I was talking to some people the other day who were complaining about trying to grow plants here in the Mojave Desert. After the first comments – “You mean you can actually grow anything here? It is so dry and hot and the soil is so poor, how is that possible?”
So often I feel like I’m repeating the same old message – “You can grow anything here if you’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary”. In fact, it’s not necessarily a gigantic a lot of effort, but it requires up to the challenge.
I did get some listeners to my point of view, but questions then arose, mainly in relation to plants that are unlikely to survive here in our part of the world. One of the first questions was, “How about orchids?” I smiled as orchids seem to be one of the pickiest flowers. Surprise! You are not.
It may be hard to believe, but orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants, with 28,000 species.
In fact, there are orchids that grow wild here in Nevada. There are more native orchids in Nevada than in Hawaii! Our state has 14 native orchids, including the three that grow in the Las Vegas area. Hawaii only has three in total.
Who doesn’t like orchids? You are beautiful and different. So how can we grow these plants successfully? As I said before, there are some that grow outdoors in the ground, but these aren’t ones that we typically grow indoors.
Due to our unique and challenging environment, it’s probably best to grow her indoors, especially if you’re just starting out. And as houseplants, they’re great!
Most of our indoor orchids evolved in the tropics – Central and South America, although some originated in tropical Asia. While they hail from places very different from our slice of heaven, you don’t need to invest in a greenhouse to thrive with them.
Think of a tropical rainforest where many of them evolved. Warm temperatures, around 80°F. Lots of moisture in the air, though Not Flooding around the plant roots.
You need to ensure high humidity. However, high humidity does not mean wet soil. In nature, many of the houseplant orchids are epiphytes – they grow on other plants, but they are not parasites. They get their moisture and food from the air, only clinging to a neighbor for support.
A rainforest, like any other forest, is not typically intensely light. It has what we call filtered sunlight or speckled light.
And fertilizer? They are plants, so they need nutrients. You can buy commercial orchid fertilizer. Most of them have higher levels of nitrogen, and then almost equal amounts of phosphorus and potassium. There are dozens of recipes for homemade fertilizer online. I haven’t tried any of them so I won’t give advice.
Another thing to remember is that these plants have different flowering times. Some only produce one flower stalk per year, while others bloom every few months. It’s a good idea to know the flowering schedule to avoid disappointment.
What I personally found was that my dendrobium orchid loved living on the north window sill in my kitchen. Sitting directly over the kitchen sink, basking in the diffused light, enjoying the humid air and evenly moist soil. She lived for more than ten years, bloomed annually, with rare pollination!
The Greater Las Vegas Orchid Society is a great source of knowledge. There is also a website called thespruce.com with a list of twenty types of orchids for houseplants. Nice pictures. So if you see something you like, you can click the link and get practical information.
So I’m pushing orchids as my new favorite houseplant. Definitely worth trying.
For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan, social gardening specialist in Nevada.