All About Orchids - Cheekwood
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All About Orchids

Publish Date: 2/22/2021

For its third year at Cheekwood, Orchids in the Mansion brought the beauty of nature into the elegant and historic Loggia of the Historic Mansion & Museum.

The display consists of orchids including Cymbidium, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, and Cattleya of various sizes and in shades of pinks, purples, and buttery, watery yellows. The orchids decorate several orbs throughout the room, arranged in cascading chandeliers and filled out with hundreds of ferns and greenery. In the middle of the room is a 28’ long mirrored panel, which is meant to suggest a water feature running through the room and reflects the orchids from above, as well as balances over a dozen vases of orchids to fill out the display.

This exhibition, meant to make you feel warmth and get a small taste of spring, may have you wanting to own and grow your own orchids. The next couple sections will guide you through the process of creating your own orchid oasis.

Buying Your Own Orchids Guide

A blooming orchid is an elegant way to brighten your home over the grey winter months, yet the plants remain rather unapproachable to the average home gardener and decorator. Where to find orchids along with credible information about growing orchids is the first step to installing your potted beauty on that empty kitchen windowsill. Find your first orchid at one of the five places described below and begin to break down the barriers to the unnecessarily elusive plants.

Don’t be afraid to buy orchids from the grocery store, unless they’re blue. Bright blue orchids are no more exotic than your third-grader’s dyed carnations, and these inked impostors should not distract you from the often-surprising quality and selection of plants lining the sun-filled windows beyond the checkout aisles. Phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, dominate the supermarket inventory, and make an appropriate selection for entry-level growers. Trial and error are important to developing any skill and the lower commitment level to a plant from the grocery store may render the endeavor less daunting.

Ask the folks at the Middle Tennessee Orchid Society for friendly advice when you’re ready to graduate from your grocery store grabs. The local orchid society is affiliated with the American Orchid Society, which offers a wealth of information online to help you select and grow orchids successfully in your home. The Middle Tennessee Orchid Society also produces a display garden and presents in information table at the annual Lawn & Garden Show presented at the fairgrounds in March.

Trade shows, such as the Lawn & Garden Show, provide a unique opportunity to access a greater diversity of plants from specialized vendors and interface directly with the experts in the booth. Vendors arrive to display and sell only their highest-quality plants, often staged in a way as to demonstrate how to grow and display the plants in your home.

Online shopping can fulfill most all our wants and needs and should not exclude live plants. Orchids travel well and the iconic Cattleya orchids were even discovered as packing material used to ship plants back to Europe during nineteenth century plant collecting expeditions. Almost all orchids prefer soil-less growing media and can survive without additional water for several days, making them ready candidates to drop in the mail. Be wary of shipping and receiving orchids in the winter, as the mostly tropical plants will not enjoy sitting on your doorstep waiting for you to arrive home.

Cheekwood may not be the first place you think of to purchase plants, but the garden team will be eager to share the gently used inventory of orchids coming off display in early March in our Mansion Gift Shop.

Caring for Orchids

If you were inspired by Cheekwood’s Orchids in the Mansion display but unsure of how to start growing orchids of your own, here are some quick tips for achieving your orchid oasis.

Orchids are tropical plants, but they aren’t as high maintenance as we might think. There are three main considerations when growing orchids to ensure healthy, flowering plants: light, water, and temperature.

1. Light

Light intensity, or light strength, is a key factor in helping your orchid bloom. Light intensity is measured through foot-candles, or the amount of light a one-foot radius sphere would receive from the center of a candle. Common orchids need between 1,000- and 3,000-foot candles of light intensity while others may require up to 5,000-foot candles or more.

How do you know if your orchid receives enough light? You could purchase a light meter, but if you’re looking for a quick test, try this on a bright, sunny day: hold your hand about six inches from your orchid to see if your shadow casts on the plant. A strong shadow means there is enough light to grow high light orchids such as Cattleya (corsage orchids), Ascocenda, Phragmipedium (slipper orchids), Brassia (spider orchids), and Dendrobium. A fuzzy shadow indicates that low light orchids like the common Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) or Paphiopedilum (lady slipper orchid) are suitable for growing. Another way to measure light intensity is by monitoring your plant’s leaves. Too little light can leave your plant’s leaves small and thin, while too much light results in a sunburned plant with red or brown spots on leaves. Strong, light green leaves indicate your plant is receiving adequate light intensity.

The duration of exposure, or photoperiod, as well as the quality of light are also important factors to consider for your orchid. Since orchids often grow in tropical forests near the equator, they like to receive equal parts daylight and darkness. If you’re growing your plant indoors, consider placing it near south and west-facing windows to achieve enough light intensity and consistent exposure. However, keep in mind the quality of light these locations provide, and that some windows block ultraviolet light. Consider using artificial lights to help your plant achieve the full spectrum of light needed to grow.

2. Water

A common mistake for many beginner orchid growers is overwatering, which causes the roots to rot and often results in the plant’s demise. Most orchids like to dry out slightly between waterings and only require watering twice per week. Water early in the day so foliage dries by night and use tepid water to drench your plant’s roots, draining completely. While a common suggestion for orchid beginners, never use ice cubes for watering since orchids prefer mild temperatures. Lastly, use potting medium to control your plant’s moisture levels. A good potting mix for orchids consists of coarse bark product, natural lump charcoal, and perlite. For more moisture, you can add sphagnum peat moss or high-quality potting soil.

3. Temperature

Many orchids rely on fluctuations in temperatures to induce flowering, preferring a drop in temperature of five to seven degrees. To help your orchid know when to set spikes for winter and flower in the spring, give your orchid cooler temperatures in the fall!

More Resources for Growing Orchids

Interested in learning more about orchid care? Visit these websites for more information and orchid growing supplies.

• American Orchid Society   

• Orchid Society of Middle Tennessee  

• OFE International

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