How to Care for Orchids
Time Required: Under 2 hours
A single orchid bloom can bring instant elegance to any room with its eye-popping, vibrant color. Orchids are also remarkably easy to maintain indoors. When you learn the best way to keep one happy and healthy, an orchid can give lasting delight at just a glance with its bounty of floral beauty.
This guide provides orchid care guidelines that are simple to follow and will give you maximum flower-power enjoyment.
Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants, with more than 28,000 species and over 100,000 hybrids.
Most orchids are perennial epiphytes, meaning they grow naturally when anchored to trees while deriving moisture and nutrients from the air and rain in the tropics and subtropics.
The most common orchids found in the home include Phalaenopsis (moth orchids), Dendrobium, Cymbidium (boat orchids) and Cattleya.
Most bloom once or twice a year, and the flowers can last for several months. Orchids remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air and are available in an array of colors and stripes.
Taking care of orchids is easy when you know more about their elaborate root system. Start at the bottom of the plant by examining the pot. Orchids should have pots with large holes for good drainage.
Keep the orchid plant in a clear container with drainage holes. Then place that inside a decorative container by a window, on a plant stand or table for a pretty display.
Orchids like to grow in sphagnum moss or a unique potting mix of gravel, plant dried fibers, bark and other chunky components. These growing mixes allow for more air to circulate on an orchid’s unusual roots. Orchid roots are long and don't branch out in the typical indoor plant way.
- The pot size you select for an orchid should be slightly larger than the size of its root system mass.
- Plan to water the orchid every 7-10 days. Test the condition first by pressing a finger down into the moss or soil mix; A dry finger indicates a dry plant.
- Run water through the orchid's pot. Then drain it thoroughly.
- Wipe any splashed water off of the leaves.
Water an orchid more frequently in humid or hot conditions and less often in cooler or drier conditions. Many orchids rest in winter, so use less water than in spring and summer.
Apply a water-soluble orchid fertilizer when watering your plant. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct dilution and application rate.
Over time, the orchid's roots will outgrow the pot or the natural potting medium will break down – even disintegrate – between your fingers. Old mix retains more moisture over time: this increases the chance for the orchid to become waterlogged. This means there is less oxygen available for the roots, and they may begin to rot.
- You will need to repot the orchid by first putting the plant and pot into a bucket of water for 10-15 minutes. Then remove the plant from the container.
- Use a clean pruner or pair of scissors to trim off old roots, remove dried or yellowing leaves and pry away potting medium attached to the roots.
- Position the root mass into the new container, and add a potting medium up to the lower leaves. It should rest just above the lip of the pot.
- Plan to repot your orchid every 1-2 years in a new container that is 1- to 2-inches larger than the one you are taking it out of.
- You will get an idea of the right size needed for a new container by examining the dimensions of its now-larger root system.
Indoor orchid varieties prefer a bright environment, enjoying east or west facing windows or filtered light when placed near a sunny south-facing window. Artificial lights are also suitable for orchids.
Being tropical plants, orchids prefer warm temperatures between 60 to 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid drafts, cold spaces, space with sudden temperature drops and hot air vents.
Orchids flourish in air that is 50-percent humidity or above. This is why you often see them in a kitchen’s window as the water from a sink provides extra humidity. Lower humidity levels can lead to leaf and bloom problems.
To increase the humidity, place the plant over a gravel tray filled with water, or group several plants together.
Larger orchids often require extra support for the long stems that turn into the blooms. Insert a stake in the potting medium, and gently attach small clips to support the stem as the blooms begin to emerge.
The bloom is the most dramatic part of an orchid’s life cycle. Blooms occur once a year, typically in the winter, and can last for several months. Fertilizing the orchid regularly during the warmer months will help prepare it for the bloom cycle.
With a few simple tips, you can enhance and even extend orchid blooms:
- Keep the temperatures below 85-degrees Fahrenheit.
- Maintain a consistent watering schedule.
- Avoid suddenly moving the plant's location as that could impact its accustomed light or temperature.
- Do not repot an orchid that is in bloom.
Some orchids can re-bloom by cutting off the spike 1/2-inch below a node and monitoring the plant for 2 to 3 months. After the bloom cycle is over, the orchid will go into dormancy, a natural resting period.
Know that blooms will wilt and fall off the orchid. The spike may turn brown. Once-glossy leaves may lose luster, and mature leaves may turn yellow. The orchid may not look healthy, but it is strengthening the root system to grow new leaves and is in its rebuilding mode.
In a few months the orchid will be ready for the next growth burst and bloom cycle.
All types of orchids can get dusty indoors. Wiping their leaves with a cloth or using a leaf-shine spray can add luster while keeping the plant clean.
As with outdoor plants, indoor plants can be attacked by harmful insects, including spider mites, scale and mealy bugs.
- Inspect your plants for any infestation when watering, as frequent monitoring can stop infestations early.
- Any plant that is being treated for an infestation should be quarantined.
- Monitor the other plants and treat them as needed.
Be aware of children and pets when they're around orchids. The shiny leaves, unusual textures and neon-colored blooms can attract attention from fingers, paws, claws and beaks. Some plant parts may cause an allergic reaction and can be toxic to people and pets. It is best to keep orchids safely out of reach.
Displaying orchids can be as exciting as acquiring them. Experiment with placing unusual containers of orchids on plant stands for added visual interest. For bigger rooms, choose larger orchids or a grouping of identical blooms for some eye-catching proportion.
Spend quality time each week tending to your orchids. Carefully and lovingly cared for by you, the orchid will return many years of beauty and enjoyment.