagnum moss and coconut husk or fibre can also be used in a mix or by themselves; however, fir bark mixes are the most forgiving for new growers. Clay pots can be used to provide more aeration of the medium in humid areas, however, plastic pots are recommended as they minimize root damage on repotting.

  • Put Styrofoam peanuts or coarser mix at the bottom of large pots to have consistent moisture level throughout the pot.

  • Repot when plant growth reaches the side of pot, or when medium is breaking down (slip the plant out of its current pot to check) Repot when the plant is growing new roots.

  • Roots may grow out of pot; this is not a reason to report. Do not remove these roots.


  • Water when the roots have reached the degree of dryness appropriate for the type of plant rather than watering on a fixed schedule. This will be faster in hot weather or during cold winter weather when central heating lowers the humidity. Detect moisture level by the weight of the pot, by digging a finger into the mix, or by inserting a pencil into the mix and examining it for moisture.

  • Use large amounts of water to thoroughly moisten the potting medium and roots, flush minerals and refresh the air around the roots. Water equaling the volume of the pot should run out of the bottom. Pots should not stand in water.

  • Orchids prefer water with a low mineral content, such as rain/snow water. If water is hard (high mineral content) repeat the watering after 30 minutes. Water should be room temperature or slightly warmer.

  • Never water with water softened using a softening unit to which salt is added. The calcium in the water will have been replaced with sodium, which is toxic to orchids.


  • Fertilize weakly and frequently.  Apply the fertilizer weekly, in a concentration such that that half the recommended concentration for houseplants is applied over the duration of the recommended interval.  If the fertilizer recommends applying 1 ml per liter once a month, apply 1/8 ml per liter weekly instead, so that 1/2ml (4x1/8ml) per litter is applied over the month.

  • Fertilize when actively growing and less or not at all during dormant periods.

  • If you use a highly mineralized water (hard water), water thoroughly with plain water about one hour before and one hour after fertilizing to avoid burning the roots.

  • Fertilize with a balance fertilizer such as 20-20-20.

  • If rain, distilled, de-ionized reverse-osmosis or naturally soft water is used, then calcium and magnesium need to be provided by the fertilizer. Hydroponics fertilizers usually provide these extra minerals.

  • Too much fertilizer will cause burnt root tips and burnt leaf tips. Too little fertilizer causes pale yellowish leaves and increasingly smaller new growths.

  • Foliar application of seaweed extract can be used to provide micro nutrients beneficial to plant growth.  These nutrients can also be obtained by occasional use of fish fertilizer or weak manure "tea" although continuous use will provide too much Nitrogen.

Canadian orchid Congress 2003


How to Prepare Plants for a Show by Marlene Young

(1)  Clean leaves - use water or water with a little milk. No leaf shine products

(2)  Using a sterile blade, cut off any dead or damaged leaf parts and flowers.

(3)  Only submit a plant with flowers at the peak of condition.

(4)  Use a clean pot and no extraneous decorative pots.

(5)  No bugs! - inspect well, with a magnifying glass if necessary.

(6)  Tape your name to the bottom of the pot or the backside.

(7)  Pack plants in carton/container/bucket etc. so they are protected from wobbling and the elements during   transport.

(8)  Stake inflorescences well - use extra stakes if needed for transport and they will be removed for display.

(9)  Use only green or metal stakes, never whiteish ones and use inconspicuous plant ties - floral tape is best or anything that blends. If you must use garbage ties, make sure they are green and wrapped around the stem - no 'twist' ties please.

(10) On the outside of a plant carton, place a list of plants and your name.

(11) Make sure you spell the plant name correctly on the plant tag and include the plant's parentage if you can.