Orchids make fabulous houseplants and add elegance to any room. With a little care and the right conditions, orchids offer months and even years of enjoyment. Many types of orchids are easy to care for and can thrive in a home environment. The key to success is selecting the right orchid for your conditions. By following a few simple steps, your orchids will flourish and flower.
Each type of orchid prefers slightly different growing conditions, depending on how they grow in the wild. Some orchids, like cattleya grow in the forest canopy and will tolerate a fair amount of light. Others grow closer to the forest floor and need lower light levels. Phalaenopsis, for example, do not like direct sunlight, so position them slightly away from a window.
The amount of light needed can be classified in three ways.
- Orchids needing high light can live in a south window, or a bright east or west facing window.
- Medium light orchids will survive in an east or west exposure.
- Orchids requiring low light will thrive in a bright north window, or a shaded east/west exposure.
Signs of sunburn may be limpness, yellowing, or brown spots near the tips of the leaves. Signs of inadequate light may be, very dark green leaves, and/or sparse or limp foliage. Refer to specific information to find the right light requirements for your orchid.
Orchids thrive in a humid environment. You can achieve this in your home by placing plants in groups and/or placing orchids on trays of gravel, partially filled with water. Take care that the pots are not sitting directly in the water.
Misting orchids with water will also improve the humidity around them. Keep in mind that the more misting a plant receives the less watering it will need. Misting should be done in the mornings only, so that the plants are dry by nightfall. This will help prevent any fungal diseases from occurring. Take care to only mist the leaves, never the flowers.
When it comes to feeding orchids, they fall into two main categories. Monopodial, meaning the plant grows leaves from the top. And sympodial, meaning the orchid produces new growth next to the older one.
For both categories of orchids consider the time-worn adage of feeding “weakly weekly.” Orchids are generally considered to be light feeders. So, when they are actively growing, fertilizer should be used at about a 1/4 recommended strength for three successive waterings. The fourth watering should be a pure water rinse to flush out any soluble salts that have accumulated.
Phalaenopsis fall into the first category (Monopodial) and prefer a balanced fertilizer like GardenWorks 20-20-20 while the plant is actively growing. Other orchids such as; cattleyas, dendrobiums, oncidiums, odontoglossums, cymbidiums, miltonias, zygopetalums, and paphiopedilums fall into the sympodial category. You should begin fertilizing these orchids in the spring when new growth appears using a specific orchid fertilizer. By mid-May to June, as the plants begin to really grow, you may wish to move to a high-nitrogen formula (but it is not a necessity). Just make sure not to fertilize while your orchid is in bloom as this will shorten the life of the flowers.
Pests & diseases
Pay attention to light, nutrition, and moisture requirements. Avoid standing water on the roots and leaves, and make sure there is good air circulation. Although orchids are relatively pest free, inspect plants on a regular basis for signs of scale, mealybug, aphids, and spider mites.
The easiest way to water your orchid is to place it into the sink and soak the medium with water. But make sure to allow the water to drain from the bottom of the pot, as orchids sitting in excess water are prone to root rot. Always use room temperature water since extreme temperature can cause shock. It is also important not to get any water in the crown of the plant when watering. A good tip is to keep a wooden skewer down the side of your orchid pots. Pull it out to check periodically and see if your plant needs water. Keep in mind that different orchids have different water requirements, and they will require more water in the summer months. Refer to specific information to find the right water requirements for your orchid.
Most orchids are epiphytic, they grow on tree trunks and branches instead of soil. These orchids have aerial roots by which the plant takes up nutrients and water, therefore orchids grow best in a bark/moss medium, which is very porous and well-draining.
Most orchids will benefit from repotting every 18-24 months. Repot plants into only slightly larger pots in the spring or after blooming. Never repot an orchid that is in flower, or that has a new flower spike growing. In many cases this will cause the flowers to drop.
Some orchids come potted in bark mixes, and some in sphagnum moss. Bark mixes contain, fir bark, coarse perlite, charcoal, and often some coarse peat. This type of mix is recommended as it won’t dry out as quickly and offers other benefits. There are fine and coarse grades available. Be sure to check the label to find out which is best for your type of orchid.
To begin repotting, remove all of the old media from around the roots of the plant. Using clean or sterilized scissors, cut off any rotten, or broken roots. If a substantial number of roots have been removed, do not increase the pot size. This is also a good time to prune off any weak or old stems. Once the roots have been trimmed, place a handful of fresh bark in the bottom of the pot and spread the remaining roots over the bark. Pre-soaking the bark in warm water before repotting is recommended. Gently fill in the rest of the pot with the bark, working it through the roots. Make sure that the junction between the roots and leaves (the crown) is at the top of the medium. Keep your freshly repotted orchid in a shaded, but humid environment, misting the leaves for the first few weeks until new root growth occurs.
Phalaenopsis, the moth orchid, is one of the easiest orchids to grow. They require moderate-low light, so keep them out of direct sunlight. Allow potting medium to dry slightly between watering. Ideal temperatures during growing period are for daytime 24°C to 29°C, and for night 15°C to 21°C.
Paphiopedilum, the lady slipper orchid, requires low-moderate light, so keep it out of direct sunlight. The potting medium should be maintained evenly moist. Warm days and cool nights in winter will help encourage flowering. Ideal temperatures during growing period are daytime 22°C to 28°C, and at night 18°C.
Cymbidiums require both moderate light and temperatures, daytime 24°C to 29°C. A good option is to place plants outside for the summer in semi-shade. Temperature is the most critical factor in blooming cymbidiums. If they are too warm, they may not bloom. Leave the plants outside until late October or when temperatures start to drop to 4°C. Only then bring them inside and keep in a bright but cool location. Keep them moist in the summer, but water less in winter.
Odontoglossum feature spectacular blooms in many shades. They prefer low to moderate light, so avoid direct sunlight. As well as an evenly moist medium, so allow them to dry slightly between watering. Cooler temperatures are preferred, a daytime range of 18°C to 24°C, and during the night 13°C to 18°C. To initiate flowering place plants outside in a shaded location, but bring indoors before any chance of frost.
Zygopetalum feature fragrant flowers in unique shades of purple and green, with yellow and brown markings. These orchids prefer low to medium light with cooler temperatures, a daytime range of 18°C to 24°C, and for nighttime 16°C to 20°C. Keep medium evenly moist, allowing it to dry slightly between watering. To initiate flowering place plants outside in a shaded location, but bring indoors before any chance of frost.
Dendrobiums are beautiful orchids with long lasting flowers. They like a high light location and moderate to warm temperatures, with a daytime range of 18°C to 24°C, and nighttime 13°C to 16°C. Allow the planting medium to dry between watering. They like to be pot bound, so only repot when necessary.
Cattleya, the corsage orchids, are forgiving plants to grow and can survive with a little neglect. They like high light and moderate to warm temperatures, with a daytime range of 18°C to 24°C, and nighttime 13°C to 16°C. These orchids can tolerate drying out between watering.
Oncidium and Miltonia are two easy to grow orchids with unique blooms. They prefer moderate indirect sunlight and warm temperatures, with a daytime range of 21°C to 27°C, and nighttime of 16°C. A variation in night and day temperatures is needed to initiate flowering. Keep plants evenly moist.