Growing Orchids Under Lights

Growing orchids under lights is a good step to take when you run out of windowsill space or want to give your plants more humidity and a more controlled climate. It's a more sophisticated way of growing orchids indoors.

First, decide where you want your orchid-growing setup. Lots of people dedicate a portion of the basement to their orchid hobby. Other people convert a walk-in closet, or part of the attic. Some do a small remodel, walling off a new space! Just remember that there will be a lot of humidity in a good orchid habitat, and you don't want to rot any important structural beams. There are sealants for outdoor decks and patios that can help avoid that, but it's best to be cautious! (Disclaimer: consult a qualified structural engineer before creating a humid space in your building. Also consult your doctor, your lawyer, my lawyer, and your mother before acting on, or not acting on, anything I say in this website.)

You'll probably want a humidifier so that you can set the humidity. If you want warmer temperatures than the rest of the house, you might also get a small space heater with a thermostat, and put it on a timer so the temperature drops 10-15°F (6-8C) at night. For cool temperatures, you'll want an air conditioner. Also, remember that heat rises toward the ceiling: when heaters and high-wattage bulbs are present, you might get different climates in different parts of the space, allowing you to grow more kinds of orchids.

Air circulation makes orchids grow better, and can help prevent certain orchid diseases. So include a fan somewhere!

Now, what about lighting? You'll probably want to be able to grow orchids with a variety of different lighting needs, so make sure you have spots that provide high light (3000-5000 footcandles). Light falls off with distance from the bulb and some areas might be shaded in other ways too; you'll be able to find places for plants with lower lighting needs.

The most commonly used types of orchid grow lights are fluorescent or HID (high intensity discharge) lamps. Incandescent bulbs are very inefficient.

With fluorescent grow lights, it can be hard to get enough intensity for high-light plants, but you can try to compensate by setting the lighting timer to more than 12 hours per day. These work better for low-light orchids such as Paphiopedilum

HID lamps provide considerably more intensity, and typically come in 250W, 400W, and 1000W sizes. They come in two types, metal halide and high-pressure sodium. Metal halide grow lights (MH) have a higher color temperature, so the light can be bluish, which tends to encourage growth of foliage. High-pressure sodium grow lights (HPS) have lower color temperatures, so they tend to be yellowish and encourage growth of stems. This encourages flowering, but also makes plants tend to grow a bit "leggy." Many orchid growers care for orchids using a combination of both types.

There are new LED grow lights coming onto the market, which are very energy-efficient and can provide lighting spectra similar to sunlight at good intensity. These are the best choice for caring for orchids, but they are expensive to install at present. (On the plus side, you won't have to change the bulbs every 6 months to 1 year as is typical of fluorescent and HID fixtures, and there are considerable energy savings!)

When growing orchids under lights, you'll also want shelves for the plants, places to put supplies like bark and pots, and a nearby place to water plants. If the floor can be waterproofed with a drain, you might be able to water them in place, which is much more convenient.

Show Me YOUR Orchid Growing Area!

Show off where you grow your orchids, with pictures and descriptions! Whether it's a window, a greenhouse, an area outdoors, an orchidarium, or a special climate-controlled room in the basement, I'd like to know how you've set up your space for growing orchids. What were some of your main considerations in setting it up? Other readers will appreciate your story! (And many orchid growers enjoy boasting about their setups.)

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