Beauty on the Sill: Tips for Growing Orchids

An in-depth look at easy-to-grow orchids.
Growing Orchids
Eric Liskey

This story (from the January 2010 issue of Better Homes and Gardens® magazine) introduced orchids that would succeed in a typical home environment. I wanted to address the issue of orchids' reputation -- often well earned -- as difficult plants, which results in many people being afraid to try growing them. But this is a large, diverse group of plants, and not all of them are difficult. Some are quite easy. I want to give you the confidence to try these plants. To do that, I'll to steer you to the types that are easiest to succeed with.

Lady's Slipper Orchid Tropical lady slipper orchid

When I say "succeed," I mean that they will survive, and also grow and eventually rebloom indoors, with no special lighting, no greenhouse or sunroom, and no advanced skills required. An important resource for me in the development of this story was Dr. Ron McHatton, an expert with the American Orchid Society. He provided a list of orchids that fit the above criteria, and those that we show you are from that list. If you want to give orchids a try, the types we're covering are good ones to start with.

The Easiest Orchids for Novices

Phaius ?Joan Hart? Yellow nun orchid

Three orchids noted by McHatton are especially commendable (from a novice's perspective): the nun's orchid (Phaius); a closely related hybrid, Phaiocalanthe; and the tropical lady slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum, not to be confused with Cypripedium, a related but distinct type of lady slipper). They thrive with care similar to that of many houseplants: regular water and average light. If you can grow a ficus or a pothos, you can probably grow one of these orchids. It would be hard to overwater these moisture-loving orchids, which is important because that's perhaps the most common way that people kill orchids.

Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite ?Ursula? Phaiocalanthe orchid

As an aside, I wonder why we don't see more of these lovely moisture-tolerant types in stores. Everyone I've spoken with who has grown these orchids agrees that they are easy plants to grow, but they seldom appear in retail outlets. The orchids you see in retailers these days are nearly all Phalaenopsis. They're easy to grow and ship, they're inexpensive, and they're gorgeous. So this isn't a complaint about Phalaenopsis. (Costa Farms, based in Florida supplies most of these nationwide, and generously provided some of the plants we photographed for this story.) I just wish there was more variety in retail stores. For now, you generally have to obtain Phaius, Phaiocalanthe, and Paphiopedilum, from online retailers (which we share on page six of this piece).

Continued on page 2:  Three More that Are Easy