Native to tropical rainforests, tundras and semi-arid regions, orchids are beautiful epiphytic plants typically kept as houseplants. Blooms of beautiful flowers can be seen as a result of good care around once or twice a year, depending on the health, and these can range from white to pink to yellow and many more. If you need help with how to care for orchids indoors, then I’ll let you in on a few tips and tricks and general care guidelines on how to keep them alive and thriving.
There are many different species of orchids you can get, with the most popular and common one being Phalaenopsis. These are beautifully easy-to-care-for orchids, best for most beginners, and they’re much easier to care for than other species such as Habeneria. They can be grown indoors or outdoors and are available in a wide variety of hybrids and species. Caring for orchids requires some effort and patience, but as long as you are giving them the right conditions and care, these plants will be able to thrive. Now, I’ll discuss the basics of caring for orchids, including watering, repotting, fertilizing, lighting, temperature and more.
Arguably one of the most essential factors in keeping your orchid alive (or any plant, for that matter) is watering. Without water, photosynthesis wouldn’t be able to occur, and your plant would die within a matter of days. Watering orchids can be tricky, as these plants can have specific needs which aren’t too similar to other houseplants. If you overwater an orchid, this can lead to root rot, while if you underwater one, this can cause it to wither and die. As a general rule of thumb, orchids should be watered around once a week, but this can vary depending on the potting mix it’s growing in, the growing conditions and the species.
To properly water your orchid, you should gently pour room-temperature water over the potting mix until it begins to drain from the bottom of the pot. It’s crucial that you don’t use freezing cold or scalding hot water, as orchids are not good with drastic temperature changes, and this can cause harm to them. Try your best to avoid getting water on the leaves, as if it doesn’t evaporate; then it can lead to fungal and bacterial diseases developing.
Before watering again, allow the potting mix to dry out slightly before watering again. You can test the moisture of the soil by sticking your finger an inch deep into the potting mix – if it feels dry, then it’s time to water your orchid again. If the soil’s still waterlogged, give it a few more days.
The potting mix can have a significant influence on the watering frequency of orchids. Orchids need to be potted in a well-draining potting mix, which should allow for good air circulation around the roots. Some standard potting mixes used for orchids include perlite, sphagnum moss, bark and charcoal. Each mix will have its own different properties, which makes them ideal, so it’s vital that you research various components before making up your own mix (if you do – it’s great fun!)
Lighting Requirements for Orchids
The best type of light for orchids is bright and indirect light – this will help them to grow and flower. Ideally, orchids should be placed near bright windows that get filtered sunlight but not direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can burn the leaves of the orchid, causing them to wilt and leading to further damage to the plant.
If you don’t have any windows that provide enough light for your orchid, consider using artificial lights in the form of grow lights in order to supplement natural light. Grow lights such as LED grow lights are an excellent option for orchids, as they provide the correct spectrum of light for photosynthesis to occur while not generating too much heat. If you do choose to use a grow light, place it around six inches above the orchid and leave it on for around 12-16 hours a day.
It’s important to realize that different species of orchid will have different lighting requirements. Some species are able to handle direct light better or can need a few more hours of light per day. Some species, such as Phalaenopsis (commonly referred to as moth orchids), can tolerate lower light conditions, and this makes them ideal for indoor growing. Other species, such as Cattleyas or “corsage orchids”, require intenser light and are better suited for outdoor growing.
Temperature and Humidity Requirements for Orchids
Since orchids are tropical plants – they require warm and humid conditions to thrive properly. An ideal temperature range to keep orchids in is between 15-26C (60-80F) during the day and 10-21C (50-70F) at night. You should avoid exposing your orchids to drastic temperature fluctuations, as this can stress the plant out and affect growth and flowering.
As well as temperature, orchids require high humidity to make sure that their roots and leaves are kept healthy. Humidity levels can be increased by placing a humidifier near the orchid or by placing a tray of water and pebbles under the pot. If you mist the leaves, you should do this during the day to make sure that the water evaporates – otherwise, this can lead to fungal and bacterial diseases.
Air Circulation for Orchids
Good air circulation is vital for orchids, as it helps to prevent the onset of bacterial and fungal diseases, keeping the plant healthy. Placing an orchid near an open window or using a fan to circulate air can help to provide good airflow around the room. Make sure that if you place them near an open window, though, that temperatures don’t fluctuate constantly.
Making sure not to overcrowd orchids is essential. This may be for the more experienced grower who has a few more orchids than the beginner, but if you have multiple orchids in one space, they should be spaced far enough apart to allow air to circulate between them properly. Overcrowding orchids can lead to increased humidity levels, spreading disease.
Fertilizing orchids is very important. It provides the necessary nutrients for flowering and growth, but it’s essential to use the correct type of fertilizer and in the proper ratios to avoid overfertilizing, which can burn the roots and damage the orchid.
A balanced fertilizer is best for orchids. It should be water-soluble, containing equal parts nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Your orchid should be fertilized around once a month during the growing season, which typically occurs from spring to fall. It would be best if you weren’t fertilizing in the dormant season, which is from late fall to early spring. When fertilizing your orchid, dilute the fertilizer to around half strength, watering the orchid before applying the fertilizer. This helps to prevent the roots from burning, allowing the fertilizer to be distributed evenly throughout the potting mix.
Approximately every one to two years, orchids should be repotted. This is due to the fact that the potting mix will begin to break down, becoming compacted. Repotting is important, as it provides a fresh potting mix and prevents the roots from becoming too overcrowded and root-bound. When plants get too root-bound, this can lead to their growth slowing down or them becoming unhealthy, especially when planted in mixes that break down quickly. When that happens, the broken-down mix typically holds either too much water or can’t hold onto moisture well enough, making overwatering/underwatering more of a risk.
To repot an orchid, you should gently remove it from its pot, examining the roots. Any dead or damaged roots should be trimmed back with a clean and sharp set of pruners or knife. After this, the orchid should then be placed in a new pot with a fresh potting mix, making sure to keep the base of the orchid at the same level as before. With your hands or something like a chopstick, gently press the potting mix around the roots of the orchid to prevent air pockets from forming and water your orchid thoroughly.
Choosing the correct pot size for an orchid is important too. Orchids like to be in snug pots compared to loose-fitting pots, so make sure to select a pot that’s only slightly larger than the one previously used. A pot that is too large can get waterlogged quickly, causing the roots to rot. Depending on the medium, the amount of soil might be a bit too heavy on the roots as well.
Common Orchid Diseases and Pests
Like all plants, we need to watch out for pests and diseases on orchids as well. The most common pests that affect orchids are scale insects, thrips, mealybugs and spider mites. Luckily enough, these pests can be controlled with something such as insecticidal soap or neem oil – which I prefer to use. Neem oil is quite effective, cheap and won’t do as much harm to other useful insects.
Orchids are susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases, such as leaf spot, black rot and root rot. These diseases can be prevented by making sure you give the orchids the right growing conditions, such as avoiding overwatering and ensuring good air circulation around the orchid. If the orchid does develop an issue, it’s important to remove any of the affected leaves or roots as soon as possible and treat the orchid with a fungicide.
Which Orchid is Best For My Home?
Since there are hundreds of different orchid species and hybrids to choose from, it can be a bit confusing trying to pick out which one is the right one for your home and growing conditions. Popular orchids for indoor growing include Phalaenopsis, Oncidium and Paphiopedilum.
Phalaenopsis, or “moth orchids”, are one of the most popular and common orchids for indoor growing, as they’re pretty easy to care for and produce flowers that last for a while. They prefer high humidity with lower light levels.
Paphiopedilum, or “slipper orchids”, are another one of the popular choices people use for indoor growing. They have a slipper-shaped lip which is quite unique, preferring lower light levels and moderate humidity.
Oncidium, or “dancing lady orchids”, can be a bit more challenging to grow than other species, but it’s definitely worth it to see those beautiful and fragrant flowers they put out. These prefer high humidity and brighter light levels.
Other popular choices for indoor growing include Vanda, Dendrobium and Cattleya. It’s important to take note of the growing conditions you have and what the orchid you’re looking to buy requires, as this will help to ensure the orchid will be successful wherever you’re keeping it.
Troubleshooting Common Orchid Problems
Even if you follow this article word-for-word, you might still run into problems with your orchid. Here are some common issues and how you can address them.
- Yellow or brown leaves: This commonly occurs due to underwatering and overwatering. Your watering schedule should be adjusted accordingly, but it’s best to use the moisture test with your finger to know best when your orchids need watering.
- No flowers: This may mean that your orchid isn’t getting enough light – it should be moved to a brighter location but kept out of direct sunlight. Try moving it to somewhere that gets lower nighttime temperatures, too, as this can induce flowering.
- Droopy leaves: The most common cause of droopy leaves is underwatering. Make sure that when you water your orchids, you do it thoroughly and often enough that the soil isn’t bone-dry.
- Pests: These should be treated as soon as you find them with something such as neem oil or an insecticidal soap – make sure you give your orchid good air circulation.
- Root rot: The most common cause of root rot is overwatering. Adjust your watering schedule to combat this – but if the root rot has already progressed too much, it might be best to repot your orchid in a fresh potting mix and remove any dead or damaged roots.
- Poor growth: This may indicate a lack of nutrients or not enough light. Fertilize your orchid regularly, ensuring that it’s receiving enough water and hours of sunlight per day.
Additional Tips and Tricks for Caring for Orchids
- Provide adequate drainage: Orchids don’t like to be left in standing water, so make sure that the pot you put it in has a good amount of drainage holes to ensure that it doesn’t stand in water. Otherwise, this can cause root rot and lead to roots dying, which will affect the general health of your orchid.
- Use the right potting mix: As mentioned earlier, orchids need a well-draining potting mix that allows for proper air circulation and drainage around the roots. Common mixes include sphagnum moss, perlite and bark which can all be combined.
- Fertilize regularly: Feeding your plants is essential when they’re kept in pots – they won’t be able to get nutrients from anywhere else except you. Use a balanced fertilizer to ensure healthy growth and blooming – follow the instructions on the fertilizer bottle and adjust based on the age and needs of your orchid.
- Water consistently: Please don’t leave your orchid to dry out for weeks or months at a time; otherwise, it’s going to die pretty quickly.
- Be patient: If you’ve just bought an orchid, give it time to acclimate to the growing conditions you have provided for it. Some may not bloom for several months or even a year, so just be patient and consistent in the care you are giving it – and eventually, it will reward you with a beautiful blossom of flowers.
- Repot as needed: Ideally, orchids should be repotted around every 1-2 years or when the potting mix breaks down or the orchid starts to outgrow its current container. This prevents them from becoming too root-bound and suffering.
Common Orchid Varieties
As I’ve mentioned, there are thousands of orchid species and hybrids, with some being more suited for indoor growing while some can be grown outside. They all have their own unique characteristics and growing requirements. Some aren’t able to be grown inside, while some like to be pampered inside in certain climates. Here are the most common varieties of orchids you’ll encounter.
- Phalaenopsis: Commonly known as the moth orchid, these are one of the most popular orchids used for indoor growing due to their easy care and reliable and stunning blooms.
- Cattleya: These are known for their vibrant and large blooms. They require bright light and moderate humidity, which makes them ideal for indoor growing. If you don’t want to invest in a bulky humidifier, this species might just be for you.
- Vanda: These orchids have large and colourful blooms, requiring bright, indirect light with high humidity levels.
- Oncidium: Known as “dancing ladies”, these produce clusters of small and fragrant flowers on long and thin stems, making them easily identifiable.
- Dendrobium: These are a diverse group of orchids which have a wide variety of colours and shapes, from small and delicate flowers to large and showy flowers. Personally, these are my favourite type of orchids to grow.
Here’s a pretty important thing to consider when buying orchids (or any plant) that I’m passionate about. Many orchid species are endangered or threatened due to overcollection and habitat loss due to things such as deforestation and other factors. As I’m an orchid enthusiast, and you may be too, it’s important that we support the conservation efforts of orchids and make sure that we purchase them from reputable sources which use sustainable growing practices.
If you’d like to support orchid conservation further, you could try some of these:
- Supporting organizations that mainly focus on the conservation of orchids and research, such as the American Orchid Society and Orchid Conservation Alliance.
- Only buy orchids that have been sustainably grown and harvested.
- Don’t purchase any orchids that have been illegally collected from the wild, and make sure to report any sellers that take part in this practice.
- Educate friends and family about the importance of orchid conservation and the impact of habitat destruction and over-collection.
Although this may seem like a lot of information to take in and may seem intimidating at first, orchids can be pretty easy to care for as long as you have the correct information and care. Anyone’s ability to successfully grow these beautiful plants with a bit of experience. Just remember to make sure that you provide the proper growing conditions for each species, including the proper amount of light, water, air circulation and humidity. Fertilize your orchids regularly, repotting them when needed. You’d be surprised what a bit of attention and patience can get you with your orchid – they’ll reward you with stunning blooms for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What do you do with an orchid after the blooms fall off?
After the flowers have dropped off your orchid, you have three options. You can either leave the flower spike completely intact, remove it entirely or cut it back to a node. If the existing stem starts to turn yellow or brown and affects the health of the rest of the orchid, I would recommend removing the flower spike entirely. You can clip it off at the base of the plant. Some species of orchids will rebloom from the same flower spike, while some won’t, so this is important to consider when deciding what to do in this situation. Phalaenopsis can usually reliably rebloom from the same flower spike.
How do you get an orchid to flower again?
There isn’t exactly a definitive process on how to get an orchid to flower again – you need to make sure that you’re keeping it healthy by following the guidelines I’ve listed above in the article. Make sure that your orchid is getting enough water but not too much; feed the orchid regularly to provide it with enough nutrients for growth and flowering, and give them plenty of filtered sunlight. To induce flowering, you can place your orchid somewhere that gets lower temperatures at night. This typically works for me, so why not try it yourself?
What month do orchids lose their flowers?
Typically, Phalaenopsis orchids will bloom in the late winter through to spring. The flowers will naturally begin to drop in late June and July, though they may last longer depending on the care given to the orchid. If you want your flowers to last longer, make sure that you’re providing your orchid good care; otherwise, an unhealthy orchid will likely drop its flowers earlier, as flowering can put stress on a plant. The best time to repot an orchid is when they go out of bloom, which particularly applies to Phalaenopsis orchids.
What can I do with orchid air roots?
If you’re noticing a lot of aerial roots being produced, your orchid may likely be becoming root bound, as the roots no longer have any space in the pot and are instead searching for water and nutrients in the surrounding air instead. Though orchids will produce aerial roots even if they’re not root-bound, so don’t act too hastily and instead check the roots by simply sliding them out of the pot. These aerial roots in the wild are merely looking for trees or plants to attach to due to an orchid’s epiphytic nature. The aerial roots shouldn’t be trimmed off.
Will an orchid grow if all leaves fall off?
This is typically very bad news if all the leaves have fallen off your orchid. Your orchid is likely dead. Orchids work in cycles between growing new leaves, new roots and new blooms. If your orchid doesn’t have any leaves, then new leaves won’t be able to grow due to the fact that they develop between the middle of existing leaves. If it doesn’t have leaves, then it won’t be able to grow these new leaves, roots or blooms – therefore, your orchid is dead.