Originally published on December 1st 2019
I'll freely admit to not being an Orchid specialist. Still, I have managed to get my shop-bought orchids to survive and even bloom again. So I thought it might be helpful to share some of my tips ahead of the gift-giving season when we (fingers crossed), may be presented with a plant or three.
There are several different types of orchids sold by supermarkets, florists and online. Last year, PimlicoDan wrote an article giving us a brief outline of their differences.
My tips are based on Phalaenopsis care, but you can apply to other types with a few minor adjustments.
Check you have the correct plant
Unfortunately, mislabelling or total lack of labelling happens to the best of us. Especially if it's a gift and the price was on the label. To identify the plant, you could take a photo and use Candide's plant identification tool on the knowledge tab or, for those on Apple, try the plant labels app.
Aim to get the plant within the guide lines for the best result.
Once you are sure which plant you have received or treated yourself to, it's time to figure out where to place it in your home.
To paraphrase a TV series, it is all about location, location, location. Phalaenopsis, or Phals as they are occasionally referred to, do not like direct sunlight. That sunny living room window, while ideal for some, is the wrong place for these plants. They would much prefer diffused light. An east-facing kitchen window (other east-facing rooms are also suitable) that gets some early morning light is ideal.
If sunny windowsills are your only option, then your orchid is best placed on a side table (check out secondhand stores) pulled slightly into the room. Moving them in will protect them from the strength of direct sunlight which can scorch the leaves. If your windowsill is large enough, you could, like me, use other plants to provide the shade.
Photo by user @lovenature101
If the only growing space you have has little natural light, unfortunately, domestic bulbs won't be good enough. You could invest in some grow lights, which are becoming more frequently available and affordable. Plants will need 14 to 16 hours a day and the bulbs placed roughly 15 to 20cm above them.
Getting the right amount and intensity of the light also affects the likelihood of your orchid re-flowering. Too low a level and your plant will remain healthy but will never flower. If, after six months you realise you have no new stems developing, it may be time to move it to a slightly brighter location.
Photo by user @endoftheworld1plant
This chart-topping cause of death in houseplants is the most important thing to get right. Orchids grown as houseplants are mostly from tropical regions attached to the side of trees and or branches with their roots exposed. They are adapted to absorb water from the air or when it drips down, so sitting in damp soil in homes will cause the roots to suffocate and rot.
These orchids are being grown in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens.
The best method of watering is to place the clear plastic container in a sink full of water and let it soak. After an hour, lift it out and let all the water drain away. During the warmer summer months this can be every week, and in the colder months, when you are trying to encourage your plant to rest, make it once a month. They will cope with drying out and being forgotten better than being overwatered. Check the leaves and flowers regularly, watering if they are noticeably starting to wither.
Misting over the leaves once or twice a week is ideal for orchids, as indoor heating dries out the air. You can also place your plants on trays of pebbles filled with water. The water will evaporate, creating a more familiar humid environment, ensuring your orchid's leaves and exposed roots stay hydrated and plump looking.
Photo by @AlanGardenMaster
Moth orchids don't enjoy autumn and winter temperatures below 15°C. However, they will grow better if they experience a 10° drop overnight, as it helps to trigger the production of flower buds. This temperature change is something they would naturally encounter in the wild. Setting the thermostat to reproduce this night time drop will hopefully see your orchid bloom over the winter.
Other orchids such as Cymbidium (boat orchids) and Odontoglossum are classed as cool-growing and are used to night temperatures of 10°C, while Cattleya like to sleep around 12.5°C.
At the other end of the thermometer, no orchid enjoys being above 32°C, so make sure not to place them too close to heat sources.
Orchids aren't hungry plants and don't require a lot of fertiliser. A little every week will help to encourage healthy growth though, so look for a plant feed specially designed for Orchids. My main tip is only to add a third of the manufacturers recommended dose and water this in weekly.
To prevent the build-up of unused nutrients or fertiliser salts, you can flush your plant through once a month by watering with rainwater. If you don't have access to rainwater, you can use tap water, but it could be time to make friends with neighbours who have water-butts.
Flowering stems can be held up with supporting canes and small clips
In autumn, when the flowers buds are beginning to form, you can switch to a blossom boosting fertiliser. This will have a higher phosphorus level to encourage the plant to produce flowers.
In late spring to early summer when the flowers have faded, switch back to the nitrogen-heavy growing feed. But remember, less is more when it comes to Orchids and feed. If in doubt, don't feed.
Many orchids are winter bloomers, which makes them even more special as houseplants. They fill an often otherwise flowerless void in the drabbest of months. December to April are the peak flowering months.
New flowering spikes growing on old flower stems. Photo by user @daisy_lee
Orchids don't need a lot of pruning, but once the flowers have faded, then the spent stems can be cut back to a node just below the flowers. This will encourage re-blooming on the same stem.
Having said that, any leaves or stems that have dried out and turned brown could be removed to keep the plant looking tidy and reduce the possibility of rot setting in. Use a sharp knife or a pair of scissors and cut as close to the central stem as possible.
Re-blooming from the flowering spike is particular to moth orchids. The spent flowering stem will need to be cut back entirely for other orchid types.
If the roots have developed into a mat or are creeping out over the edge, don't cut them back. It's time to re-pot.
Candide use @Flowertourer has successfully nursed this orchid back to health
Orchids for the commercial market, i.e. the home grower, are grown in pots filled with chips of bark, stones, osmunda fibre or some other loosely packed material. These materials allow the water to drain away quickly and air to circulate freely. When we re-pot, it's essential to make sure we keep these qualities.
Orchid mix compost is readily available, but you can make your own by mixing fir bark, sphagnum moss, charcoal and perlite together in equal measures. Use this fresh material to re-pot the plant into a container one size larger than the original pot. Get rid of the old potting mix and take the opportunity to check the roots. Any that are shrivelled or soft can be cut away.
It's worth giving the plant a quick soak to settle it into its new pot, but that's it — a happy plant with extra legroom.
Candide user @Carla01 shared her growing tips when she shared this image of her plant baby
Read more about the orchid family here:
Do you have any other tips, please let me know by commenting or sharing with the hashtag #orchidcare.