Basics of Orchid Care

Updated on December 2, 2017
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Kate graduated from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biology. She currently resides in Sonoma, California.

A well cared for orchid plant can do wonders for your life. The presence of this attractive plant in your home can also do a lot for your mood and the design of your interior space.

If you want to reap the benefits of orchid plant ownership, you have to make a point to care for it well. Luckily, orchid plant maintenance doesn't have to be difficult, frustrating, or time-consuming. The average person, even those with very limited gardening skills, can keep orchid plants in a healthy blooming condition for extended stretches of time.

Basics of Orchid Care

Aspect of Care
Ideal Conditions
Lighting
Dependant on the specific variety of Orchid. Use leaf color as a guide.
Watering
Water every 5-12 days during the morning hours. Lightly dampen the soil when watering.
Humidity
High humidity is best (50-70% is ideal).
Fertilizer
Use orchid specific fertilizer about once a month. 20-20-20 fertilizer is ideal.
Repotting
Every other year.

1. Lighting

It can sometimes be difficult for orchid plant owners to be able to figure out whether or not they're managing their light needs in the correct way. If you want to determine if your orchid plant is receiving enough light, you can pay close attention to its leaves.

Focus specifically on the coloring of the leaves. Use the table below interpret the color of your orchid's leaves.

Color of the Leaves
What It Means
Brilliant Green
Your orchid plant is healthy.
Deep Green
Not enough light.
Reddish-Green
Too much light.

Oncidiums, Dendrobiums and Cattleyas Varieties:

These orchid varieties have higher light requirements. If your orchid plant is part of any of these categories, then you should put it in a window that looks either to the west or the south to increase sun exposure.

Paphiopedilums, Phalaenopsis and Miltonias Varieties:

These orchids usually do well with reduced light levels. If you have these types of orchid plants, you should put them in areas that are not too close to the window. You can also choose to put these plants in windows that look to the north or to the east.

2. Watering

Regular watering is important for those who want to keep their plants alive and thriving. Orchids naturally grow in tropical rain forests. That doesn't mean, though, that they call for significant watering. Over watering your orchid can cause damage to the root system and ultimately kill the plant.

Water your orchid at intervals of between 5 and 12 days and perform the watering in the morning hours. Don't water it more frequently than that. Remember, too, that the time of the year can also influence how often you should water your orchid plant. Warm weather conditions call for more watering. Colder days, on the other hand, call for less. Remember to water your orchid plant more often in the summertime.

Drying time is essential for a healthy plant. Put your finger roughly one inch into the soil. The soil should be slightly damp to the touch, if this is the case then your plant does not require more water.

Use the plant's leaves as a measure of its overall health. Leaves that look shriveled often point to incorrect watering habits.

3. Humidity

Orchid plants are native to the rain forest so when they are living indoors, it is important to make sure they receive sufficient amounts of humidity. They typically require anywhere between 50 and 70 percent humidity.

There are many ways you can boost the humidity of your indoor space. Here are a few methods to achieve a higher level of humidity to help keep your orchid happy:

  • Put out a "humidity saucer" that contains water near your orchid.
  • Place a peddle tray underneath your plant.
  • Grow your orchid in a steamy location like a bathroom.
  • Lightly mist your plant on a daily basis.
  • Use a humidifier.

When in doubt, it is usually a safe bet to raise the humidity level. Orchids love plenty of humidity and it is very difficult to overdue it.

4. Use of Fertilizer

Use a fertilizer that's designed exclusively for orchid plants. The majority of orchid fertilizers out there suggest monthly use. Fertilizing an orchid plant less often than that can lead to the stunting of growth and minimize flowering as well. Over fertilization may trigger the burning of the leaves and roots.

Use a balanced fertilizer. A fertilizer is considered balanced if all three of its "NPK" numbers are the same, such as "20-20-20." It's not necessary to know what the NPK numbers mean, just look at the packaging for your fertilizer, it will list what it's NPK numbers are.

Try to steer clear of fertilizers that contain significant amounts of urea as well. It can even be a good idea to pick an orchid plant fertilizer that's totally devoid of it.

An orchid plant in desperate need of repotting (notice the roots growing out of the pot).
An orchid plant in desperate need of repotting (notice the roots growing out of the pot).

5. Repotting Your Orchid Plant

Repotting is yet another crucial part of successful orchid plant ownership and is often the most overlooked part of orchid care.

When to Repot Your Orchid Plant:

  • It has been two years or more since the last repotting.
  • Light, water, humidity, and fertilizer care is all optimal but the plant refuses to bloom.
  • If you notice an abundance of lengthy roots on the sides of its pot.

Note: Phalaenopsis orchids are known for going longer lengths of time without the need for repotting.

If you decide repotting is necessary for you plant, make sure that you handle your orchid delicately during this process. Extract any and all roots that are dead, feel soft or look oddly dark. Push the roots of the plant down inside of the container. Introduce some damp bark to the equation.

After repotting is complete, don't take any further action until about a week has gone by. Once a week has passed, you can continue managing your typical fertilization and watering duties. Take care not to jump back into fertilizing and watering too quickly after repotting as this can place additional stress on the plant.

Issues With Blooming

Probably the most common problem experienced by owners of orchids, is trouble getting the plant to bloom. It can be immensely frustrating to deal with an orchid plant that simply refuses to rebloom for whatever reason.

There is no one simple solution I can give you for how to correct this issue as orchids only bloom when all their conditions are right. If you have a blooming orchid you can be sure that your watering routine, lighting conditions, humidity, and use of fertilizer are all within the ideal range.

If you are struggling with blooming issues, start from the basics. Make sure the conditions for your orchid are ideal. Start with lighting conditions and work your way through all of them. If all conditions seem fine but your plant still isn't blooming, consider repotting your orchid as this is the most overlooked aspect of care.

Conclusion

An orchid is arguably one of the most beautiful indoor plants you can have in your home. They are often given as gifts to people who simply aren't aware of the proper care for these amazing plants.

Take your time and follow the recommendations of each section of this article. If you do, I can assure you that you will have arguably one of the most beautiful indoor plants flourishing in no time.

What part of caring for your Orchid Plant do you struggle with?

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Questions & Answers

  • I broke the top of my orchid, how do I fix it?

    The best way to approach a broken stem (or flower spike) on an orchid is to trim it correctly and attempt to get the plant to bloom during the next growing season. Follow these steps to have the best chance of this:

    1 - Sterilize a pair of scissors or trimming shears to help insure you don't introduce any bacterial infections to the plant. I spray rubbing alcohol (70% minimum) on my shears and let it sit for a few minutes. Then dry the shears prior to use with a paper towel.

    2 - Trim the orchid's stem about a quarter to half inch above the second node down (from where the break occurred). The exact node you choose is not as important as making sure you cut off all damaged or infected plant matter. When in doubt, trim further down the stem than you think you may need.

    3 - You now have an open wound where you trimmed your stem. To make sure that it doesn't get infected, it may be a good idea to protect that open wound on the plant. You can easily do this by taking some regular household cinnamon powder and piling it on the cut stem. Then lightly pat the cinnamon powder down onto the top of the stem with your finger. This protects the cut from bacteria and fungus infections.

    It's a good idea to stake your stem with some form of support while it's growing and healing to prevent any further breaks.

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