Orchids, members of the family Orchidaceae, are an incredibly diverse group of plants with captivating characteristics.
Boasting over 20,000 unique species, orchids flaunt a myriad of colors, textures, and shapes–each more intricate than the last. Whether poised in dainty clusters upon an elegant flower spike, or unfurling in striking solitaire, an orchid in bloom is a sight to behold.
Orchids have a distinctive blooming cycle compared to many other houseplants. While their leaves remain green and vigorous year-round, their mesmerizing blooms appear just once or twice a year. The interval and timing of blooming are influenced by their growing medium, light conditions, and various aspects of their habitat.
Growing orchids can initially be quite daunting, given their unique care requirements. Unlike most other houseplants, orchids do not grow in typical soil. Instead, they thrive best in a fast-draining growing medium. But once you understand all there is to growing orchids, they can be quite easy to care for indoors.
These orchids equally enjoy high humidity levels and good drainage, often achieved through pots with drainage holes placed on a tray of pebbles.
Orchids are often found in locations with bright, indirect light, such as near east-facing windows. Here, they bask in the morning sun and captivated pollinators with their vibrant colors and exotic fragrances, instigating a cycle of pollination that is fundamental to their survival.
As a master gardener, orchids never fail to amaze me with their stunning colors and blooms. I’ll share all my tips and tricks in this article to help you grow and care for orchids effortlessly.
Botanical Name: Orchid, cane orchid, moth orchid, corsage orchid, boat orchid
Common Name: Orchidaceae
Plant Type: Perennial, herbaceous
Hardiness Zones: 5 – 11 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Partial shade
Soil Type: Well-drained
Soil pH: Acidic
Bloom Time: Varies
Flower Color: Pink, purple, white, red, yellow, orange, green
Native Area: North America, South America, Central America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Caribbean
Orchid Plant Care
The plants from the family Orchidaceae, commonly known as orchids, require a special blooming cycle that heavily depends on the proper growing medium and the care they receive.
The best growing medium for orchids combines fir bark, perlite, and sphagnum moss – a combination that ensures fast-draining conditions so essential for these plants.
Orchids prefer to be placed in a pot with good drainage, nested atop a tray filled with pebbles to ensure appropriate humidity levels. East-facing windows make the perfect spot for these plants as they love moderate light conditions.
For healthy leaves and an optimum blooming cycle, it’s necessary to keep an eye on pests such as aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites, as these can drastically harm the orchids’ flower spikes and leaves.
An application of insecticidal soap can control these pests effectively. Moreover, petal blights can also damage their characteristic flowers; hence adequate care against such diseases is vital.
Orchids thrive best in bright, indirect light usually offered by east-facing windows. These delicate plants prefer the cooler, less intense sunlight of the morning to the strong afternoon beams.
Strong light could scorch the leaves, discoloring them to a yellow hue, while too little light could disrupt the blooming cycle, resulting in a lack of blooms.
It is essential to strike a balance in light exposure, for the optimal growth of the orchid. A healthy orchid placed in ideal lighting conditions exhibits olive green leaves and an active growth cycle.
Orchids have very particular soil requirements, different from most other home plants. Their roots need a growing medium that is fast-draining, but can also retain some moisture.
A combination of sphagnum moss, perlite, and fir bark provides an ideal environment as this mix is loose and well-draining. Regular potting soil should be avoided as it is too dense and can lead to root rot due to excessive water retention.
Orchids also appreciate the addition of some mosses in the mix to retain just enough moisture, but still provide the airy environment that the roots need.
Keep in mind that, as with all plants, the quality of the growing medium has a profound impact on the overall health and vitality of orchids.
Healthy orchids require a delicate balance of consistent humidity levels and adequate drainage.
Firstly, water your orchids by filling the pot with water, ensure the growing medium is completely submerged. Allow the water to drain thoroughly from the pot into the tray below; this prevents risks like petal blights and other waterborne pests such as aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites.
This fast-draining method will also simulate the orchid’s natural habitat, where rainfall quickly drains away. Misting the leaves and placing the pot over a tray of wet pebbles can help to maintain the optimum humidity levels required for orchids’ health.
Remember, overwatering is a common mistake. Roots need moisture but they also need excellent drainage.
Temperature and Humidity
Orchids exhibit comfort in various temperature zones based upon their specific variations, yet the majority thrive in intermediate temperatures (60-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day).
They should be kept away from direct heat sources as it can lead to petal blight and leaves scalding. East-facing windows often provide adequate light without subjecting plants to extreme temperatures.
High humidity levels, around 40-60%, are crucial for orchids, emulating their natural humid habitat. Placing your orchid pot in a tray of pebbles with water can help increase humidity surrounding your plant, be careful with the drainage nevertheless, ensuring the roots do not sit in water, as it can lead to root rot.
The fertilizer requirements of orchids are unique due to their diverse growth habits. Most orchids appreciate a well-balanced, fast-draining fertilizer that is applied to their growing medium.
Fertilization should preferably be done early in the morning and always follow the instructions on the fertilizer package. Remember to always water the orchid thoroughly a day before applying fertilizer. This mitigates the risk of root burn from the fertilizers.
Over-fertilization may promote the growth of pests such as aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites, leading to a potential pest infestation if not managed. It’s also important to note that different orchids have varying fertilization needs depending on their blooming cycle.
Pruning orchids is essential in their blooming cycle as it encourages the growth of a new flower spike. An important characteristic to note is that the best time to prune orchids is when the bloom is finished and the flower spike has turned brown.
The spike should be cut just above the node where the first bloom appeared. However, if the flowering stem remains green, it’s possible for it to produce another flower stalk, so it is best to wait.
Dealing with dead leaves, on the other hand, is a simpler process where they can be gently pulled off without hurting the rest of the plant.
Orchid Care After Flowering
Change your focus to long-term care once the blooms drop. For most plants, the old flower spike is cut off near the base.
Also, once the orchid blooms have fallen off, you can move the plant to a better pot with a growth medium that is light and porous and a pot that lets air flow well, like unglazed clay or a pot made just for orchids that has holes in the sides.
Types of Orchid
Phalaenopsis Orchids (Moth Orchids)
Known as the “Moth Orchid” due to their resemblance to a moth in flight, Phalaenopsis Orchids are widespread, favored by plant enthusiasts due to their low-maintenance nature and long-lasting blooms.
They thrive best in warm climates and indirect sunlight, making them an ideal houseplant. They flourish in coarse, well-draining medium with weekly watering. Phalaenopsis orchids vary drastically in color, displaying hues from pure white to deep purples.
Cane Orchids (Dendrobium)
The Dendrobium is among the largest orchid genera, boasting over a thousand species. These diverse orchids are native primarily to Asia and can vary significantly in size, color, and form. They tend to prefer moderate lighting conditions and intermediate temperatures.
Semi-annual repotting in a coarse, porous medium encourages their vibrant, fragrant blooms. Despite their impressive diversity, a common denominator among Dendrobium orchids is their resilience and pronounced blooms.
Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum)
Also known as “slipper orchids”, Paphiopedilum are celebrated for their unusual, exotic flowers with a unique slipper-shaped lip.
Paphiopedilums appreciate bright but indirect light, moderate temperatures, and high humidity. They prefer a potting mix that retains water yet drains well.
These unique orchids captivate with their varied patterns, textures, and colors.
Corsage Orchid (Cattleya)
Cattleya, or the “Corsage Orchid”, is famous for large, aromatic blooms, and impressive leaves. These orchids need a growth medium that drains quickly; a mixture of fir bark and mosses is often recommended.
They require high light levels, thus preferably placed near east-facing windows. Care should be taken to protect these orchids from pests like mealybugs, that can disrupt their bloom cycle.
Boat Orchids (Cymbidium)
Boat Orchids or Cymbidiums, boast long, grass-like leaves and a tall flower spike that produces blooms that last for weeks. These types of orchids thrive in cooler conditions with good air movement and plenty of light.
They prefer growing in fast-draining potting material, like a mixture of bark, perlite, and mosses. Regular pest monitoring and controlled humidity further aid in healthy growth.
Vanda orchids, another member of the family Orchidaceae, display vibrant, robust, and flat blooms. They require strong light, hence great for east-facing windows.
The growing medium is usually porous, sometimes a basket filled with loosely arranged pieces of fir bark. Vanda orchids require high humidity and should be watered frequently.
Dancing Lady Orchid (Oncidium)
The Dancing Lady Orchid, or Oncidium, is known for its distinctive dancing lady appearance which makes them popular ornamental orchids. Oncidiums like strong light but not direct sun, so east-facing windows suit them perfectly.
They face threats from common orchid pests such as aphids and spider mites, which should be managed with insecticidal soap for healthier plants.
How to Propagate Orchids
Step 1: Preparing the Pot
Begin by preparing the right pot. Ensuring proper drainage is key, therefore, select a pot that allows for water to exit swiftly to avoid waterlogging the growing medium.
Generally, orchids prefer tightly fitting pots – so choose one that accommodates the orchid snugly without being too oversized. Also, keep a tray handy to collect excess water from the drainage holes.
Step 2: Mixing the Growing Medium
Orchids don’t fare well in regular potting soil due to their unique root characteristics. Instead, they thrive in fast-draining growing mediums like a mixture of sphagnum moss, perlite, and fir bark.
Perlite helps in water retention while fir bark ensures the medium is quick-drying. Sphagnum moss, on the other hand, is excellent for retaining humidity levels in the growing medium, promoting healthy root growth.
Step 3: Transferring the Orchid
With the pot and growing medium ready, you can transfer the orchid. Be gentle and make sure to spread the roots evenly across the growing medium.
Cover them with more medium, ensuring only the bloom spike is visible above the layer. Position the pot in east-facing windows for optimum light exposure, a crucial factor in the orchid’s blooming cycle.
Step 4: Regular Care and Maintenance
Keeping your orchid healthy requires regular care. Orchids require specific humidity levels which can be maintained by placing the pot on a tray filled with pebbles and a small amount of water.
Step 5: Encouraging the Bloom
Maintaining good growth conditions can increase the chance of flower spike emergence, leading to more beautiful, vibrant orchids gracing your garden.
Additionally, orchids require a temperature differential in order to bloom. If you can, put your orchids somewhere 10 degrees cooler at night than it is during the day for two weeks at the start of their growing season.
How to Pot or Repot Orchids
Step 1: Selection of the Pot and Growing Medium
For orchids to grow well, the first step involves the selection of an good pot and growing medium. Orchids have unique characteristics and favor a well-aerated and fast-draining growing medium over traditional soil.
The pot you select should have proper drainage and be big enough to comfortably fit the orchid’s flower spike and leaves.
Step 2: Preparation of the Pot
Next, the pot needs to be prepared for the orchid. It needs to be clean and have ample drainage as the orchids thrive in a fast-drain system that prevents root rot.
In addition, the bottom of the pot could be lined with pebbles; this promotes better drainage and also improves humidity levels around the plant when set in a tray of water.
Step 3: Potting the Orchid
The orchid should be carefully potted, ensuring its leaves are above the surface of the growing medium to prevent rot. The growing medium should be firm around the plant for secure positioning.
If the orchid is part of the Orchidaceae family that grows a flower spike, such as the well-known Phalaenopsis, this spike should be supported with a stake.
Step 4: Maintenance and Care
After potting, the orchid should be preferably placed in east-facing windows for ideal light exposure throughout its blooming cycle.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Orchids
Mealybugs are common pests within the family Orchidaceae which are characterized by a white, fluffy appearance, similar to cotton.
Disguising themselves under the leaves and at the base of flower spikes, these pests suck the sap from orchids, weakening the plants and distorting growth.
A careful visual inspection combined with the use of insecticidal soap is often recommended to manage these pests.
Aphids are small, sap-sucking bugs that can impact an orchid’s overall health. Conveniently, orchids usually bloom in an east-facing window, which can help prevent an aphid infestation as these pests prefer shady, less sunny spots.
If aphids do take hold, they can hinder the blooming cycle of the orchid by damaging new growth. Regular washing of leaves and the application of insecticidal soap can help control these pests.
Spider mites pose a significant risk to orchids, especially when the plants are kept in dry conditions, as low humidity levels favor their proliferation. These nuisances often colonize the underside of orchid leaves, robbing the plant of essential nutrients.
This can result in a stippled coloration to the leaves, disruption of the orchid’s growing cycle, and poor blooming conditions. Increasing humidity and applying a soap-water solution can help manage these pests.
Petal blights are fungal diseases that disfigure the beautiful flowers of orchids. Thriving in moist, humid conditions, spores can easily travel from plant to plant on water splashes or via pollinators.
Symptoms include brown or yellow spots that mar the beauty of the petals and disrupt the blooming cycle. To prevent blights, avoid overhead watering and ensure your pot has good drainage.
Common Plant Problems and Solutions for Orchids
Brown Leaf Tips
Orchids often develop brown leaf tips, primarily due to inconsistent watering and fluctuating humidity levels. Ensuring that the growing medium, whether it is fir bark, perlite, or sphagnum moss, remains damp (but not soggy) can prevent this issue.
Putting the orchid pot on a tray of moist pebbles can maintain high humidity levels around the plant, without over-saturating the soil.
Yellowing leaves in orchids often indicate overexposure to sunlight. Orchids, particularly those who bloom beautifully in the indoor environment, prefer indirect light, preferably from east-facing windows.
Moving them to such a location can gradually restore their vibrant green hue. Keep in mind that the occasional yellow leaf as part of the orchid’s natural cycle is normal, especially at the end of their blooming cycle.
Other Flower Guides from Planet Natural:
Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa’s work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.