Updated: Jan 17
Plant Hero Jen shares a creative solution to grow her favorite Ecuadorian orchid in the comfort of her home.
Hi! My name is Jen and I love orchids. I also enjoy a nice glass of Malbec now and then but I don’t store bottles in my wine fridge. My wine fridge is for growing orchids!
I first started into orchid growing by adopting a friend’s orchid he was discarding. It had flowered and he was done with it.
I couldn’t just let him throw it away, so I took it in and after 6 months I was rewarded with another flush of flowers and I was hooked.
There are over 28,000 accepted species of orchids divided into 763 genera. I initially started with the most widely known orchid species: Phalaenopsis (the ones you see in the grocery store). I dabbled in some other species for a few years but because of space restrictions my collection was limited.
I joined a local orchid society and that is where I discovered miniature orchid genera like Masdevallia, Lepanthes, Platystele, Pleurothallis, and Stelis. Most of these are very small plants (5 inches or less) even as full grown specimen plants. Their flowers can range from just bigger than a pinhead to a little smaller than a ping pong ball.
I loved the brightly colored flowers and the size meant I could expand my collection without sacrificing space. However, I had a major issue that prevented me from growing these orchids. Most of the orchids I loved and wanted to grow originate from the cloud forests in Ecuador. They need constant humidity and temperatures between 55-70 degrees. One of the most important parts of their cultivation is a temperature drop of 10-15 degrees at night.
I couldn’t help myself and bought two Masdevallia orchids anyways. Their flowers were just gorgeous and I thought maybe I could manage with my setup.
Building an orchidarium
I had converted a glass aquarium into an orchidarium with fans for air circulation, misters for watering, led lights, and a humidifier with controller to ensure the humidity never dropped below 80%. The temperature of the orchidarium is dependent on the ambient temperature of my house which varies between 65-75 degrees winter to summer.
I was successfully growing Platystele, Stelis, and Pleurothallis in this setup but the newly acquired Masdevallia quickly deteriorated. They dropped leaves, developed brown leaf spots, and looked miserable. I tried fungal sprays, less watering, different light levels, more air circulation. I even tried putting ice blocks next to them at night to maybe replicate a temperature drop but nothing helped.
I realized if I wanted to successfully grow cold growing orchids my growing conditions needed to change.
"Since I didn’t want to move across the country to a better climate or spend thousands on an outdoor greenhouse I decided to try something I saw a few people doing in the orchid Instagram community: convert a wine fridge into an orchid fridge."
Building an orchid fridge to save the Masdevallia
I bought a 33 x 18 inch wine fridge, temperature controller, led light, plastic chicken mesh, fan, and mounting tabs with zip ties. I attached the mesh to the interior with zip ties, which allows me to hang mounted orchids and rearrange easily.
I programmed the temperature controller to keep the fridge at 70 degrees during the day and 55 at night. The led light is one typically used for live aquariums and can be programmed with different intensities and light cycles. I also found a bluetooth temperature and humidity sensor so I could monitor and record conditions in the fridge. I typically watered every other day. The humidity averages 92% and drops only when I opened the door or during the cooling cycles at night.
The two Masdevallia that were quickly declining are now thriving! With my new conditions I was able to buy other cold loving orchids that I had only dreamed of owning before. My orchid fridge has been up and running for a year now and I’m already planning an upgrade so I can double my growing space to allow my collection to grow.
To grow the best plants we must understand the culture of how they grow in nature. This applies to any plant you are looking to grow, not only orchids. If you know your plant requires bright light with periods of direct sun but you can only provide indirect light then you have a decision to make: keep the plant on your wish list or buy lights to supplement. Providing the best conditions will result in easier care and less worrying!