Learn why today's gardeners are obsessed with orchids. With step-by-step advice, even novice gardeners can cultivate these exquisite flowers. Orchids are all the rage today. In fact, orchids now rank as the second most popular potted plant, behind only poinsettias in sales.It's not difficult to understand why orchids are so appealing-they're available in a dazzling array of colors and shapes, their flowers can last for weeks, and their fragrances are unrivaled. Fortunately, today's orchids cost less than they did 10 years ago, and the quality is better. A blooming orchid is now less expensive than a modest flower arrangement and provides many weeks of colorful flowers.The Perfect PlaceOrchids are easy to grow as long as you choose the ones that fit your home environment. Comfortable indoor temperatures (65° to 75° during the day, and 10° to 15° lower in the evening) and normal ventilation usually work fine for many orchids. The biggest challenge is providing sufficient light and humidity. Some homes have heavy, light-blocking drapes and tend to have dry air. Orchids prefer humidity levels of about 50 to 60 percent. You can reach this level with an evap-orative-type room humidifier, and you can also add moisture to the area around the plants by growing them on trays filled with pebbles and water. A plastic unit called a Humidi-Grow Tray (about 1 foot square) is a ready-made unit serving the same function. In the Right DirectionWindowsills are home to most indoor plants, so let's look at the light-providing capabilities of these growing spaces. The direction a window faces has a lot to do with the amount of light and the time of day that light will be on your orchids.South-facing windows are the brightest and an ideal location for orchids needing the strongest light. Other orchids that need less light can be placed a few feet back from the window, or the light from the window can be diffused with a sheer curtain.In an east-facing window, morning sunlight is bright but not too hot. During the spring, summer and fall, this is usually an ideal exposure for the orchids mentioned in this article. During the short, dark days of winter, many of these same orchids would then usually prefer the south-facing window.The west-facing window receives as much light as the east window but, because it is afternoon light, is much hotter. So this is not as desirable a location as the east window. If you need to use it, make sure your orchids don't dry out.A north-facing window is the least desirable because it simply does not provide enough light to sustain healthy growth of orchids. Orchid OptionsChoosing the right type of orchids is critical to success. The ones I recommend, in order of ease of culturing, are:Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis). Exceptionally easy to grow, these bloom for weeks or months, come in a range of colors and have attractive strap-shaped, dark green foliage. Their arching spikes of moth-shaped flowers are the essence of grace and style, making them favorites for fashion magazine photo shoots. This type of orchid asks only for diffused, bright light, normal room temperatures and moderate humidity.Slipper Orchids (Paphiopedilum). These beauties have exotic flower colors and shapes and display handsome foliage even when the plants aren't in flower. The types called Maudiaes are especially vigorous, frequently blooming more than once a year. They have gorgeous foliage and brightly colored, glossy flowers that last for weeks. Slipper orchids need growing conditions similar to those for moth orchids.Dancing Lady Orchids (Oncidium). This group of orchids comes in a myriad of sizes. Some are miniatures, like Oncidium Twinkles, highly recommended because it blooms profusely in a small space. The plant itself grows only about 6 inches wide and tall, but when it flowers it has a flurry of pink or red 1-inch blooms with a light vanilla scent. Other varieties are larger, including one of the most popular orchids of all, the Chocolate Orchid (Oncidium 'Sharry Baby'), known for its scrumptious scent! It has leaves up to 18 inches long and flower sprays of 2 to 3 feet. It is a glorious sight in full bloom, which frequently occurs around the winter holidays.Corsage Orchids (Cattleya type). No group of orchids can match this one for bright, colorful and fragrant flowers. Years ago, these were grown primarily for cut flowers. The plants were large and unruly, grown only by those with plenty of greenhouse space. Thanks to efforts of modern orchid breeders, many of today's Cattleya hybrids are compact growers, yet still maintain their array of colors and delightful fragrances.Whatever the type, take the plunge and give orchids a try! You'll find that today's newer varieties have spectacular flowers, are not difficult to grow and are reasonably priced. They'll provide a spectrum of colors and sweet perfumes.One word of warning: Once you are bitten by the orchid bug, there may be no turning back!Proven Orchid-Watering Technique By Steve Frowine of New Hartford, ConnecticutGuest Garden WriterI find the pot-weighing method for determining when to water orchids is one of the easiest. In this method, you're relying on feel instead of precise weights. Here's how it works: 1. Thoroughly water the orchid in its pot. 2. "Weigh" the pot by picking it up. Now you know how heavy it is when it's saturated with water. 3. Wait a day or so and "weigh" it again by picking it up. You'll feel the difference in the weight as the potting material becomes drier. 4. Repeat Step 3 each day until you judge, by looking at the surface and sticking your finger into the top 1 inch or so of the potting material, that it's time to water. Keep in mind whether your type of orchid prefers to be on the damp or dry side. 5. Note what this dry "weight" is. Now the orchid is ready to be watered thoroughly. This entire process may sound tedious, but you'll be amazed at how quickly you catch on. And when you do, you'll always know the right time to water. Just lift the pot, note its weight, and you'll have your answer.