Orchids – Orchidaceae (family of the same name) – are delicate exotic flowers that many folks love to grow. However, the look, size, and color of these sensitive flowers vary greatly due to over 22,000 different species.
How to care for orchids may appear tricky, but we’ll break it all down for you. Some orchids require bright lighting and frequent waterings and pruning. But other orchid types expect low interactions, indirect lighting, and little to no water.
Conditions like the medium (soil) type, wind, pot size, humidity, fertilization, and ambient temperature can also be drastically different.
The wispy, regal – and dare I say mystical – appeal of Orchids have always drawn my eye. But the trauma of other gardeners’ care horror stories scared me away for years.
I struggle to keep four human kids alive. No way, I could handle a demanding Orchid. Until I had no choice. Five years later, she’s still growing strong and beautiful. And she has six siblings.
With the proper care and growing conditions, you’ll be able to enjoy being an Orchid grower with any Orchidaceae species.
Despite the different needs of Orchid species, there are some basic tips you can use whenever you wonder about caring for orchids.
Table of Contents
- Why Is the Environment So Important?
- What Care Conditions Do Orchids Need?
- How to Propagate Orchids?
- Pest and Disease Risks for Orchids
- How Do Orchid Species Affect Care?
- What Are the Different Types of Orchids?
Why Is the Environment So Important?
When you purchase an Orchid from a store or nursery, the flowers are typically in bloom and looking beautiful.
However, they’re usually not growing in the right medium for long-term survival. In nature, they’re found growing open to the air, like climbing up trees.
When bought commercially, the plants – and roots – are usually shoved inside plastic containers packed with moss.
But orchids have sensitive roots – organs that gather water. As a result, they can experience root rot from sitting in water.
Unfortunately, you can’t repot your orchid until it’s erupted into blooming flowers – which lasts several weeks.
So, during this time, it’s crucial to be vigilant about your watering process and letting the roots dry out fully between waterings.
For long-term survival, you must repot your orchids after the blooming period. You can trim the plant near the base of the flower spike.
But some gardeners try to encourage re-bloom by retaining these spikes.
To repot orchids, take the plant from its current pot. Then examine the root system to search for signs of damage or rotting. Finally, trim these damaged pieces away.
Next, untangle the roots using your fingers to clear off any remaining debris from the old growing medium.
When you put your orchids into a new pot, choose one slightly larger to give your plants room to grow. And insert a stake that you can attach your Orchid for support.
Ideal growing pots for orchids will have large drainage slits that prevent standing water around the roots.
This part is essential since you’ll water your plants profusely until you see water starting to drain out of these holes.
Once you’ve gotten your orchid plant into its new home, add your potting medium loosely around the roots. Don’t pack the mix too tight around the roots, as they need to be able to aerate.
Then give your plant a healthy dose of water. Continue adding the liquid until you see it draining from the bottom of the pot.
Adding a humidity tray beneath the plant can help ensure your Orchids get the necessary humidity level between waterings.
You can DIY this by choosing a deep, wide tray and filling it with small gravel. Then set your orchid pot on top.
You’ll also want to make sure you pick the ideal growing spot. Most orchids prefer warm climates during the day.
So choose a window facing east that will give your plant several hours of the mild morning sun. Harsh afternoon sun can cause leaf damage.
Which Orchid Pot Is Best?
Any pot you choose for your orchids must have drainage holes. Unfortunately, many decorative pots don’t feature these holes, which can cause your plants to have root rot.
A great DIY workaround for this is to use a drill or a hammer and a small chisel to create holes in the bottom of your pot.
Your chosen pot should also allow proper air circulation to the plant’s roots.
Orchids can thrive in imitation tropical climates, which include warm temperatures and a slight breeze, such as from an overhead ceiling fan. The moving air helps keep the roots healthy.
And finally, don’t go with a pot that’s too big for the size of your plant. The ideal size would be slightly bigger than your plant, so the roots have room to expand and attach to the pot sides.
A clear pot can be beneficial for most orchids.
The transparency allows light and air to get down to the roots. And it makes it easier to tell if the roots are unhealthy, root-bound, or when it’s time to water or transplant.
When transplanting your orchids, try to get close to the natural growing environment. Natural growing orchids are epiphytes – they require growing on a medium, like stones or rough bark. But they can also be hybrids of dendrobium or phalaenopsis.
What Care Conditions Do Orchids Need?
Orchids have specific care needs, although these needs can vary with the thousands of orchid types.
Orchids do best with warm temperatures, slightly moving air, moderate watering, and indirect light as subtropical and tropical plants. But remember that some species may prefer cooler temperatures.
Learn how to take care of an orchid with the following list of factors.
What Soil Is Necessary?
When growing orchids – especially when repotting – it’s necessary to remember that orchids don’t grow in regular soil like most plants. Instead, they cling to surfaces with the roots exposed.
Regular potting mixes can cause the roots to suffocate. So you’ll need to use an orchid medium instead. But even when using orchid mixes, don’t pack the mix too tightly around the roots.
Orchid mediums are chunkier, allowing the roots to breathe – such as cork, moss, pine bark, or brick chunks. Other potential potting medium ingredients include charcoal or polystyrene foam beads.
Orchids also prefer a slightly acidic nutrient content made by water, growing medium, and fertilizer. Make your own by mixing one part perlite with three parts fir bark and then adding one part sphagnum moss.
The exception is terrestrial orchids, which are mostly native to America. These types require a terrestrial orchid growing mix for their soil.
Is Bright Light Best?
Orchids are tropical species that thrive with heavy light exposure. But they do need protection from direct late-day sunlight.
Even short periods exposed to direct sunlight can cause the petals of the flowers to burn. The leaves might also experience heat sensitivity and de-lamination.
Dendrobiums are the best choice for an orchid with more resistance to direct sun exposure. Choose an area that allows light from western or southern-facing windows for orchids that require bright lighting.
And for orchids that have low lighting needs, choose a window to the north or east. Keeping the plants a few feet away from the window can also reduce the amount of direct light the plants experience.
A sheer curtain can also break up direct sunlight for safer exposure.
Do Orchids Like Humidity?
You’ll get the best growth from your orchids when there’s high humidity.
Your plants will also need adequate airflow. But dry air and cold drafts are bad for your plants.
Investing in a humidity tray can ensure you’re meeting your Orchid’s specific growing conditions.
This device keeps the optimal moisture level for your plant by creating humidity from evaporating water. Building one is as simple as adding a big deep tray under your pot and filling the tray with rocks.
The plants absorb this humidity, replenishing the moisture they lose from microscopic stomata pores.
To get the correct amount of humidity for your orchids, humidifiers work beautifully. Or create your own using a tray filled with a handful of stones.
What Is the Best Temperature for Orchids?
Because orchids are exotic flowers, they do best in warm temperatures. The best range is 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures falling between 60 and 75 degrees during the day are better for orchid growth.
And having a temperature that decreases at night – a 10-degree drop is ideal – can encourage blooming for many cultivars.
You can achieve this temperature phenomenon by relocating your potted plants to a colder room, like a basement, at night.
In addition to mild warm temperatures, you’ll also want to keep your plant away from places with cold drafts, heating vents, or direct sunlight exposure.
How Often Do You Water an Orchid?
Orchids can be an excellent choice for gardeners with an absent-minded tendency to forget to water their plants for a day or several.
In general, orchids don’t require much regular watering. Instead, they do best with alternating periods of drying out and heavy watering.
Use heavy watering once a week during summer. You can put your plant in the sink for a heavy drench to let the roots soak. Alternatively, you can fill the pebble tray and let the roots absorb the liquid.
Let the roots dry out completely before you soak them again. Consistently wet roots can start to experience rotting.
Test the dryness by sticking your finger into the mix. Or you can purchase a moisture meter, which takes all guesswork out of the process.
During the winter, you’ll need to keep your orchid plants warm. And reduce your watering habit to once monthly versus once weekly.
Adding regular misting in between waterings can keep your plants hydrated. But don’t let the leaves stay too damp. Wiping the moisture off the leaves may be necessary if you mist too much.
Can I Fertilize Orchids?
When people wonder how to take care of orchids, they consider the ideal temperature, water, and sunlight exposure. But many people forget to think about fertilizing an orchid plant.
Orchids can thrive with a weekly feeding from a weakened liquid or powder fertilizer solution.
Several commercial fertilizers are specifically designed to meet the nutritional needs of Orchids. The right fertilizer can give your plants superior lush foliage, healthy roots, and beautiful, bountiful blooms.
But using the wrong fertilizer can cause your orchids to experience burning on the flower’s inside parts.
On the other hand, a spray food fertilizer can make it easier to apply feed to your plant’s flowers, roots, and leaves.
What Pruning Method Is Best?
Much like your hair requires regular cuts to keep the dead ends off so your hair grows healthy, your Orchids will also need pruning.
It’s necessary to prune flowers that have completed their blooming cycle. Use sharp, clean clippers or shears to perform an even, clean cut down to the main branch.
Orchid care after flowering includes pruning the orchid stems. Cut an inch past the main stalk for efficient pruning. Brown and yellow shoots may require further cutting down to reveal healthy shoots.
How to Propagate Orchids?
If you’re an avid orchid lover, you might hope to accomplish orchid propagation. However, for anyone who wants to reproduce – propagate – orchids to have new specimens, you might want to go straight to division.
Seed propagation is challenging and rarely works for the inexperienced. In addition, specific and demanding growing conditions are difficult to replicate.
Dividing your plants makes for an easier way to propagate. Propagation occurs between mature, large plant specimens rather than young, new growths.
Follow these easy steps to separate your adult plant into two separate pieces:
- Start by moistening your plant to make it easier to come out of the container.
- Then check the orchid’s system, removing any parts that look damaged or dead. The roots may be mushy, black, or super thin rather than a firm texture like healthy roots.
- After trimming the bad roots, attempt to split the stems (pseudobulbs or the pieces that look like pods under the leaves) and roots.
- If you can’t break the pieces by hand, use a clean, sterile, and sharp cutting tool to separate the two pieces.
- Finally, transfer your split parts into individual containers with the appropriate orchid medium. Tall orchid shoots will require staking and a heavy dose of watering.
Pest and Disease Risks for Orchids
Many people feel reservations about growing orchids because of their reputation for being finicky and demanding.
But as we’ve shown, how to care for Orchids indoors is not as hard as you’ve feared. If you follow our orchid care indoors guide, you’ll be able to enjoy healthy, beautiful Orchids.
However, a problem area of orchid care for beginners is not understanding the vulnerabilities this plant species has to various pests, who also enjoy the beauty of your flowers.
Orchids often fall victim to harmful pests like thrips, aphids, mealybugs, scale, fungus gnats, and whiteflies.
If you notice pest infestations, there are several fixes. You can brush the insects away with your hand. Or you can spray them with a gentle jet of water to dislodge them.
Another option is to use soapy water to wash them away and reduce future infestations.
To kill insects, you can use neem oil to smother the pests. Rubbing alcohol can also be a poison that won’t harm your plants.
You can apply the alcohol directly to the insect’s body or add a few drops of liquid dish soap with alcohol into a spray bottle.
Pests aren’t the only risks to your Orchid plants. You’ll also need to be on the lookout for fungal diseases. Orchids can be vulnerable to root rot, leaf algae, anthracnose, petal blight, and phytophthora.
How Do Orchid Species Affect Care?
With thousands of different variants, it’s no surprise that finding the right orchid plant care can be confusing.
For example, the ideal conditions for orchid species X differ significantly from species Z. Don’t worry, we’re not going to get into any math here! But species matters!
Regardless of the differences in growing preferences, caring for an orchid revolves around a few general needs – light, water, fertilizer, temperature, humidity, and growing mix.
All orchids have similar physical traits.
They all have arched branches – spikes/inflorescence. And each branch has nodes which concentrate natural elements to fight off infections, kind of like a one stop pharmacy for the plant. New branch growth can grow from these nodes as well. One of the most recognizable features of an orchid are its air roots, which are clearly visible above the soil – hence the name!
They all have arched branches – spikes/inflorescence. And each branch has nodes which concentrate natural elements to fight off infections, kind of like a one stop pharmacy for the plant.
New branch growth can grow from these nodes as well. One of the most recognizable features of an orchid are its air roots, which are clearly visible above the soil – hence the name!
Each orchid has unique blossoms, solid-colored or with speckled spots. The petals and inner petals – sepals – form in groups of three. And the bottom petal – labellum or lip – protrudes to attract pollinators.
The edges of the petals can vary from smooth to notched, shaped, or ruffled. Foliage – the leaves – have a heavy waxy coating that prevents water loss.
As much as the different orchids vary in looks, they also alternate in care needs.
For example, faster-growing orchids are more demanding in humidity, temperature, and water needs than orchids with slower growth.
Therefore, you must know the type of Orchid species you’re trying to care for before establishing an Orchid care routine.
What Are the Different Types of Orchids?
When researching orchid care, you’ll need to start by identifying your Orchid species. This step is also helpful if you’re starting your search for the type of Orchid you want to grow.
Many people choose to grow Orchids indoors. After all, you have the best control over external factors. But another reason is that it’s impossible to grow orchids outdoors in most climates.
A middle ground that many Orchid parents choose is to grow their orchids indoors but bring them outside to absorb warm temperatures in the summer.
A drastic temperature difference between day and night is another crucial element that many Orchids prefer for optimal blooming.
The two most popular types of Orchids grown indoors that do well when put outside when the weather gets warm are Phalaenopsis (Moth orchid) and Dendrobium (Cane orchid).
Here are some common houseplant Orchids and their varying growing needs:
Phalaenopsis – Moth Orchids
The Moth orchid – Phalaenopsis – is the most popular type due to its ease of growth. You often see this species for sale at grocery stores and nurseries.
This orchid type is the best for orchid beginners. The showy lush flowers can stay in bloom for two to six months and be purple, yellow, pink, and white.
Although the Moth orchid is easy to care for, you must provide the right humidity. A humidity tray can create the right air moisture conditions.
Paphiopedilum – Lady’s Slipper Orchids
Lady’s Slipper Orchids have a distinct look with pouch-shaped blooms with one petal and two sepals that make the flowers resemble insects.
The slipper’s color is typically different from the rest of the flower.
These plants have rich green leaves, although some varieties may have dappled imprints. The leaf color can help you determine the appropriate care.
Mottled leaves do best in warmer temperatures. Whereas leaves in a solid color prefer cooler temperatures.
Dendrobium – Cane Orchids
Dendrobium orchid species have long-lasting blooms, making them popular for flower bouquets. They are also used for healing and longevity in Chinese medicine.
You must give these flowers seasonal rest during the fall to spring dormancy period. During this time, they require less water and a well-lit location.
Cymbidium orchids are profuse bloomers from the end of winter until the beginning of spring. You can enjoy the elegant flowers for six to eight weeks.
As winter bloomers, your orchids need cool night and warm day temperatures. Creating a 20 to 25-degree Fahrenheit temperature difference day and night will give you the best growth.
You can move them to a cool room at night from a bright, well-lit space. Or you can bring them into the air after spending all day outside in a sunny, shady, warm spot.
However, their cold tolerance does not extend to temperatures below freezing.
Oncidium – Dancing Lady Orchids
These flowers get their name due to the unique appearance of their blooms. The abundant flowers can resemble a woman wearing a dress.
This species comes in shades of pink, yellow, white, and purple. They do best with mid to bright light and require aerated roots.
However, Dancing Lady hybrids can tolerate the cooler temperatures from growing indoors.
FAQ About Caring for Orchids
After the flowers drop off your orchid you’ll be left with three choices.
- You can leave the flower spike (or stem) intact but I don’t recommend this. Your spike will grow longer as a result and it’d be pretty ridiculous growing an orchid that needs to be up with several feet of support stake. Another negative of this tactic means that your blooms will be smaller because the plant nutrients will be stretched over a much larger plant.
- Cutting it back to a node. I recommend cutting a few nodes down from where the closet bloom was located. But don’t cut directly on the node, give it some space. you can extend your orchid blooming season this way because as mentioned above, the plant’s nutrients wont be spread out. Giving the roots a chance to develop and build up energy and thus produce more blooms.
- Remove the whole spike (or branch) entirely. I usually do this when I see the whole spike turning brown or drying up or just suffering overall. Cut the spike as close to the bottom as you can, without damaging the leaves. Don’t cut below the leaves. Go as far down the spike as you can from the top. Make sure to use sterilized and sharp clippers.
How do you get an orchid to bloom again?
Orchids are surprisingly easy to bloom again. If taken care of properly, a bloom can last for 8-10 months. First, follow the steps above for what to do if your blooms fall off. That’s your starting point.
Next, you need simulate a temperature drop to signal to the flowers that it’s going through a change. After this temperature drop period, your orchids should bloom again. Every orchid variety will be different, but it usually takes about 1 month of a 10 degree temperature drop from day and night.
Put your orchid in a room that gets a bit cool during the night consistently. Or if you have temperature control in one room, that makes it very easy because you can put it on a timer. After doing this for about 1 month, you should see your new blooms start to come in.
Proper Care Helps Orchids Maintain Blooms
With the right orchid care, you should enjoy beautiful blooms once a year. However, many Orchid types can re-bloom several times a year.
Focus on your species’ humidity, temperature, water, medium, nutrition, and lighting needs for the optimal Orchid care. And you should also figure out if your plants prefer an alternation between morning and nighttime temperatures.
Orchids Will Always Be Classy and Elegant
Orchids – the movie stars of the houseplant community. Think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman; yeah, on that level. Want to see more beautiful houseplants? Click one of the articles below or jump on over to our entire collection of houseplant care tips. Make sure you don’t miss out on all the necessary tools to keep your houseplant nursery look fab and fresh!
Comment below or let us know your thoughts and feedback here. Stay classy you orchid lovers!