Where To Buy an Orchid
Although you can find orchids at supermarkets and home supply stores these days, it is still best to purchase one from a plant nursery where the plants will have most likely received specialized care. A nursery may also have an experienced orchid grower on staff, who can help you choose the best orchid for the temperature and light level in your home.
How To Select an Orchid
Orchid Leaves and Roots
Wherever you end up shopping for your orchid, be sure to give the plant a good once-over before you purchase.
Orchid roots are relatively thick and fleshy for storing water and nutrients. Ariel roots are also often visible above the growing medium. These are covered with a layer of white tissue, called velamen, that acts like a sponge and protects the root from heat and water loss. The roots of the plant you select should appear firm and healthy, not dried up or rotted.
There are many leaf forms, depending on the type of orchid. An orchid may have thick, fleshy leaves, like Phalaenopsis, or thin elongated leaves, like Oncidium. Regardless of the leaf type, avoid plants that have yellowing or black-spotted leaves, which could indicate stress or disease.
Orchid Spikes and Blooms
When orchids bloom, most produce one or more flower spikes. These spikes are typically each an inflorescence composed of several flower buds that open first at the lowest point on the spike and progressively bloom to the tip (similar to how gladiolas bloom). The blossoms open over the course of weeks, and if the orchid has multiple spikes, the plant may bloom for months.
Choose a plant with multiple flower spikes and mostly unopened blooms. The gorgeous plants that are in full bloom at the store are nearing the end of their colorful show, and the blossoms will soon wither and die.
The Best Orchids for Beginners
Novices should start with members of the following genera, since these are the simplest orchids to grow and the most forgiving: Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, Dendrobium, and Oncidium.
Orchids have specific needs for humidity, temperature, air movement, growing medium and water. But don’t get overwhelmed, see the Orchid Article Series for all the basics. Orchids are generally very forgiving and it’s not difficult to keep them alive long enough to stumble upon the perfect combination that will reward you with a breathtaking floral display.
But don’t lose heart if your first orchid is not a success. Even if your orchid never flowers again, having a new orchid bloom in your house for weeks before it expires can still be considered an economical and beautiful orchid bouquet.
Additional Gardening Information
You can supplement your knowledge with one of the many excellent articles, books and web sites devoted to these amazing plants, including: American Orchid Society (AOS), Ortho Books: All About Growing Orchids and the Beginners Guide to Orchids by Geoffrey Hands.
To learn more about container gardening in general see the article Container or Backyard Gardining.