What Orchids Are Good for Beginners?
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Oncidium Alliance NOID
The best advice anyone can give to someone who wants to start growing orchids is to look at your environment and see what conditions you will be able to offer plants. How much light do you have? What kind of humidity? Then, look at descriptions of plants and see what kinds of things you like. Visiting growers, attending orchid or flower shows and orchid societies and taking notes as to shape, scent, and cultural needs is a good idea. Talking to people will also give you ideas.
You will often hear, however, about the person who started with at difficult plant and had success right away, yet killed every phalaenopsis they ever had. The other thing to bear in mind that most of us grow orchids for the flowers, not for their foliage (an exception would be ludisia or the jewel orchid), therefore you will want to find a plant which is easy to rebloom as well.
Phalaenopsis ('phals') and paphiopedilum ('paphs') hybrids are usually considered 'beginner orchids' largely because they will re-bloom under the conditions most windowsill growers can offer them. They require lower light, about the same as for African violets, and will adapt to the humidity levels which are present in most houses. They are, however, easily killed from over watering and from getting water in their crowns, and underwatering can be a problem. Since neither plant has pseudobulbs, but stores moisture and nutrients in their leaves and roots, if something is wrong, they go down hill very quickly and may not be saved. Thus, many people who successfully grow more difficult plants may have trouble with phals and paphs. Some of the easier-to-grow paphs include paph. maudiae in their background.
Plants which are easy but require more light for re-bloom are members of the dendrobium, oncidium, and cattleya families.
Oncidium (Onc.) intergenerics (man-made hybrids) are often suggested as beginner plants. Many are fragrant, and most of them bloom twice a year if given enough light and the right culture. Colmanara Wildcat is one of the easiest, and the spikes can last for three months. Onc. Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance" has a chocolate scent, and is very popular. Also, Onc. Sweet Sugar is also very easy to grow. These last two are not intergeneric. Another Onc. Alliance member which forum members suggested were miltoniopsis as they also can bloom several times a year and are fragrant as well as tolerate a range of conditions. They too can be sensitive to fertilizer burn as can others of the Onc. Alliance.
Members of the Cattleya group (catts.) also have some easy, and rewarding plants, but they almost all need supplementary light. Miniatures will tend to rebloom and thrive in a bit less light than their larger sisters. Some cattleyas get quite large. Check about mature size before ordering. They also have a somewhat shorter bloom period than other plants, but their blossoms are exquisite. One grower I know says they look awful out of bloom, but their blooms make up for the lack of grace during the rest of the year. Some catts. are also fragrant.
Phragmepediums (phrags) are another type of Lady slipper orchids which can be easy, but they require much brighter light than most paphs, and are more picky about water quality , sensitive to salt (fertilizer) build ups. Browning leaf tips is an indicator of fertilizer build up. One of their benefits is that they like a lot of water and can stand in it. Since over watering is a common mistake among beginners, this can be a good thing.
One of the Garden Web Orchid forum members suggests the variety in phrags.: big ones (Phrag. longifolium), small ones (Phrag. ecuadorense), bright ones (Phrag. Inca Embers), subtle ones (Phrag. Paul Eugene Conroy), round ones (Phrag. Hanne Popow) and long ones (Phrag. Chuck Acker).
Dendrobiums (Dens.) are also commonly available and often readily rebloomed, but they too need more light than phals. and paphs. One forum grower suggested asking for warm-growing dens so they will bloom continuously and won't need a winter rest.
When considering plants, check with the grower, whether or not the plant is easy to rebloom. Some catalogs make references to this, and a short list provided by the Orchid Forum members is listed in the FAQs. Buy already bloomed, or blooming sized plants. Although seedlings are much less expensive, they are also trickier to grow and may take years to achieve blooming size. Purchase plants from reputable growers, and ask questions. They will be happy to help you, and want to see you return. But, beware, orchids are addictive. We often talk about how one leads to another and another and...