Growing orchids (family Orchidaceae) from seed is particularly challenging since the seeds do not contain stored nutrients for successful germination and growth. To grow orchids from seeds, the home gardener must first provide a solution containing the necessary nutrients for the orchid seed to develop.
Orchid seeds cannot grow in conventional potting soil like other plants, even in their ideal climates that range from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 to 12, depending on the species. Propagating from seed takes patience and a common knowledge of how orchid seeds germinate to produce beautiful, flowering orchid plants.
Germinate the Seeds
Step 1: Sterilize the Flasks
Fill a large stockpot with water and set it on the stovetop to boil. Grasp two clear, glass flasks with tongs and submerge them in the boiling water. Submerging the glass flasks in the boiling water sterilizes them, providing an environment that discourages unwanted bacteria and fungus.
Step 2: Add the Agar
Remove the glass flasks with the tongs and set them on a clean towel to dry. Insert a funnel into one of the glass flasks and pour sterile agar into it. Pour a 1/2-inch layer of agar into the bottom of the flask, or enough to coat the bottom without splashing onto the sides.
Step 3: Put the Seed in Water
Pour a 1-inch layer of distilled water into the other sterilized glass flask. Place all the orchid seeds into the distilled water.
Step 4: Pick Up the Seeds
Squeeze an eyedropper and dip it into the flask containing the orchid seeds. Release the bulb of the eyedropper, allowing the water and orchid seeds to enter the eyedropper. Pull the eyedropper out of the distilled water flask, and insert it into the flask containing the sterilized agar.
Step 5: Scatter Onto the Agar
Hold the eyedropper over the agar solution and squeeze the bulb until the orchid seeds are scattered on top of the sterilized agar.
Step 6: Put Under Light
Close the top of the flask containing the orchid seeds with a cotton or foam flask stopper. Place the glass flask in a dimly lit location or under artificial grow lights, depending on the species. Set the timer on the grow lights to provide at least 14 hours of light daily until the orchid seeds germinate, which can range from a few months to a few years depending upon the variety of orchid seed you have.
Step 7: Monitor for Roots
Examine the roots of the growing orchid plants in the flask. Gently pull the orchid plant from the agar when the roots are at least 1/4-inch in length. Use long tweezers to pull the orchids from the agar, and rinse any remaining agar from the orchid roots with clean water.
Plant the Orchid Seedling
Step 1: Prepare the Pot
Fill a 2- to 3-inch-diameter container with a layer of foam peanuts. The peanuts will help drain away the excess moisture from around the growing orchid roots.
Step 2: Add the Bark
Step 3: Pot the Orchid
Set the orchid plant on top of the fir bark chunks, spreading the roots out around the plant. Continue to fill the pot and surround the orchid plant with fir bark chunks until the container is full.
Step 4: Keep in Bright Light
House the orchid container in an indoor location that receives filtered light or full sun, depending upon the orchid species. Orchids growing under artificial grow lights will require the lighting to remain on at least 12 hours per day.
Step 5: Water the New Orchid
Water the orchid plant once per week until the fir bark chunks are thoroughly moistened. Only water the orchid plant when the fir bark has dried.
Step 6: Feed the Orchid
Feed the orchid plant with an orchid fertilizer according to the fertilizer's included instructions. Alternatively, feed weekly or biweekly with a 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer diluted with water to one-quarter to one-half strength. Always water before and after fertilizing your orchids
Step 7: Repot As Needed
Repot the orchids into slightly larger containers every 12 to 18 months, or whenever you see roots above the soil surface. With proper care, your orchid should begin producing flowers in two to 10 years, depending on the species.
Rachel Turner has been writing professionally since 2000, focusing on gardening and home improvement topics. Her articles have appeared online at SlowTravel and in publications such as the "Arkansas Gardeners," "One Step Ahead" and "Writers Now." Turner holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Arkansas State University.