There are around 80 species and many more hybrids and subspecies in the Vanda genus of orchids. Like most orchids, these are almost always grown as indoor houseplants. While it's possible to grow them in the garden in tropical climates (zones 10 and 11), the cultural needs are so demanding that it is rarely done.
Vandas are monopodial orchids, meaning they grow from a single stem with roots emerging from the bottom. The leaves are alternating, climbing the stem in a ladder-like progression. Older vandas frequently branch, and if left undivided the plants can grow into very large specimens. Vandas flower from spikes that emerge from the central stem and poke out between the leaves.
Vanda orchids are known for large, robust roots that are difficult to contain in any sort of pot. In fact, vandas are primarily epiphytic—meaning they attach their roots to the surface of a nearby plant or debris to obtain moisture and nutrients, rather than growing in soil. They're best planted in the early spring as they're coming out of their winter dormancy. And they will grow fairly quickly under optimal conditions.
|Botanical Name||Vanda spp.|
|Common Name||Vanda orchid|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||1–3 feet tall|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Soilless growing medium, such as peat moss or bark|
|Soil pH||6.4—6.8 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Cyclical, every few months|
|Flower Color||Pink, red, yellow, orange, blue, purple, white|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 11 (USDA)|
Vanda Orchid Care
At the risk of sounding discouraging, vandas are not a good choice for beginners. Even among more experienced growers, the plants require certain elements that can be hard to deliver at home: high humidity, high temperatures, bright light, and turbulent airflow, as well as periods of drenching "rain" followed by a dry period. Additionally, these specimens can easily grow to 5 or 6 feet in length when including their curtain of aerial roots. For these reasons, vandas are better suited as greenhouse plants, where they can flourish under overhead irrigation and sunlight.
The difference between a well-grown and substandard vanda can be profound. Healthy vandas reward their diligent owners with profuse blooms in vibrant colors throughout the year. But substandard vandas might lose their leaves from the bottom until the stem is eventually bare.
Vandas require bright light, but they generally don't thrive in full sunlight. They can acclimate to full sun, though these plants are generally washed out and not as healthy as those grown under light shade cloth to take the edge off strong sunlight. Be aware of the species of vanda you have, as some require more sunlight than others.
These orchids naturally grow in rocky areas with little soil. Their large roots meander through the air and grasp onto nearby trees and other objects. Growing them in a typical potting mix can kill the plants. Instead, opt for a basket that allows good airflow for the roots. To keep the plant in place, add bark, peat moss, or another soilless medium to the basket. You also can use a potting medium specifically made for orchids. Eventually, the roots will attach to the basket to hold the plant upright.
Vandas require a great deal of water. In fact, in periods of high temperatures they might need to be watered twice a day. Otherwise, you'll most likely still have to water once a day, though you should back off to roughly once a week during winter dormancy. During the growing season, the growing medium should be consistently moist but not soggy.
Temperature and Humidity
Vandas prefer temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They can tolerate lower temperatures, but prolonged exposure to cold can have a profound effect on a plant's growth and flowering. Exposure to any temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit can cause delayed flowering for up to a year.
Likewise, vandas require high humidity to thrive. They need a humidity level of at least 60 percent, and preferably around 80 percent. To raise the humidity, you can place your plant on a tray of gravel filled with water, as long as the roots aren't sitting directly in the water.
Vandas are heavy feeders, and well-fed plants bloom better. Fertilize weekly with a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer throughout the growing season. You can switch to a high-phosphorus fertilizer on every third application to promote better blooms. During cool weather, cut back the fertilizer to every two to four weeks.
There are many beautiful species of Vanda, including:
- Vanda coerulea: Known as the blue orchid, this species features attractive, long-lasting, blue-purple flowers.
- Vanda sanderiana: This orchid—also known as waling-waling or Sander’s vanda—comes in pink and white varieties.
- Vanda tessellata: Commonly referred to as the lattice-like patterned flower vanda or checkered vanda, this plant has yellow petals with brown lines and white margins.
Propagating Vanda Orchids
Vanda orchids are only rarely propagated from seeds, as the seedlings are very delicate and the process can take a long time. Instead, these orchids are usually propagated from cuttings.
Vanda orchids develop small offshoots with leaves, usually found just above the main root structure. When one of these offshoots has two or three leaves and aerial roots that are 2 to 3 inches long, carefully cut it away from the main stem—offshoot leaves and roots in one section—and replant it in an orchid growing mix. Keep it constantly moist as the roots anchor themselves in the growing medium, then water and feed the plant as for any established plant.
Potting and Repotting Vanda Orchids
To start a vanda in a basket, weave the roots through the basket slots and wire the stem base in place with plant wire. Use soilless growing media to further hold the plant in place. Vandas don't need repotting often, as the roots don't mind hanging out of the basket. But if they need more space and you like to keep them contained, you can simply place the plant with its old basket into a new, larger basket. Work fresh growing media around the roots. But avoid disturbing the roots as much as possible, as this can seriously stress the plant.
Vanda orchids are sensitive plants that can be plagued with problems if they don't receive just the right amount of light and water. The most common cause of plant death is too much or too little water. Overwatering will cause the plant to develop root rot, indicated by leaves that begin to shrivel and roots that become soft. The flowers may swell and develop blisters. Overwatered plants will also grow very slowly. Under-watered plants will show shriveled leaves.
Too much light is rare for these orchids, but if they get too much direct sun, vandas will turn yellowish-green or red. Too little light causes deep green leaves, spindly growth, and weak flowers.
Scale, mealybugs, and aphids can all be problems for Vanda orchids. A carefully applied insecticidal soap or oil applied is the best remedy.