By Brad Lau
Some of us grow only orchids while others like variety and mix other plants into our plant collections. This makes sense because the climate in Hawaii is good for many types of plants and it’s easy to find tropical plants.
Let’s examine a few common choices for companion planting with orchids in a home environment. Plants that require the same levels of light and watering are good. But even if they are watered less or more you can put them with orchids that have similar requirements on different benches or areas.
Sometimes you can use plants that grow taller to provide shade to orchids below as with palms from very tall to mid-sized under 4 feet. I have several palms growing in 3-gallon pots that I can move around near orchids and under trees. Palms like porous soil with good drainage and bright filtered light.
Sometimes we choose plants that are an uphill battle to keep disease or pest free such as roses. In Hawaii the common fungus infections and rose beetles pose an ongoing threat. Regular spraying is often required to keep the plants healthy, but the reward of flowers can make the effort worthwhile. Be aware that fragrant flowers like gardenia attract thrips which can spread to threaten orchids.
Palms are common and easy to find. They come in many sizes and grow in medium to large pots which can be moved. I use them for a little shade at 3-5 feet height and water them about 2-3 times a week. If the palms are in the landscape, they will provide a vertical surface for orchids to be tied or hooked to.
Succulents are very easy but have a potting mix which is unique to hold moisture and require less frequent watering. Their light requirements vary but are more in the shade spectrum. Many are small and grow slowly but divide or keiki easily. I put orchids that need more shade nearby but still water as required.
Bromeliads are very hardy, can tolerate shade to full sun and work well to dress up the areas around orchids. They come in a variety of colors and sizes and once mature will flower and keiki. I don’t find any problems with mosquitoes and use minimal to no media other than lava rock. I water enough to not let them dry out on their crowns.
Finally, tillandsia are versatile, easy to find, and do well with orchids. I use telephone wire and braid a harness to place the plant for hanging. They grow in shade to full sun and need good air flow. I water once or twice a week. They will eventually flower and have keiki. Sometimes they just grow into a large ball so using a spinning ring helps the plant to rotate in the light. If you don’t already have these companion plants, you can try a few and see what works for your area and location. Be careful not to expand your collections and run out of space. At the same time, you can always share extra plants with friends and family or find creative locations in your home or yard.
Be happy, grow plants.