Orchids 101: Guide to Orchid Care
Want to grow orchids but afraid you're not up to the challenge? It's easier than you think! Learn the ins and outs of orchid care.
The fluttering intricate blooms of orchids are one of the most entrancing sights in the flower kingdom. These tropical stunners are beloved houseplants around the world. Many are easy to grow at home, with no special equipment. Choose an easy variety to get started, then delve into the wide array of types available once you’ve mastered the basic art of orchid care. Soon your home will be full of these exotic beauties!
Choosing and Finding Orchids
- Beginners should start with an easy-care plant in bloom or just about to bloom. You should be able to find a good quality phalaenopsis or cattleya for under $25 at your local grocery store or nursery.
- Those ready for more challenging orchids can seek out specialty nurseries, plant shows, florists, or shop online. Some may require specialty equipment like heat lamps or a greenhouse, so know the requirements before buying.
Click here to take a virtual tour of the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Hilo, Hawaii (shown above).
Basic Orchid Care Tips
- If your orchid is already potted and healthy, don’t make any changes to the pot or potting medium when you bring it home. A happy orchid doesn’t need a new pot. If it’s still thriving in a few years, then you can look into re-potting.
- Many (though not all) orchids are epiphytes, or air plants. The easiest way to kill them is with over-watering, or by letting the roots sit in water. Water by setting the plant in the sink or tub and flushing water through the potting mix, allowing it to drain freely from the bottom. Try not to let water sit on the leaves or in the crown of the plant, where the leaves meet the stem.
- Most orchids prefer filtered bright light. Direct sunlight is too strong. Place them near a sunny window shaded by a sheer curtain.
- Watch for drafts and abrupt temperature changes. Most orchids won’t tolerate freezing temperatures, and suffer when temps drop below about 50 degrees F.
- If you must move your orchid from the pot or container in which it came, buy specially-made orchid potting mixes, usually made of bark and sphagnum moss.
Orchids for Beginners
These species have a reputation for being easy to grow under regular household conditions. They’re readily available and thoroughly beautiful.
Don’t let the name intimidate you: say “fay-lay-NOP-sis,” and then choose one of the many varieties of this easy orchid species for your home. Like most people, phalaenopsis orchids like daytime temperatures in the 70s F and nights in the 60s. Water the pot once a week to drench the potting medium, and let all the excess drain out. Phalaenopsis blooms last for weeks. When they finally fade, cut it back close to the crown. A new flower stalk will eventually appear with proper care. Get more details on phalaenopsis orchid care here.
Think of orchids and you probably picture cattleyas (“cat-LEE-yuh”). They’ve been used for decades in prom corsages and wedding bouquets, thanks to their long-lasting flowers. Many have lovely fragrances too. Like phalaenopsis, cattleya orchids like daytime temps in the 70s, nights in the 60s. Weekly watering and filtered light are pretty much all they needs to thrive. Learn more about cattleya orchid care by clicking here.
If you’ve mastered easier orchids, take a look at the amazing selection of other varieties available. Be ready to experiment with location, watering habits, and perhaps even make an investment in a heat lamp or other equipment. Lady’s Slipper and Dancing Lady orchids are shown here, but there are plenty of other varieties to try.
If you’re ready to step up your orchid game, it might be time to try a paphiopedilum (“paf-ee-oh-PED-ih-lum”), commonly called Lady’s Slippers. This group includes Minnesota’s state flower, the Showy Lady’s Slipper (C. reginae). Their watering requirements are a bit more challenging, as they need regularly moist but never soggy potting medium. Their light and temperature conditions are similar to African Violets, so if you have a location in your home where African Violets thrive, this would be an ideal location to try a Lady’s Slipper. Get more details on Lady Slipper orchid care here.
Oncidium (“on-SID-ee-um”) orchids are even pickier about their temperature and humidity, and many find them difficult to grow outside the tropics without a greenhouse. If one room in your house is generally warm (80 degrees F or more) and you can provide adequate humidity, this orchid with its colorful sprays of flowers may be a possibility. Learn more about Dancing Lady orchid care by clicking here.
Need even more orchid care information? Visit the American Orchid Society website at aos.org.