Growing Orchids at Lakeside
By Libby Colterjohn
This can be a very interesting, challenging, and fulfilling hobby, especially if you are a gardener at heart and are looking for a way to do this without so much physical effort. As most of the orchids you are likely to want to grow are epiphytes, they will be grown in small pots or baskets and take up relatively little space, at least initially!
Mexico is full of natural orchid species of many types growing in all environments from high mountains to coastal plains, arid deserts to ocean-side swamps. Sadly, many of these have become endangered, due to illegal harvesting, so it is important for us only to buy nursery propagated plants that we can nurture in our homes to enjoy the beauty of these incredible plants. Our climate at Lakeside is ideal for this, and we can grow a large range of orchids outside in our yards without a greenhouse and very little equipment. Certainly, some knowledge is important, and a background in gardening is helpful, but local growers are usually happy to help beginners.
If you would like to try growing orchids for the first time, there are 3 genera (families) that I suggest you start with. They are very different from each other, so they will give you a feel for the variety available and you can branch out from there. As 10% of all the flowering plants on earth belong to, or are related to, the orchid family, you will never run out of challenges.
PHALAENOPSIS: These are the most commonly available from places like Costco and Home Depot, as well as from local viveros (nurseries). They are usually grown inside as they cannot take direct sun, are sensitive to cold, and will rot if the rain lies in the base of the leaves. They are easy to grow with a basic schedule and give many months of pleasure.
DENDROBIUMS: These are medium-sized epiphyte plants, come in a wide range of species and colours, like mixed sun and shade, can take our winter temperatures in the garden, love rain, and flower for several weeks at a time. They can be hard to find to buy but are available locally if you know where to look. They are usually the basis of all orchid collections.
CYMBIDIUMS: These are terrestrial, eventually grow into large plants, and need a permanent place in your garden with a mixture of sun and shade. The long flower stalks can have as many as 25 blossoms, come in a variety of colours, and flower for several months in the winter. Once they have settled into a place they like, they need very little care and make a spectacular show, particularly the large plants.
There is a very enthusiastic club, The Lakeside Orchid Lovers, who meet monthly and it is open to new members at this time, especially if you have some experience and are seriously interested. Individual members will often be happy to offer advice to beginners, even if you feel you are not ready to commit to a collection, and you can contact me at the email below, if you wish to discuss what is involved. To start a collection, check all the local viveros and markets and you will be thrilled with what you can find, if you are lucky. Orchid growing is a wonderful hobby for retirement as it is addictive, but less physically demanding than regular gardening. I wish you lots of success!