Can I grow orchids outdoors in the Northeast?
Although most orchid species are tropical, there are many others that grow in temperate climes and are suitable for home gardens. New York State, for example, has about 60 species of native orchids, some of which can be successfully grown in cultivation. Hardy orchids from other parts of the world are available from specialized nurseries.
For Zones 6 and warmer there are many choices. Although perhaps not as showy as tropical orchids grown indoors, there are many very attractive hardy orchids. Most hardy orchids are woodland or forest-edge plants and will not grow well in full sun.
The key to success is attempting to replicate the conditions in which the orchid grows in the wild. In general they require well-drained, moist soil in the growing season and drier conditions in the winter. Compost and sand and/or perlite should be incorporated into the soil before planting. Additional fertilizer is not usually required. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch placed over the plants once the ground has frozen is helpful.
Of the hardy orchids that are readily available, Bletilla (Chinese ground orchid) species and varieties are the easiest to grow. Pleiones and Calanthes are also relatively easy to grow. Cypripedium species (lady's slipper orchids), which have some of the most attractive flowers, are unfortunately much trickier to grow in cultivation. Plant Delights Nursery has an excellent website concerning orchids. They also sell a wide range of hardy orchids. The Wild Orchid Company also has a good selection.
Note: Under no circumstances should you collect orchids in the wild. They are often endangered and sometimes protected.
For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service