Saturday, January 10, 2009

Follow Nature's Lead for Growing Orchids, But Don't Be A Slave to Her

Orchid cultivation is no longer exclusively the privilege of the few now that their nature and requirements are better understood than was the case in years past. This happened as a result of studying these plants both in their native habitats and in greenhouses, gardens and even the laboratory.

One important discovery about orchids was that many of the most ornamental species did not require either the high heat or the elaborate growing equipment that people once thought necessary. This understanding opened orchid gardening to everyone who would take the time to read up on the subject.

In the 1800s, when the mania for orchids really exploded, many would-be growers were initially discouraged by one significant problem. World travelers sent home one exotic species after another, but often without any notes at all as to their local growing conditions. Orchids vary hugely in their needs, such as for light, heat and water, and not knowing a particular plant's unique requirements could and often did lead to disaster. "The want of some such information has been a source of extreme vexation to many lovers of these plants," complained an orchid enthusiast and writer in 1885.

Today we are more fortunate with our understanding of the orchids. We can stand on the shoulders of other orchid enthusiasts who painstakingly jotted down all they learned about each type and species of the plants that they encountered.

So, it is crucial to know what an orchid's native habitate and climate are like. But having said that, let's inject a cautionary note. Usually, it's not wise to attempt to completely recreate a plant's natural habitat conditions. Done carefully and with the right knowledge, it is possible for us to cultivate better orchids than nature can by tweaking the plants' enviroment. As you might guess, this is both art and science.

Again quoting that Victorian orchid authority: "We admit that we should by all means take nature as our guide for the production of good plants but it should be nature in her best garb only and then looking as we do upon cultivation as a help to nature the result can only be an improvement if success in the object aimed at has been attained."

So what should a novice orchid grower do? Can one strike a balance between imitating nature and trying to improve on it? The answer is simple: Educate yourself. You can successfully grow orchids if you know what you're doing up-front.

Among the best and most complete guides to modern orchid growing is Orchid Care Expert by Nigel Howard, which may be downloaded online. Now, there are lots of books about orchids but Mr. Howard's guide is a complete course, and good for beginners and more experienced growers alike. Also, visit the Orchid Secrets web site, which has a growing database of articles on many aspects of orchids.

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