Introducing Orchid Care for Beginners

Updated on February 13, 2020
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna writes about the care of plants (indoors, outdoors, and in gardens). She wrote an orchid care booklet—a companion piece for workshops.

This guide provides all the data you need to grow wonderfully beautiful orchids.
This guide provides all the data you need to grow wonderfully beautiful orchids. | Source

Getting Started With an Orchid Plant

Many orchid owners believe their plants are sentient. Personalities that contribute to their lives by adding unique beauty in life as a gentle force, surpassing the mere colors of purples, pinks, yellows, golds, reds, and blues.

When an owner is first introduced to the orchid through a family or friend, or even perhaps, an impulse purchase at Costco or Sam’s Club, an immediate connection occurs between the orchid and the new owner.

The connection is so compelling that you behold a beautiful, precious orchid, and are fearful of not taking care of it properly. You worry about making a blunder that might cause a petal to drop suddenly, woefully from the orchid flower.

Never fear of harming your plant, because here are some fundamental and helpful tips on caring for your orchid. Hopefully, the article will be beneficial enough to encourage you to buy more orchids and venture into joining an orchid group or attending a local orchid workshop.

Caring for an orchid plant is a natural process, and there is nothing to fear.
Caring for an orchid plant is a natural process, and there is nothing to fear.

Watering Orchids

Orchids generally like quite a lot of water but loathe "wet feet." Wet feet means their roots are sitting in water. Hence, most orchids take pleasure in heavy waterings that flush out their pots. After that, they like not being watered again until their potting material is considerably dry throughout.

Most orchid roots form for the exposure to the air, which is why they cherish the drying out period between waterings. But the frequency of watering depends on the orchid's ventilation, amount of light, potting material, and pot size.

Terrestrial orchids grow in the ground, not in the trees like epiphytes. They prefer their roots to be in fine-grade bark mixes, such as redwood fiber and peat moss, which make watering a critical situation.

Determining how much water they need involves thinking about the humidity for a particular growing environment, including all other conditions such as a change in weather and temperature.

The terrestrial orchids still favor water, though. You water heavily first. Then by meticulous inspection, water again when the material becomes dry close to the bottom of the pot. Then, water only enough to moisten the potting material and make sure that you do not keep it soggy wet, especially at the base of the pot where water is likely to accumulate.

There is a crucial situation for the deciduous orchids as well. When deciduous orchids are completely leafless because they drop their leaves once a year, do not water them. Stop watering when their leaves yellow and start to drop. However, they will be more than happy to receive water as soon as their new growth starts. That is when they are thirsty.

Growing Orchids Indoors

Orchids like routines and dislike temperature fluctuation in their indoor environment. The flowering plants fall into three general categories of temperature conditions: Cool 55-70F days and 45F nights; Intermediate 65-75F days and 50-60F nights; Warm 60-80F days and 55-70F nights. As a general rule, many orchids grow well in two of the three categories.

Orchid Growing Temperature

Day: 55 - 70 degrees
Day: 60 - 75 degrees
Day: 60 - 80 degrees
Night: 45 degrees
Night: 50 - 60 degrees
Night: 55 - 70 degrees
Many orchids do well in two of the three categories. Each time you adopt an orchid determine which category works best for your plant.

Orchid Care: Light and Fertilizer

Light and fertilizer work together in the orchid culture like pancake mix and water in making pancakes. The thinner the pancake, the more pancake mix you add to the batter. The thicker the pancake, the more water you add. When you have a balance of pancake mix and water, you have perfect pancakes.

With the orchid, the more light available, the more fertilizer needed, and the more fertilizer added, the more light needed. One element backs up the other component. The proper balance of fertilizer and light signifies a medium, grass-green color of the vegetation for most orchids.

Just take a look at your orchid. The colors of the vegetation help you determine. Just take a look at your orchid. The colors of its vegetation help you determine what your orchid needs, either more light or more fertilizer. Yellow greenery vegetation signifies you need to add more fertilizer. Deep, dark green vegetation means the orchid needs more light.

Orchids grow healthy and produce and abundance of flowers if given as much light as possible. Be careful not to burn the leaves.

When Do You Fertilize an Orchid?

Light intensity varies according to the season and the location. Fertilizer needs to be given more often when orchids are actively growing. Fertilize once a week during the growing season, then lessened application to every two weeks when the plant is not actively growing. If the potting mix is bark, you need to add more fertilizer because the bark decays and absorbs the fertilizer.

Orchids need a fertilizer made especially for them. I use Grow More 20-20-20 because of the balanced components of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You don't need to use a lot of it either.

It's necessary to do random waterings with plain water to leach out any buildup of fertilizer in the potting material. Regular and frequent feeding continues a steady supply of food available to the plant for optimum results. Most growers use a soluble, hydroponic fertilizer in the water. As I mentioned earlier, Grow More 20 20 20 is the ideal food. It is naturally balanced and stimulates blooming, too.

The baby orchids, seedlings need special care. The little plants need moderately more shade than larger plants but gradually change over to more light as they near maturity stage from seedling to bloom. It takes up to five or more years to mature and bear flowers. Nothing is more motivating than witnessing an orchid grow to full adulthood, nature at its best.

General care for orchids is a rewarding experience.
General care for orchids is a rewarding experience.

Orchid Potting Media

Arranging your orchid in the proper potting medium makes all the difference in its survival. The potting material is essential to blooming gem-like orchids. Many different kinds of potting materials serve well in the orchid culture.

The bark is the most regularly used, which is available in three grades per the particle size:

  • Fine (⅛" to ¼")
  • Medium (¼" to ½")
  • Coarse (½" to ¾")

The majority of orchids are epiphytic and grow strong in bark chips without any soil. The semi-terrestrial types grow best in fiber mixes. Each grade of potting material has its advantages and disadvantages.

Orchids, in general, do well in any distinct growing condition, which pertains to orchid care. For the sake of time, money, and confusion, it is best to use one type of material for all your orchids. Otherwise, you end up having bottles, boxes, and bags of various materials and fertilizers.

You will wind up with more difficulty trying to maintain an orchid collection in a diversity of potting materials with wide varieties of watering and feeding responsibilities. For ease of unity, it is best to pick out one type of media for your collection and stay with that type. For your orchid's well-being, arrange your new plant to your favored material as soon as possible.

When you control the growing conditions for your orchids, such as growing in a glass container with fertilizer, ventilation, and low humidity, you can use osmunda fiber or various fir and fine redwood bark mixes. Make sure you water correctly. Watering can easily be overdone in these types of environments.

Orchids growing outdoors, or where humidity is high, and watering is controlled by people who like to water a lot and often, which beginners do. Either tree fern with one of the coarse, inorganic potting materials such as gravel, broken tile, or brick is perfect.

All in all, a very coarse bark with fine particles would be best. Sphagnum moss, from New Zealand, is excellent due to its longevity. Sphagnum moss takes 7 to 8 years to decompose while bark needs to be replaced every 2 to 3 years.

Repotting an Orchid

Orchids love their pots, and repotting doesn't excite them too much. But if they need repotting, the ideal time is when the new seasonal root starts growing. Repotting an orchid when new roots are forming helps the plant establish itself as rapidly as possible with the new material with hardly any difficulty.

Careful observation of the individual plants indicates when the new roots start. Like there are different types of orchids, there are different types of growth cycles for each orchid.

Some orchids start new roots just as the new growth starts. Others start roots when new growth is about half-formed. Still others only after their new growth are complete.

Another time you can repot is during the dormant cycle after flowering and just before new growth starts. The plant is sluggish and inactive, so switching pots would have little impact on the orchid.

In general, it is best to disturb the roots as little as possible in repotting. Except for the old dead roots and deteriorated potting material should be removed every time you repot. It is like cleaning its house and creates more space for the orchid to grow and develop its roots.

Changing the potting material is quite undertaking, and removing all the old material is necessary before repotting, regrettably, at the loss of many roots. For the sake of the plant, it can be done. That is why you only change potting material when positively necessary.

A young orchid grown from seeds can be repotted up to the next larger size regularly and often. Enable it to grow. Leaving it too long in too small of a pot slows down the growth process and permanently stunts the plant.

Sentient Plants

A friend of mine, who owns an indoor plant company, introduced me to the magical, beautiful world of orchids. A long time ago, we worked together writing an Orchid Care booklet, and most of its information can be found in this article.

It was a pleasure writing the booklet because I learned so much about these sentient plants. I learned that taking care of an orchid plant is a natural process, and there is nothing to fear. It's a rewarding experience, as long as you follow these general care tips.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • My orchids have lost their flowers. Does that mean they are dead or just need time to bloom again?

    If your spike and leaves still hold their green, then you can rebloom your orchid. Most orchids lose their leaves during dormancy, so inspect them and make sure they are still healthy. Signs of an unhealthy orchid is the stalk yellow, are the leaves withering, and signs of dark spots.

    But, if the plant is healthy, the blooms should return, which requires proper sunlight, fertilization, water, and temperature control. Good luck!

© 2019 Kenna McHugh


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    Post Comment
    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      10 months ago from Northern California

      Nisha, Thank you for the positive comments. Taking pictures of orchids is easy. They are so beautiful and a wonderful subject to photograph.

    • Nisha Nair04 profile image

      Nisha Nair04 

      10 months ago

      Nice article and pictures in this article are very beautiful.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      11 months ago from Northern California


      You can purchase the ones at Costco or your local grocer, which are Phalaenopsis or moth orchids. They are relatively easy to grow and beautiful.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      11 months ago from UK

      I wish I had read your article before being given orchids. One fared well for several years. Two small ones did not last long. Two developed sticky white deposits on their leaves which signalled the beginning of the end.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      11 months ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      Orchids are absolutely beautiful. The variations are astounding.

      I haven't grown any, but this article does boost my confidence. Maybe I will try growing some in the near future.

      Basically, they sound like any other plant that loves a little attention but doesn't appreciate smothering.

      Thanks for sharing!


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