Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Grow Orchids in Central Florida

I spent many years in the Northeast trying without any success to get orchids to bloom.  Then we moved to central Florida, where we now have an unending supply of flowers from our collection in the screen porch.  When people see them, they invariably ask for tips on growing orchids, or sometimes even offer me half-dead specimens to resuscitate.

It really isn't very difficult here in this climate; in fact, I think the easiest way to kill an orchid is to give it too much attention.  When we were recently gone for a month, we paid a 14-year-old boy to come and take care of them for us; not only did they survive, but 4 more of them came into bloom under his care. 

So here are a few tips on getting your orchids to thrive in central Florida, as well as a few pictures of recent blooms to inspire you to try.

1.  Keep them outside.

The fluctuations in temperature outdoors are actually essential to triggering bloom in some species; the humidity here is an additional bonus.  Most orchids are epiphytes, gathering moisture from the air via those grayish air roots that defy their pots and gravity).  By all means, bring them indoors to enjoy when they're in bloom, but once they're done, out they go again.

2.  Don't let them get direct sun.

The Florida sun will scorch and kill your orchid.  Hanging them under a leafy tree, or under some other sort of cover (we have an awning over our screen porch which keeps them in shade for most of the day) will ensure they get enough but not too much light.  A few hours of early morning light through a screen (which amazingly cuts light intensity by about 50%) is fine for most orchids, though some species, like the slipper orchids and moth orchids below, need full shade.

3.  Use unglazed clay pots.

They're cheap, and for the beginner, it's the easiest way to guard against killing your orchids with root rot from overwatering.  Terra cotta pots allow water to evaporate a lot more quickly, speeding up the drying time and compensating for your tendency to overwater.  Which you will do, because it is hard to believe that these air roots really do need to dry out between waterings.  An exception is the bare-root varieties that you see hanging in cedar baskets (more for your sake than for the orchids' - they really don't need the basket).

4.  Use spaghnum moss as a potting medium.

There are a lot of orchid mixes out there (and I'm not knowledgeable enough to debate their relative merits), but pretty much any orchid can grow in sphagnum moss, which holds water pretty well.

5.  Water only when the moss feels DRY. 

And when you do, drench the thing - sitting it for a few minutes in a bucket of water will do.  Really let the moss and pot soak in the water.  There are also various kinds of soluble orchid food you can add to your water, which you water on your orchid after the drenching.  Again, the exception is the bare root variety, which will do better with water sprayed on the roots more regularly - if you hang them on a tree, rain will take care of that through much of the year.

6.  Don't let them freeze.

Winters can get cold here, and when the temperature dips into the 40's, I use a sheet or blanket to cover up the rack that they are on, in the screen porch (and move the ones on the tree into the garage for the night).  If a freeze is expected, I put a lamp underneath the rack to warm up the air inside the sheet, or move the entire rack indoors (I have them on a metal utility rack which has wheels).

And there you have it.  A six-step guide to growing orchids in central Florida.  Not exactly your most expert or exhaustive source, but enough to get you started.  E-mail me if you have any other questions, and I'll try to point you in the right direction to finding the answers.


  1. I love that first picture!!! It is great! HOpefully mine will come back from the dead soon ;)

  2. Hi,

    Could you please list the types of Orchids that have done well for you
    in Central Florida?

  3. How can I tell what kind of orchid I have. No dirt just roots wound up in pot. Sold at walmart for mothers day. Purple n white with short oval leaves on bottom.

    1. I haven't checked this blog in ages, sorry for the *long* delay! If you have a photo I'll try to help you out.

  4. I actually have one of those that you pictured first. A Vanda I believe? I bought it in full bloom in July and then it bloomed again this past October. Now that we are our of the rainy season. How often should I spray the roots and what about fertilizing ? By the way it hangs in the tree with just the roots .. no basket or moss. Thanks

    1. Sorry for the late reply! I've moved to Washington state and had to leave all my Florida orchids! But for your vanda in a central Florida winter, it will need less water and fertilizer since it is not actively growing, and bring it in if it drops down near 40 (I used to move them to a hanging rod in the garage overnight). Watering every few days, and fertilizing every other month, should do it until it warms up. Good luck!