Diana Folsom has worked with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota for nearly six years, but has been growing orchids privately since the late ’60s. Here are her tips for selecting and growing these spectacular plants in your home.
"The easiest to grow is the phalaenopsis," says Folsom. "They have low light requirements, so they make good indoor plants." Like most orchids, the phalaenopsis blooms once a year, but their flowers can last six weeks. Here’s a buying tip: Folsom says phalaenopsis start to bloom around the first of the year. Buy one out of season, when it is not in bloom, and you’ll pay less for it.
Another good house orchid is the paphiopedilum, commonly known as the "slipper orchid" for its small, delicate shape. "Most are no larger than an adult African Violet," says Folsom. She says even when they’re not in bloom, slipper orchids have a rich dark and light foliage that makes them attractive year-round.
One of Selby’s most popular orchid is the cattleya. Most people are familiar with its large blooms, vibrant colors and feathered petal edges because of their wide use in corsages. Their thick, elongated petals are not particularly attractive, but the stems can carry anywhere from two to five booms each. Folsom says cattleyas require bright light, so it should be kept outside. "But definitely bring it in while it’s blooming so you can enjoy it," she says.
People with pool areas or lanais should also consider vandas, the most popular orchid for use in Hawaiin leis. They grow heartily in nothing more than an empty wooden basket, and Folsom says care is as simple as dousing them with the water hose twice a week.
About water: Folsom says the biggest mistake people make with orchid care is how they water them. "So many people want to mist them," she says. But misting only temporarily raises the humidity and lowers the air temperature around an orchid. It doesn’t help it to survive. To properly water an orchid, Folsom advises to set the plant, container and all, into a sink or tub (depending on its size), then run the tap until water flows out the bottom of the pot. When it’s finished draining, remove it from the sink. Never allow an orchid to sit in standing water.