Orchids are more than houseplants: they make a wonderful addition to any outdoor landscape. They aren't just for tropical climates, either. With a little planning and study, you'll be able to embellish even your colder-region yard with this prominent flower.
Take that decor up a notch by growing your orchids on trees. Not only will they thrive in this natural setting, but you'll learn an entirely new method of plant care.
Yes, this isn't technically a "step," but when it comes to orchids, understanding how they grow is vital to your success. Orchids are ephiphytes, which means they gain their water and nutrients from the air instead of soil. Since their leaves or pseudobulbs retain moisture, many also classify them as succulents.
The roots of the orchid don't burrow into the ground. Instead, they attach onto a host. In their native habitat, they'll cling to trees and other sturdy growth to establish a symbiotic relationship: they get a place to live while often cleaning up decaying host matter by consuming the nutrients.
Overall, putting a plant in its intended state is always your best option. Natural light and shade cycles create an ideal environment. Rain is the best water source; it has the ideal temperature, cleanliness, and nutrition. On a tree, drainage is consistent. Pests tend to not reach plants growing here, but pollinators can easily access them. Good airflow prevents a lot of bacteria and fungus from forming.
Figure out your USDA hardiness zone before you begin prepping your orchid, so you know what to expect. If you live in Zone 11, you'll be able to keep orchids in your trees year-round. In zones slightly below this, you may be able to cover up and save your orchids during the occasional chill.
There are some hardy types native to Zones 5 to 9 that may withstand the winter, but this isn't a surefire bet. In colder climates down to Zone 2, you can annually grow orchids on trees, but don't expect them to last once the temperatures dip.
Knowing your zone will help you with the next step: selecting the type of orchid you want to grow. Match up your location's light, humidity, and temperature with a plant that will appreciate those environmental specifics. If you're new to the game, start small and don't overwhelm yourself with too many varieties. One or two will suffice until you get the hang of things.
Not all trees will benefit your orchid. You'll want to find something with a rough and coarse bark so the roots can cling. Oak, palm, and citrus trees work well. Stay away from anything that's smooth or has chipping bark.
Once you find your perfect tree, determine the south-facing side; you may need to use a ladder to get above a fence or away from branches. This angle will provide adequate indirect light, airflow, and drainage. Never put an orchid on the northern exposure.
Your orchid is ready to mount when it comes out of dormancy. After blooming, it may revert to an inactive period for a few weeks or months, but this won't always happen.
The best way to determine when to attach your orchid to your tree is to look at the roots. New growth indicates readiness. These roots will be seeking a sturdy home and are much more inclined to attach to a tree versus older roots that are used to growing in a pot.
Don't just dive into things head-first. Make sure the roots of your chosen orchid are clean and untangled, then preview their layout on the tree. Spread them in all directions so they don't overlap, and form them in a way that they're hugging the tree as much as possible.
While mapping the roots' journey, consider holding the orchid sideways. This is the ideal planting position so water won't pool in the plant's cup-shaped leaves.
When you have everything figured out, it's time to mount your orchid onto the tree. Keeping the layout you styled, tie the plant to the bark. Cotton string works best as it will naturally weaken and biodegrade over time, as the roots learn to hold on on their own. Tie your orchid firmly, but give it room to move. Tug it to see if it wobbles, and if so, wrap the string around the tree a few more times.
Any tying agent will work, as long as you keep in mind that you may need to loosen it as the plant grows. Ideally, use something that won't harm the planet if it falls off or blows away. If you live in zones where the orchid will remain on the tree year-round, you will be able to remove the fasteners completely in about a year.
Whether you need to water your orchid entirely depends on the plant and your climate. In some areas, you may have to mist the roots daily. Other locations require 1 to 3 waterings per week. Orchids growing in exceptionally humid areas won't need much watering at all.
The same rings true with fertilizer. Weekly or monthly applications during the growing season are best, depending on the available nutrients. You'll have to experiment a bit to see what works for the plant. This step is a good argument for not affixing your orchid too high on your tree.
Keep a close eye on your orchid once you mount it to the tree. This transition period is what will make or break your experiment. It's a delicate time that could require readjustments or extra care.
Some growers will leave the plant to the elements. Others prefer to add sphagnum moss to protect the infant roots. This allows for humidity retention, and the moss will gradually fall off.
If you don't live in zone 11, you will probably have to help your orchid out come winter. Keep an eye on the temperatures, and if they briefly drop to below the recommended temps for the orchid you chose, consider wrapping the plant in moss and burlap to keep it cozy.
If it's going to stay cool, you have two options: let your orchid die off as an annual, or attempt to pry the roots from the tree and bring the plant indoors to repot or affix to a piece of bark or stone.