Orchids in the Landscape- Part 1, Terrestrial types

I have been lecturing and teaching about orchids for almost 30 years. One of the things I see most commonly is that people feel orchids are hard to grow. Naturally, I disagree ! It would be easy, however, to choose the wrong plant for the wrong climate and planting spot. At many big-box stores, garden center personnel are not trained very well in the subtleties of growing terrestrial orchids, or in any specific group, for that matter. I would also concur that many terrestrial orchids need some level of care to grow best, but not so much as some of the hybrid tea roses, annual plants, or vegetable gardens. Terrestrial orchids are a great example of choosing the right plant for the right spot. Let me help de-mystify "ground orchids".

Spathoglottis orchid

Nun Orchid

Macodes Jewel Orchid ( terrarium plant)
First and foremost, "ground orchid" is a huge misnomer. There is no such thing as "a ground orchid", since the phrase is as general as "a soup" or "a person". It is a group term, and there are many hundreds of terrestrial orchids, some of which grow here extremely well with minimal care. Terrestrial only denotes that the plant grows on the ground, not in the treetops as so many iconic orchids do ( epiphytic). In the last 10 years, I've seen about 100 new orchids  come onto the retail market which classify as terrestrial orchids, some of which are terrarium plants only, such as the Jewel Orchids. The old standby types, like Reed Orchids, Spathoglottis and Nun Orchids will still grow well outdoors and should be more common than they are. Like so many plants, the right soil, sunlight and fertilizing make a difference in how well the plants grow.

The commonest terrestrial orchid I see locally in Miami is Spathoglottis, a long name for a nice plant. They look so appealing in the garden center, and seem to fizzle out so quickly once you get them home and into the ground. It's an easy plant to grow, a little harder to grow well. It likes a bright spot with morning sun, plus a good rich well-drained soil, plus consistent moisture plus equally consistent fertilizer. This translates to planting under an open-canopy tree, plenty of organic material in the soil, regular watering , good mulch, and slow-release fertilizer such as Dynamite in the planting soil.

I hate to tell orchid growers this factoid, but orchids are just plants; they're not royalty. They need the same basic care as other plants do, with the exception of their potting medium, in most cases. Granted, there are some exceptional and flashy terrestrial orchids out there from mountainous tropical areas which will never grow as landscape plants here. I like the ones that come from lowland locales, such as the hard-leaved Reed Orchids. These are wonderfully adaptable plants which thrive in our heat and rain, propagate by simple tip cuttings, and can grow in or on just about anything. The Hawaiian growers are releasing dozens of new colors, as are some of the local growers who are tapping into a landscape-plant marker.

Nun Orchids have waned in popularity for no good reason; they're still delightful plants. They show up in nurseries and garden centers around March, in time for an Easter blooming. Like Spathoglottis, they like bright light, good, rich soil, and consistent moisture. A good general rule is to grow soft-leaf terrestrial orchids as you would grow ferns, and the two groups can be mixed easily. With so many options available for orchids in the ground and on trees, you can add yet another persona to your garden.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 
Reed Orchid
Reed Orchid

1 comment:

  1. reed-stem orchid is great...grows and flowers often in the ground for many many years in florida....another great orchid that can be planted in south florida and blooms alot almost year round is "ground orchid" (Spathoglottis plicata).