Can you believe Australia has more than 800 native orchid species? The elegant array of colours, scents and shapes of our orchids is so vast that they’re irresistible to many passionate gardeners.
Because of their enormous popularity, our orchids have a multitude of registered hybrids. They even have an organisation dedicated to them! And they do look gorgeous in your garden. So here’s how you can grow them in your backyard…
Where to Grow Australian Native Orchids
We’re going to assume you don’t own a greenhouse or a cold room, in which case it’s best to grow orchids that suit your region. Some orchids, such as the Cymbidium, only grow in tropical environments, while the cooler climate varieties hate the heat!
In general, orchids grow around the coastline and as a rule, like humid conditions.
Orchids are fussy plants. They generally need bright light and good ventilation to grow well. They thrive in crowded pots but don’t like winds or winter rain.
Because of this, many orchid growers surround their plants in shade cloth and roofing. But if you still want them to bedazzle your garden, they can be a good pot plant to grow on your verandah or pergola.
How to Look After Native Orchids in Australia
When it comes to propagating these exquisite plants, you need to understand that there are two main types of orchids: Terrestrials and Epiphytes.
As the name suggests, terrestrial orchids grow in the ground like your average Aussie native, and are mostly deciduous. These orchids make up 75% of our native orchids.
They generally flower in the cooler wet periods and die down in hot dry conditions to an underground tuber.
Terrestrial orchids can be notoriously difficult for the beginner to grow, though. Some are easier than others (the Diuris described in our Australia Native Plants Guide comes to mind).
But to keep things simple, we’ll focus on the easy to grow second type, the ever-popular epiphytes.
Epiphytes (Tree Huggers)
Epiphytes are orchids which attach themselves to trees or rocks. These huggers are not parasitic as you’d imagine, but use tree branches and rocks simply for support.
These beauties grow along our eastern coastline in a narrow band from the north right down to Tasmania.
Epiphytic orchids only account for about a quarter of Australian orchids but they are by far the most popular type with gardening enthusiasts.
Dendrobiums are the most commonly grown, the most hybridised and also the top pick orchid for temperate climates.
Image courtesy of the Orchid Societies Council for Victoria Inc.
How to grow epiphytic orchids
You can’t use your average potting mixes for epiphytic orchids. Gravel, pine bark chips or even charcoal – anything with good drainage – can be decent growing mediums. Seriously, that means no soil, but don’t worry. Your plants will still grow!
If you use pine bark chips, soak them in hot water for at least 24 hours to release excess tannins before using them to propagate your orchids.
Sometimes, you don’t even need to grow your plants in any medium at all. If they’re established and sturdy enough, you can just tie them right onto the trees or rocks themselves. Just make sure you choose trees that don’t lose a lot of bark.
Alternatively, you can grow your native orchids on cork or wood slabs. The orchids will eventually root themselves onto the host.
The easiest way to propagate Dendrobiums is to divide the root clumps with your hands. Keep at least 4-5 stems in each clump.
Looking after epiphytes
Epiphytes require fertilising from October to April with half strength orchid fertiliser or slow release fertiliser in pellet form.
They also need protection from excess water in winter when their buds are forming. In summer they may need daily watering but in winter once every 1-2 weeks is enough.
Look out for aphids, or plant lice, which like to eat the new flower buds. Spray your plant with an aphicide to keep the pests under control.
Scale can also be a problem. Spray with summer oil or a scale control spray if you see any signs of scale.
Some easy to grow epiphytic orchids are:
Dendrobium Speciosum (Rock Orchid)
This type can grow in clumps as large as two metres. It has masses of white to pale yellow flowers in spring. Despite the name, some rock orchids can grow on trees.
Image courtesy of the Australian Orchid Council Inc.
Dendrobium Kingianum (Pink Rock Orchid)
This is the most popular epiphyte and, thanks to hybridisation, can provide the most spectacular display of colour. Flowers come out in late winter to spring and range from pink and white to red or purple.
Docknillia Linguiformis (Tongue Orchid)
This has white to cream flowers in spring. It’s best grown on a cork or wood slab as it’s not suited to pots.
Dendrobium Bardo Rose
This is a popular hybrid with pink to mauve perfumed flowers in spring. It’s easy to grow in temperate climates. You can grow it on tree branches or on rocks, or in pine bark in pots.
Want to learn more about growing Australian native plants in your garden? Be sure to check out our handy interactive guide to pick the best plants for your location today.