There are several varieties of orchids that like to grow outdoors in our temperate coastal climate. One of the easiest to grow is the Epidendrum, which is part of a large group of orchids that has over a thousand different species.
The Epidendrums name refers to their epiphytic growth habit — a plant that grows on another and receives moisture from air and rain. In their natural habitats in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, the different species of these orchids thrive in a multitude of diverse conditions and temperatures. They flourish in cooler mountain top environments, as well as steamy jungles and can be found growing on trees, in the ground, or cascading out of rocky crevasses.
The Epidendrum that I am most familiar with is Epidendrum ibaguense, which has bamboo-like stems that grow to about 18-inches long and have clusters of 25 to 50 tiny orchids perched on top of the stems. The long-lived flowers come in colors that range in shades of orange, red, yellow, lavender, pinks and even white.
If they like the outdoor environment you place them in, these almost indestructible plants will bloom year-round and can tolerate temperatures just above freezing and as high as 90 degrees. They prefer to be grown in bright light, but if planted in a very hot sunny environment, they require some afternoon shade to shelter them from the heat. Too much sun can burn their leaves, but not enough sunlight will create a leggy plant with few flowers.
While their name implies that they are epiphytic, they are also terrestrial — a plant that grows in soil. Most types of Epidendrums grow in a potting mixture and as the plant grows it will produce offshoots known as "keikis" — the Hawaiian word for babies.
These baby plants are epiphytic and will grow roots without soil. You can remove the babies from the mother plant after their root structure is about 4-inches long and plant them in a small pot crowded together with several other keikis.
My Epidendrums are planted in a bark-based orchid medium, which provides good drainage for the plant. During the summer, they require enough water to keep their planting medium moist, but not soggy. Water less in the winter, especially if we get a lot of rain and foggy weather. While I have seen them growing in soil in gardens, these plants prefer to be planted in containers and love to be root bound; the more crowded the plants are, the happier they seem to be.
Feed Epidendrums a balanced 20-20-20 orchid food and dilute the recommended amount by half. During the spring and summer, I feed mine twice a month; once a month during the fall and I stop feeding them all together during the winter months. They respond well to being fed frequently and will produce an abundance of flowers and lush leaves with regular spring, summer and fall feedings.