Orchids – Artificial Or Natural Lighting?

Many indoor gardeners are eager to add orchids to their homes.  These lovely plants are not only beautiful in color, but their interesting shapes are fascinating as well.  For quite some time, orchids were considered to be too difficult for the average person to cultivate – they were thought to be best left to the horticultural expert.  However, there are many kinds of orchid that require no more care than would be given to an African violet, as long as certain needs are met.

Besides water, potting medium, and fertilizer, orchids need the correct amount of light.  Most of the orchids available as houseplants come from the tropical regions where a fairly consistent length of sunlight is available throughout the year.  Usually, orchids growing in this region receive about 12 hours of sunlight per day.  A good many of them are epiphytes, growing on the limbs of trees in the rainforest.  As such, they are neither plunged into the gloom of the forest floor nor are they exposed to the direct, continual rays of the sun – they are rather given diffuse, partial sunlight.

In order for orchids to thrive and bloom, it is necessary to mimic these lighting conditions as closely as possible.  It is true that many orchids can grow happily on a windowsill, but many will need help in the way of artificial lighting for good health. Of the kinds of lighting readily available, fluorescent lighting and grow lights are generally the best.  The incandescent bulbs used in most household light fixtures will provide some of the needed light spectrum for orchids, but the range is so limited that it will not support proper growth, and the plants will be weedy.  In addition, incandescent bulbs are hot and can cause the orchid to dry out.

When considering artificial lighting, it is important to understand whether your orchids are soft growing orchids or hard growing orchids.  The hard growing orchids are those that grow in brighter sunlight than the soft growing ones.  The flowers of hard growing orchids are usually larger than the others, although there will be little vegetation attached to the orchid, most of the plant’s energy seems to go into the production of the flowers.  Hard growing orchids will be happy on a windowsill where they receive plenty of sun.  During the winter months in northern areas, getting enough light for the orchid may be a problem unless artificial lighting is used.  A timer can also be used to ensure that the orchid gets the proper amount.

Soft growing orchids generally have smaller blossoms, although the variety of shape and color makes up for lack of size.  These orchids prefer shadier lighting conditions, and are usually placed in east windows.  Soft growing orchids can easily be grown under fluorescent lights, and as sunlight in an east window might not provide adequate light even for these orchids, using these artificial lights will help to keep the plants in top form.

Your orchids will let you know if they are unhappy with the light they are receiving in several ways – the leaves will turn yellow, the plant itself will have stunted growth, and the flowers will be few, if they appear at all.  Taking the time to learn the requirements of your orchids will help you to enjoy them to their maximum effect.

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