Orchids are lovely flowering plants that create a zen-like atmosphere but have a reputation for being difficult. Orchid care is simple when you understand what these beauties need. Formally known as Orchidaceae, this plant also goes by cane orchid or moth orchid. Orchids can be found worldwide, but mostly in tropical climates. Orchids can have diverse care needs because these plants live in diverse areas. Tropical plants typically have similar care needs, but non-tropical orchids may have different preferences regarding water, temperature, and humidity.
There are thousands of orchids, all with beautiful flowers and a statuesque appearance. Most orchids grow as epiphytes, latching onto trees or other plants and growing up off the ground. Orchids are slow-growing houseplants, but with correct care, some varieties growly quickly. Once people get the hang of caring for orchids, it’s easy to start collecting them because they are so lovely.
Types of Orchid
Fragrant flowers bloom on tall, gently curving stems, also known as flower spikes. Most orchid flowers emerge in groups and may have notched or ruffled edges. The flowers can have a monochrome look and feature a single color, or the petals can be speckled for added dimension. Many orchid flowers have a darker eye, giving the plant more visual interest. The broad basal foliage has a waxy texture that helps the plant retain moisture. Some of the more common houseplant varieties include:
- Brassavola orchids
- Brassia orchids
- Cattleya orchids
- Cymbidium orchids
- Dendrobium orchids
- Encyclia orchids
- Epidendrum orchids
- Ludisia orchids
- Lycaste orchids
- Maxillaria orchids
- Miltonia orchids
- Odontoglossum orchids
- Oncidium orchids
- Paphiopedilum orchids
- Phalaenopsis orchids
- Phaius orchids
- Psychopsis orchids
- Vanda orchids
- Zygopetalum orchids
Orchid Light Requirements
Orchids need bright indirect light. Direct light will damage the foliage, so select a sunny spot set back from a window. Plenty of light is necessary to encourage blooming and help dry the soil and roots.
How Often to Water Orchids
Wait until the soil is dry before watering an orchid. Plants that are actively growing may need water twice a week, while dormant plants may drink water once per week. Sunlight, humidity, the potting medium, and the container influence how quickly the soil dries out or how often the plant needs water. Stick a finger in the potting mix to determine the dampness, or peek at the roots. Plump roots are full and do not need more water. Roots that have a shriveled appearance are drying out and need more water. Note the color while inspecting the roots. White or green roots are healthy, gray roots are thirsty, and black or brown roots are dead and can be trimmed.
Drench the potting mix when it is time to water until excess water drains through the pot. Overwatering is the worst thing you can do to an orchid. These are tropical plants that grow epiphytically, so the roots cannot deal with prolonged dampness.
Can I Water Orchids Using Ice Cubes?
Some plant owners swear by placing ice cubes on the soil once per week and letting them melt to water an orchid. This method does not harm the plant, but it’s best to monitor the potting medium and roots and water when necessary. The ice cube method may result in under or overwatered plants.
Best Soil for Orchids
Orchids are not dependent on soil like most houseplants; they just need something loose and airy. Use a potting mix formulated for orchids containing bark, perlite, and peat moss. The mix should be acidic and promote drainage. Some growers plant their orchids in sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss may be best for more advanced plant owners because it’s hard to gauge the dampness and identify when to water it. Stick to a specialized mix if you are new to orchids.
Perhaps this is part of the reason why orchids have a reputation for being hard to grow, but the pot or container the plant calls home matters. Proper orchid care means the roots have to dry out between watering, so an unglazed clay or terra cotta pot is an excellent choice because moisture in the potting medium can easily dissipate. There are specialized orchid pots that have holes or slots in the container so the potting mix and roots can dry out.
Do Orchids Need to be Staked?
Many orchids in plant shops and grocery stores come with the stem tethered to a stake. In nature, most orchids hang on to trees or other plants, so the flower stem is supported by the plant it is latched onto. Staking prevents the flower spike from flopping over or breaking under the weight of the flowers.
Not all orchids need to be staked, but some do. Orchids that produce short flower spikes can be left alone. Orchids that have tall spikes benefit from being staked. Wait until the flower spike is at least 6 inches tall before staking. The ideal time to stake an orchid is while the spike is still flexible but before the flowers open. Various stakes are available, including flexible ones better suited to curved stems. Use clips or twist ties intended for securing orchids to stakes instead of wire, which can damage the stem.
Temperature for Orchids
Most orchid cultivars sold as houseplants are comfortable in a home. Orchids live in a variety of conditions all over the world, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to temperature. Overall, orchids can live in temperatures between 50° and 90° F. Temperature can impact blooming, so research your particular plant to provide the ideal orchid care.
Humidity preferences vary significantly across orchid plants. Most tropical varieties prefer increased dampness, while others like drier conditions. Orchids, as a whole, require humidity between 40% and 70%. Get to know your specific plant and address the humidity in your home as needed.
Fertilizing is a vital part of orchid care. Most flowering plants benefit from a nutritional boost, and orchids are no exception. Feed your plant using a balanced fertilizer formulated for orchids. Apply plant food every two weeks when the plant is actively growing. Follow the instructions on the packaging for the best results.
How Do I Get My Orchid to Bloom?
Orchids are grown for their flowers, so encouraging these beauties to bloom is worth the effort. Most orchids bloom once yearly in the spring or summer, while some will bloom twice, given the proper care. Flowers typically last for two to four months.
All flowering plants bloom when they are healthy and properly cared for, so make sure your orchid care is top-notch to help your plant thrive. Sunlight and fertilizer are vital to getting orchids to bloom, but a solid watering routine is also crucial. If your orchid hasn’t set flowers in over a year, relocate the plant to a sunnier spot, repot in a fresh potting medium, and apply fertilizer in the spring.
Prune orchids to promote new growth and blooms, but how you prune the plant depends on the type of orchid. Pruning should happen after the flowers fade. Some orchids do not re-bloom, so the entire flower stalk can be removed once the blooms decline. Other orchid cultivars may push out another flush of flowers on the same spike, so the spike should be left in place, but the flowers can be removed after they begin to fade.
When to Repot Orchids
It’s time to repot orchids when the roots reach through the holes in the container or if the potting mix breaks down. Moss and bark will break down with time and develop a consistency similar to soil. The orchid needs a fresh mix when this happens. Always repot orchids after they are done flowering. Moving the plant to a new pot is disruptive and stressful to an actively flowering plant, and it may cause the flowers to drop. Even if you purchase an orchid with worn-out soil but it’s blooming, wait until the flowers fade to repot.
Propagate orchids through division, which is best done during repotting. Remove a large orchid from the pot and remove the potting medium. Gently try to separate the plant into several smaller plants. You can use a sharp, clean knife to separate the roots if necessary. Repot each plant in its own container with fresh potting mix.
Are Orchids Pet Friendly?
Orchids are safe to have around pets, so you and your furry companions can enjoy the lovely, fragrant flowers. Orchids are non-toxic for dogs and cats.
Orchid Styling Tips
Orchids need very little help with plant styling because they are so stunning already. The pot really matters for orchids, so select a decorative container you love that your orchid will also love. The container should be terra cotta or unglazed ceramic, or it should be specifically designed for orchids. Containers intended for orchids can be made from glazed ceramic because they feature holes or vents that allow air to flow and water to evaporate.
Orchid Care Tips
Orchid care is easy when you recreate the conditions that plants experience in nature. This is true for all houseplants, but it can be slightly more complicated for orchids because they hail from many different areas. The care regime that helps one cultivar thrive may not work so well for another, and that’s why it’s essential to have a general understanding of orchid care but to zero in on the specific needs of your particular plant. Once you figure out what your orchid needs, you’ll find the plant easy to grow.