Posted by: marinvit | October, 2009

Grow Hardy Orchids

The main principle for success with hardy orchids is good soil drainage. This may involve building up a raised bed with a good soil, or excavating and replacing some garden soil with a better mix.

This doesn’t imply extensive digging, it could be as simple as making a large hole with good soil. Sand and perlite are two ingredients often used both to increase soil drainage, and to hold the soil moisture that most species need. The soil moisture relates to the three main habitats that include many of the hardy species.

hardy orchid

The upland species are those that do not tolerate constantly moist soil. If your soil doesn’t drain well normally, these may not be the best choice. A hole filled with water should drain in under four hours. Upland orchids usually grow best in full to part shade, but this will vary with hardiness zone and species.

Some hardier species include the Lady Slippers and hardy Chinese orchids. Transition species are those that can tolerate more constant moisture, but thrive under drier conditions similar to the upland species. When flowering, if in a drought, they may need some watering. Otherwise these species thrive in often harsh conditions, and are good choices for many gardens.

A good moisture-retentive soil mix, even if added to the planting hole, is often needed. Hardy transition orchids include the Egret flower, Fragrant Ladies Tresses, Marsh orchid, and Purple Fringed orchid. Wetland species, as their name implies, require constantly moist or even wet soil. They prefer full sun. Unless you have a normally wet soil, you should line the raised bed or planting hole with plastic to retain moisture.

Poke a few holes in the bottom to allow slow water drainage, as these do not like to sit in stagnant water. In nature their roots are in edges of streams or ponds where water is moving, even if slowly. One of the hardiest wetland species is the Rose Pogonia. Three additional tips will help you have success with hardy orchids.

After blooming, remove old flowers. This keeps plant energy going into the roots and not into seed production. When weeding, grasp and hold the orchid plant while pulling weeds. This helps you from pulling up the orchid with the weed. The orchid roots are generally shallow, with the weed roots growing under them.

Then for extra winter protection you may wish to add a couple inches of weed-free straw or pine needles on top. If using leaves, make sure they are ones that don’t pack down tightly.

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

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