The draw of a blooming orchid is the natural beauty that emanates from them. They produce elegant and stunning flowers, but many are afraid to turn their hand to trying to grow them from seed, as they’re notoriously difficult plants to grow.
There are a few simple tips, however, that will help you avoid the pitfalls of growing orchids, and give you the best chance of marvelling at your achievement when the plant comes to flower. One thing is for sure – it’s certainly not an insurmountable challenge to find success – even for beginners! So, what are the guidelines for properly growing orchids from seeds?
There are two golden rules when it comes to orchids – positioning them to get enough light but not overheat, and keep them watered without drowning them. Both can feel like a delicate balance, but they do have a good margin of error, so it’s not as delicate an operation as it might seem.
Let’s consider each of the factors in turn, starting with sunlight.
Even before they break through the soil and become visible, it’s a good idea to position your seed well to benefit from natural light. Some experts mock people that suggest that plants grow better from seeds that are already in position, but there does seem to be a strong correlation between quicker growth and sprouting and positioning in the sun. That said, even with ample water (more on that in a moment), it’s easy to ‘burn’ your orchid if it’s in bright and direct sunlight all day, so do try to get the balance between light and shade. It’s a bit of a trial and error operation, but in the early days be aware of any signs of drying out or shrivelling in your orchid, and if you notice ant, move it to a shadier spot for a while to recover. That means that the time of year is also important. While all plants have their season, when you’re growing indoors, you get a little more flexibility. You still need to be aware of the intensity of sunlight, though, as the summer sun is a still lot hotter than in the winter, even through a window. There’s no reason why you can’t move your plants towards the windows in winter and away in summer – just do whatever is best to get a healthy looking plant – use your best judgement as ever plant and every situation is different. One point worthy of specific mention is that ‘away from direct sunlight’ doesn’t mean dark. Plants need light to survive, and daylight is much better than artificial light.
Let’s move on to the second area now, watering your seed to encourage growth. In general, orchids are a species of plant that enjoys humidity – not something that humans tend to like their home to feature! They have historical roots in a tropical climate, and that means they pull moisture from the air above the ground as well as from the ground through their roots. Even though there will be less water available from the humidity of the air in your home than in the rainforest environment, don’t be tempted to overcompensate by pouring too much water into your plant’s pot or basket – orchids can drown too you know! You can simulate the air humidity that you orchid would enjoy using a plant mister, but that’s only really necessary if your plant is showing signs of struggling to get enough water. Some experts have suggested this contributes to orchid roots growing excessively, and even reaching out of the pot. That’s not a confirmed link however, so don’t assume that just because you see roots, it automatically means your plant needs watering.
The best test it to see if the soild feels dry to the touch – if it does, light watering into the pot is a good place to start. Be careful not to overdo it though, you can always add a little more, but not remove excess so easily.
While not as important as sunlight and water when it comes to growing orchids from seed, there are two further things to be aware of – pots and soil. Let’s briefly address the important considerations before closing.
Re-potting is important for orchids, not least because you should start seeds in small pots. It helps them to get started in life, and helps them to grow at a healthy rate both above and below the soil line.
As they grow, monitor their growth, and when the time comes that they look a little cramped – it’s time for a larger home. In time you may choose to re-pot into a basket – but in the early days, small pots are ideal.
Our final point relates to the soil your orchid seed is planted in, and actually applies throughout the life of the plant. While the nutritional needs are most critical in the phase from seed through seedling, like humans, plants need to have a source of food. There are special types of plant food available for orchids, which are usually either added to the soil, or bought as a ready made soil mix, much like a compost (aka mulch). The seeds can be planted as normal with either product.
Those are the 4 areas (two very important, and two to make an effort to get right) that can make the difference between a successful attempt to grow orchids and a frustrating lack of growth. Yes, they can be difficult plants at times, but it’s also true to say that there are few other plants that create such stunning results when you do get a good bloom!