#1-I can grow houseplants great, why can't I grow orchids?
There are many things that you have to unlearn as well as learn in order to successfully grow orchids & it is always best to study up on a subject before jumping in head first. The first term necessary to know in order to grow orchids is "microclimate". One must consider where the specific orchid you want grows natively, & try to duplicate those conditions as closely as possible. Several things that most orchids have in common is:
(1)The need for increased humidity(usually 40-70%). (2)The need for fresh air circulation. (3)The need for regular watering and using a pure water source. (4)The need for the correct daytime/nighttime temps. (5)The need for occasional "light" feeding or fertilizing. (6)The need for an adequate potting medium & container for the orchid to grow in, or mount for it to grow on. (7)The need to regularly change the media as it decomposes or the plant outgrows it (usually every 1-2 yrs).
#2-How do I increase the humidity?
Depending on your growing situation there are several ways to increase your humidity & you may want to choose a combination of 2 or more. (1)Fill window boxes or growing trays with water & gravel for the orchid pots to sit on. Fluorescent light grating or hailscreen can also be used as a sturdier base to support the pots. (2)Use hand sprayers or compressed sprayers to periodically mist your plants with water. (3)Grow your plants in the bathroom or take them for a shower occasionally. (4)Use a humidifier(the larger the better). (5)Or, if you are growing outdoors or in a greenhouse you can use fine mist controlled by a timer or humidistat for the best humidity control.
#3-What's the best potting medium to use?
Unfortunately there is no best media, each has it's advantages & it's disadvantages. So it is really best to experiment & see which works right for you. Personally, I like a bark, perlite, charcoal mix because it suits my conditions and watering habits best. However, straight orchid bark, coconut chunks or even Peat-Lite mixes can work very well. But it's best to stay with one type of media because each will have slightly different watering requirements.
#4-What's the best fertilizer to use?
Again to each his own, but for beginners one half strength(1/2 tsp.) of a balanced liquid fertilizer like Miracle-Gro or Peters 20-20-20 can work just fine. After a while you may want to alternate fertilizers & fine tune your formula depending on your water quality & the potting media you use. It's best to fertilize about once a week during the Spring & Summer & reduce it to once a month when it turns cooler. It is also a good idea to flush out the excess salts from your pots once a month with pure water.
#5-How much light do I give my orchid?
This depends on the species you choose to grow. For Vandas, most dendrobiums & certain others, you will need very bright conditions from 30% shade up to full sun. For Cattleyas & Oncidiums from 50-70% shade. And for Phals & Paphs from 70-90% shade. If you are still not sure you can always check your available light with a light meter to see what would grow best in your situation. The various foot-candle requirements are readily available from the AOS Website & other sources.
#6-Can I use tap water on my orchids?
Some people can if they have water with a low salt content, but most will find there are just too many additives in their water for an orchid to do well and softened water can downright kill your most favorite expensive orchid. For that reason one should plan on using rainwater and eventually investing in a reverse osmosis water filtration system.
#7-How often do I water?
This is something which must be learned and you must study the type of orchid you have as well as the environment you are in. Generally, Cattleyas, dendrobiums, encyclias, epidendrums, and others need to be allowed to dry between waterings but others such as Phals, Paphs, Phrags, & Miltonias need to stay moderately moist. All seedlings on the other hand need to stay moister and warmer at nights than adult size plants.
#8-What temperatures do orchids do best at?
Orchids are found at all temperature extremes so again it depends on the type you have. Cattleyas, Vandas, Phals, most Paphs and Oncidiums are warm-growing and need a range between 60-95ºF. Cymbidiums, Phrags, Odonts, Miltonias and some oncidiums are cool-growing and don't do well much over 80º. Plus there even many of the ladyslippers that are hardy and may take temps way below 0ºF.
#9-What does BS or NBS mean when I go to buy orchids?
BS or FS means blooming size or flowering size & indicates that the plant should bloom within a years time under optimal conditions. NBS means the plant is near blooming size but may take up to 2-3 years to produce a bloom.
#10-What is the difference between a mericlone and a hybrid orchid?
A mericlone is an exact clone of an outstanding hybrid which in most cases is an exact duplicate of the original plant. A hybrid seedling may show many variations from it's siblings. One may take more of certain traits from one parent, another from the other, & some may possess more of a blending of parental traits. One breeder has said that the ratio of flower color in Phal offspring is as follows: 20% will be the same as one parent, 20% will be the same as the other, & 60% will be a combination of the two. So although mericlones are a little more expensive, they are the best way of assuring that you get the flower color you want. Alternatively, some seek the unbloomed hybrids for the purpose of finding a flower which has never been seen before & which could perhaps be awardable.
Several forums are available and many very good books have been written on orchids and it is best to study up them before leaping headfirst into what can be a rather expensive hobby.