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Elegant and easy ... orchids to grow indoors.

They're corsage orchids, lady's slippers, and moth orchids

SOMETIMES BIZARRE, but more often elegant and exotic, orchids are the royalty of the flower kingdom. More than 25,000 species have been named so far.

These beauties, while much admired and cherished, have a reputation for being finicky and difficult to grow. But many are simple to raise indoors, once you learn their basic needs.

Three types of orchids are easy and reliable to grow: Cattleya, Paphiopedilum, and Phalaenopsis.

All can be grown on a windowsill and will rebloom indoors without artificial light (except cattleya, which requires artificial light in winter in the Northwest and in foggy coastal areas). Long-lasting flowers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.


Familiar to many from prom nights, cattleya is the flamboyant, colorful orchid used in corsages. This large-flowered type normally grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall; miniature cattleyas are 6 to 12 inches tall with smaller flowers.

The thick, leathery leaves are attached to pseudobulbs (enlarged stems), which send up stems topped with one to five or more flowers. Flowers last two to six weeks and may be scented. Under ideal conditions, some varieties of cattleya may rebloom in summer.

Of the three types, cattleya offers the widest color range; varieties with lavender, purple, or white flowers, with colored lips, are the best known. Yellow and green flowers are also popular. New colors include port, apricot, and copper.


To some, paphiopedilum (lady's slipper) is beautiful; to others, it's bizarre. Flowers may be mahogany, green, brown, pink, white, or yellow with warts, hairs, and bold stripes or subtle color blends.

Like cattleya, this orchid sends up one bloom stem from each cluster of leaves. It's crowned with a single pouch-lipped flower that lasts up to three months.

Paphiopedilums with solid green leaves require cool temperatures (50|degrees~ to 60|degrees~ at night); ones with mottled leaves are warm growers (60|degrees~ to 65|degrees~ at night). The latter fare better under average household conditions.


Graceful, elegant flowers of phalaenopsis (moth orchid) seem to flutter along arching stems. Flower stalks arise from flat leathery leaves; flowers open from the bottom. Flower sprays last two to three months.

Commonest colors are white and pink, but candy-stripe, rose-pink, purple, and spotted yellow are becoming more available. Phalaenopsis blooms from the same leaf cluster year after year.

After bloom, cut off the flower stalk just above the node that produced the lowest flower; it may send out a new flower spike. Since flowering saps the plant's strength, it's best to cut the stalk back to the base after two or three cycles or if the plant is unhealthy, so it can put energy back into leaf growth.


To be successful with orchids, it's important to mimic their native conditions.

Temperature. All three grow well if temperatures stay 60|degrees~ to 65|degrees~ at night and 70|degrees~ to 75|degrees~ during the day.

Light. Proper lighting is critical for getting plants to rebloom. Cattleya needs the most light. Set plants in a south window filtered by a sheer curtain (or set them back a few feet). Leaves should be yellowish. If they're leggy and dark green, give them more light.

Paphiopedilums and phalaenopsis need less light; both types prefer African violet conditions (an east or lightly shaded west window).

Humidity. Ideal is 50 to 60 percent. To keep it high, cluster pots with other house plants and set them on trays filled with gravel and water (pot bottoms must sit above the water level).

Misting helps, if your water doesn't have a high salt content. But don't mist after noon; water on the leaves overnight causes disease. Provide air circulation.

Fertilizer. To rebloom, plants need fertilizing regularly. Bark, the standard growing medium, uses nitrogen as it breaks down. Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer (like 30-10-10) at quarter strength every time you water (never fertilize a dry plant). Use low nitrogen (6-30-30) every fourth feeding. Paphiopedilum is the most sensitive to overfeeding; flush with plain water once a month and cut back fertilizing in winter.

Water. Cattleya likes to dry out between waterings; paphiopedilum and phalaenopsis like to stay evenly moist but not wet.

To test moisture several inches down, stick a sharpened pencil into the bark; if it comes out dry, the plant needs water. Also, if the pot feels light, it's time to water.

As the bark breaks down, air spaces compress and the bark stays wet longer. Don't overwater or roots will rot.

Potting medium. All three types require a well-drained potting medium with plenty of air spaces.


Repot orchids periodically (every two to three years for cattleyas, every one to two years for paphiopedilum and phalaenopsis) to replace growing medium that has decomposed and lost its air space, and to move plants into larger containers, if needed.

Repot after flowering before new roots are more than 1/2 inch long (they're often seen at the base of new growth). Use 1/4- to 1/2-inch-diameter fir bark. You can add perlite for water retention and aeration. Soak the bark overnight before using.

Water the orchid thoroughly. Then lay the pot on its side and gently tug out the plant (use a knife to loosen roots from the pot). Wash off any old bark that clings to the roots, and cut off any dark or rotted roots.

Position cattleya in the new container so old growth is nearest to the pot rim and new growth is at the center. The base of the plant should sit 1/2 inch below the pot rim. Stake large cattleyas.

Arrange paphiopedilum or phalaenopsis in the pot's center so bottom leaves sit on top of the bark, 1/2 inch below the rim. Set plants in a shady location for four to six weeks. Don't water for the first two weeks, then water sparingly for the first few months.


Ready-to-bloom plants cost from $17 to $35 for cattleya, $17 to $18 for paphiopedilum, and $15 to $30 for phalaenopsis. Catalogs are free unless otherwise noted.

Beall Orchid Co., 3400 Academy Dr. S.E., Auburn, Wash. 98002; (206) 735-1148.

The Rod McLellan Co., 1450 El Camino Real, South San Francisco 94080; (800) 237-4089. Brochure $2.

Stewart Orchids, Box 550, Carpinteria, Calif. 93014; (800) 621-2450, or 831-9765 inside California.
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Author:Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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