This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Since writing the Orchid Articles in the Gardener's Monthly, I have received letters of enquiry on the subject of Orchids, and others requesting me to continue the articles. I hoped that some of the older Orchidists would have taken up the subject and handled it more ably than I possibly can. Without going into a detailed account of any particular species, I will give a few notes on the general culture of Orchids as particularly relates to them as amateur's flowers. After nearly twenty-rive years experience with every class of plants, I find Orchids the most beautiful, wonderful, varied in form, and easiest cultivated of all plants. The odor of Orchids alone is a study. Some species, it is true, are odorless or unpleasant, but the greater part are fragrant at some time in the twenty-four hours. The high price at which Orchids are held in comparison with most other plants has been a drawback to their more extended culture, and has led too many beginners into the error of commencing with a lot of cheap, half established plants, - plants that even in the hands of an expert would be hard to save, and would only come into bloom at the end of three or four years.
It is no use to expect to get up a collection of Orchids without spending some money, but at the same time the money that it would take to buy one fine oil painting would make a good start in Orchid culture, and my advice would be to any beginner to place whatever sum you decide to spend in the hands of a reliable Orchid dealer, and tell him to send you blooming plants of reliable kinds. These will give you flowers immediately. Care should be taken not to get species that bloom all at the same time.
I would say for those who are not up in Orchids, that a continuous bloom may be kept up from the beginning to the end of the year with quite a moderate collection of plants. I would here remark, that I never made the acquaintance of any one that had been successful in cultivating a few Orchids, who did not desire to add to his collection, and there are plenty to pick from. These may be bought, also established: or they may be bought more cheaply newly imported. Starting newly imported Orchids requires considerable knowledge and patience. I have had Orchids to make blooms the first year, but it is oftener three or four years-before flowers appear in fine condition. In a former article I gave directions as to the proper mode of handling newly imported Orchids, bub as it is a subject of so much importance, I will state it again. Most beginners err in keeping all Orchids too wet, and especially those that are dormant or not established. Most Orchids-have bulbs, and these contain the food for the new growth until they put out roots to sustain themselves. I have seen an Orchid make fine growth for a season, depending on the old bulb for sustenance, and then when it had made a new bulb, send out roots from it.
All dead roots, bulbs and leaves should be cut off, and pots used for most Orchids as small as the plant can be potted in, said pot being filled two-thirds with broken pots or charcoal. Then place them in an half shaded place, and keep the sphagnum moss just moist, - not wet, - and they must be watched, and as they start, great care should be taken that the young growth is not rotted off by water getting into it. They may stay in these pots a year, and if well grown, should be repotted into larger pots, care being taken not to break the roots', and for this purpose the pots have often to be broken in repotting, as the roots will very often be so closely attached to the pots as to make it impossible to detach without spoiling them.
Another cause of disappointment is the want of correct knowledge with regard to the countries from whence they come, also the elevation at which they are obtained. This must be apparent to any one who will take time to think on the subject. Now, it is good culture to keep all Mexican, Central American, and the greater part of the East Indian Orchids, coming from either high altitudes or latitude, pretty dry and cool from November to March.,, because it is their winter. But from Brazil, if kept in anything like the heat that is found there (in Brazil), from November to March will commence to grow finely, and at this time all the Brazilian Cattleyas, Lrelias, Miltonias, Epi-dendrums, and Zygopetalums are growing.
Those Orchids coming from 5° to 10° each side of the Equator, will, if handled properly, make two growths in the year, and the New Grenada Oncids, Odonts, and Masdevillias seem to be almost perpetual growers. Vandas, Ærides and Saccolabiums will make some growth all the winter if kept moderately moist and warm. The proper cultivation of Orchids is more a subject of knowledge than actual work. I have plants growing in the same baskets, (cedar), where they have been for six or more years, and in pots full as long, and in perfect health. It is a good plan in November to go over a collection of Orchids and put those that are to rest together, and those that are growing, or beginning to grow by themselves; otherwise the most careful person may either neglect to water some that need it, or water some too much that are dormant. A great mistake is too often made with these latter by putting them in any out of the way place, often under the shade of other plants. At no time are Orchids more benefited by plenty of light and sun than when they are dormant. It seems to solidify the bulbs, and meets a requirement in their culture. I am now referring especially to those Orchids that make pseudo bulbs. The idea that all Orchids grow in damp, shady places is a great error.
I do not remember in the many times that I have been at their homes, that I saw a dozen grow in dense shaded places. They grow mostly on the trees at the edge of forests, where they get plenty of light, abundance of pure fresh air and rain in their growing season.