There may be 25,000+ species of Orchid and more than 100,000 different varieties. But let’s face it, you just want to know what variety you have and how to after it!
In this ultimate guide on how to take care of orchids, we will share years of experience and expertise to simplify the process of caring for your orchids. Allowing you to enjoy their beauty without the complexity!
- A Quick Guide To Fertilizers
- Applying Orchid Fertilizer
- General Plant Fertilizer vs Specialist Orchid Fertilizer
How To Take Care Of Orchids
Before we can get into the nitty-gritty of caring for orchids, we need to explore a little bit about the different types of orchids. Each species or variety will come with a slightly different approach to care. We cannot cover every single permutation of species and its exact requirements in this one article, but we can cover some broad groups of species and a general approach to how to take care of orchids and keep it simple and enjoyable.
Being aware of the varieties will broaden your knowledge and give you a much more broad scope to choose the types you wish to explore growing.
Orchidaceae, or the Orchid family to you and me, is the second-largest family of flowering plants. When you read a little about the huge number of different orchid varieties it can be quite daunting to try to find information relevant to the specific plant you own or wish to own.
When you search online for orchid species you will often be bombarded with technical horticultural terms describing the different species and cultivars or the epiphytic and terrestrial orchids. Have a search for orchids on Wikipedia to see some wonderful and I imagine new words!
Why it’s important to know your Orchid Types.
The basis for a complete orchid care program will depend on knowing what type of orchid you have, and therefore what conditions it will enjoy. This is the key to easy orchid care, if you know the conditions your plant enjoys in nature, then you can replicate those exact conditions at home.
With such a vast range of orchids, it is natural for there to be a reasonably large variation in preferred growing conditions across the species. This is often why new growers struggle to come to terms with the needs of their own plants. Orchid types originate from very different climates across the world and so a one size fits all approach may not be successful.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common orchid types you’re likely to find in commercial nurseries and garden centers:
Sometimes called Moth Orchids. These are quite easy to grow and have long-lasting flowers. The most likely orchid flower seen used at weddings. If you have seen a picture in a magazine of a delicate single-stemmed orchid flower, it’s most likely a phalaenopsis orchid. Also very common as a pot plant. They originate from southeast Asia to the Philippines and northern Australia.
Sometimes called Cyms or Boat Orchids. Cymbidium orchids are very popular because they are easy to grow and are therefore a perfect choice for beginners. With proper care and attention, they will produce beautiful flowers every year. They originate from India, China, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Borneo, and Australia.
Although they are easy to grow, they will require more care and focus than Cymbidiums. Plus it’s not as easy to produce a large crop of flowers. They can be found mainly in tropical conditions of Northern India, South East Asia, Australia, and Polynesia. Because they are found in tropical conditions, most Dendrobiums thrive in warm, humid growing conditions and should be kept moist.
Sometimes called Spray Orchids. These are probably the most popular indoor orchids as they produce dozens of beautiful flowers. They are found across a large part of the world including Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, and South America. We will talk more about Oncidium Orchids later as a great plant for indoor growing and for beginners.
There are many more varieties to explore, but these are some of the more commonly available varieties.
Here are a few more popular varieties to look out for:
- Vanda Orchids
It’s a good idea not to get too hung up on the botanical names, as long as you are aware of them they will make sense when you see them on your plant labels or tags. After all your main goal is to use the name to research the growing conditions best suited to your chosen orchid types.
Simple Guide: How To Care For Orchids
Orchid experts often blind the average person with technical details about the perfect requirements needed to grow orchids but do not let this put you off.
Orchids are a wonderful plant, enjoyed for their exquisite flowers, their many varied scents, and their exotic appearance. The orchid plant family is huge and varied and we can use this to our advantage when choosing a plant for the home. The single most important way to keep orchid care easy is to choose your orchid types carefully. I cannot stress this enough. So many people fail with orchids simply by starting out with the wrong plant for their conditions.
Think about it this way – you want an orchid for your home and you want to give it good care and have nice flowers etc. However, I am sure you don’t want to invest in special equipment like humidifiers sprinklers, or even a heated greenhouse.
The care that you will need to give this orchid will depend almost entirely on where this plant comes from in the wild and the conditions it lives in naturally. You will need to provide these conditions as closely as possible for it to thrive without any problems.
This does not sound easy so far. The key to making orchid care easy is to choose a variety that best matches the conditions in your home. Would you buy a cactus that comes from the Arizona desert and plant it in a garden near the arctic circle in Canada and hope it will grow happily? Then why do we think we can take an orchid from the tropical rainforest and put it in our kitchen window and just add water?
Of course, we can grow that cactus or the orchid if we can adapt to the conditions we have to suit. But this is exactly what makes it difficult. Simplify things from the start, choose the right plant for the right place and it can be easy. With such a vast range of orchids to choose from it is easy to find one that will suit your conditions. Of course, it does not need to be an exact match but the closer it is the easier it will be to keep your orchid happy.
Some orchid types are more adaptable than others and can tolerate a range of conditions and are more forgiving. A good example of this is phalaenopsis orchids. Others are very particular and need specific conditions just to survive. These are better suited to growing a little further down the line in your orchid-growing adventures.
How To Water Orchids
How do you water orchids correctly? Well with a watering can of course! Watering orchids can be straightforward if you learn to avoid some common mistakes many people make.
As with most aspects of orchid care, there is no single answer, except perhaps … not too much, but that isn’t very helpful. We always go back to the basics of orchid care. What type of orchid have you got and what are the conditions it enjoys? If it grows in a tropical climate it’s probably going to need lots of water, if it’s from a more temperate area less water. You get the idea. That being said there are a few other things to consider.
Think about how orchids grow in nature. Many orchids do not actually grow in soil, they cling to tree branches and roots, getting moisture from the rain when it washes over them, or from the moss and organic matter that surrounds them. This means that their roots may frequently dry out to some degree. We want to replicate this at home in our environment.
Okay, so let’s run through a few reliable methods of watering orchids that I like to use.
Yes…you read that correctly. Ice cubes are a fantastic way of watering orchids. Simply place the ice cubes on top of the growing medium and let them melt down into the roots. You get several benefits from this approach
- Slow-release of water, gradually soaking into your growing medium and orchid roots
- You can accurately control the volume of water you wish to use, based on the number of ice cubes you drop in
- You can even create fertilizer ice cubes
Just make sure that you take a mental note of the number of ice cubes the plant can absorb without leaving excess water at the bottom of the pot or tray. Then repeat this process once a week.
If you grow your orchid within a perforated orchid pot, contained within a decorative pot, this is a great watering technique to use. Simply remove the orchid pot and set it in a bowl or basin of water for about 15-20 minutes. The water will be absorbed by the orchid’s roots, but you will also soak into the substrate material that you’re growing your orchid.
Remove the orchid pot from the basin of water and place it to drain for at least 5 minutes before repositioning the orchid pot back inside the decorative container
I know obvious right? But pouring water can lead to root rot. If you have a post with suitable drainage holes then you should be okay to pour and let the excess water runoff. If you do not have a specialist orchid pot, get one, or I would try one of the other methods to keep a better level of control.
Do not be tempted to overwater orchids. Let the growing medium (fine potting bark is common) dry out before watering again. Signs that you are watering orchids too much include rotting roots and a generally unstable feeling in the plant. If this is happening reduce the frequency and amount of water.
Never pot orchids in soil or soil-based composts, they are too fine in texture and will hold too much water and not enough air. It is wise to pot orchids in a bark-based compost or a really good quality sphagnum moss compost.
Try a system of watering orchids once a week or every 10 days and see how it goes, if the plant seems happy to stick with it, if not adjust accordingly. Many people water and feed orchids at the same time with liquid orchid fertilizer and this is good practice. Remember about once a month to give your orchid heavy watering to flush out any harmful salts from the fertilizer. Think of this as a tropical storm in nature!
Humidity is another factor that will influence your watering. Some orchids require high levels of humidity and this can be challenging to provide in the average home without making the humans suffer. Try grouping your orchids close together to create their own little microclimate.
You can improve this effect by keeping a shallow tray filled with water among them. This water will evaporate and increase the humidity slightly. You can also spray your plants with a fine mist regularly, though this is impractical for most people.
Watering Orchids doesn’t need to be difficult. Try some of these tips today and remember to keep things as simple as possible, that way you are more likely to keep doing it.
Orchids will thrive in your home environment if they are given the proper care including the right potting, the right amount of water, the proper amount of sunlight, and if they are fertilized. Although they are quite beautiful, they can also be temperamental. When you understand how to care for them, orchids are not particularly complicated to grow, and you can succeed and enjoy these exotic and beautiful plants.
You may enjoy reading the 8 Best Soil Test Kits Reviewed
The task of orchid pruning should not be feared. For some reason, most beginners have an unnecessary fear of the act of taking a pair of secateurs to their prize orchid. This article will help to relieve that fear by addressing the three main reasons why pruning orchids is important. So be brave and move on it really is easy.
Unlike many other plants, orchids will need to be pruned at certain stages of their life if they are to thrive and flower to their maximum. If you neglect orchid pruning your plant will not die, but you will not get the best from your plant in terms of overall health and flowering.
Basic plant hygiene is a major consideration when pruning orchids. Orchids are quite susceptible to viruses and these can be easily spread from plant to plant during pruning. If you carry out a few simple precautions this is easily avoided.
The main thing is to sterilize your secateurs or shears before pruning each plant, to avoid passing any disease between the orchids. This is easily done by washing in an alcohol solution or some household bleach. Wipe them down thoroughly before moving on to the next plant, and clean the work surface. This will minimize the risk of spreading any contamination.
Three Reasons To Prune Orchids
To remove any dead and possibly diseased material. This can be done at any time of the year but especially in the winter. You should always cut away any dead parts of the plant immediately. Dead tissue can attract pests and diseases onto an otherwise healthy plant.
This is true for most plants, it is good practice to keep plants clean and free from debris. When you are repotting orchids it is also good to check the root system carefully. Prune back any dead or dying roots and dispose of them well away from any plants. Remember to practice good hygiene at all times.
1. Keep Orchids in Good Shape
Pruning orchids can simply be carried out in order to help shape the plant. The orchid may have become too big or badly out of shape. In these circumstances, it is possible to cut the plant as desired, and if you do not go too hard this will have no negative effect.
When pruning orchids in this way take care not to remove the flower stalks as this will reduce the flowers. An orchid does not need to be a perfect shape to look stunning.
2. Pruning Orchids To Remove Disease
Any dead or dying parts of the plant can become a source of infection from various pests and diseases. It is therefore important to prune away any of these parts and also to remove any debris from around the orchid. Good plant husbandry is essential for the health of your orchid. Simply by doing this you will be keeping your plant safe from harmful attacks. The usual rules about keeping the shears clean apply, always think about simple hygiene when working with orchids.
3. Pruning Orchids To Encourage Flowering
This section will depend upon the orchid types you are growing. Some groups of orchids will flower only once per year whilst others can flower many times. Here it pays to do a little further research to get the best orchid flowers.
As a general rule, it is recommended that you prune down the dying flower stalks after flowering to about one inch from the base. This leaves a growth point for next season’s flowers. This is usually carried out when the flowers have died and the stalk is turning yellow and wilting. It is highly recommended that you find out if your orchid type has any particular requirements when pruning after flowering.
When orchid pruning you must always take some care with hygiene. Always use a disinfectant on sharp secateurs and dispose of any plant material you remove. If you are working on several different plants, prune orchids one at a time and disinfect your secateurs between each plant. These guidelines are good for most orchids but you should always check your specific type of orchid and see if it has any special requirements.
So don’t let fear stop you from pruning orchids, it’s easy and can greatly improve your plant’s vibrancy!
When it comes to growing orchids another major topic is using Orchid Fertilizers. As usual, experts like to make this more complicated than it really is. I prefer to keep things as simple as possible. It’s alright for professional growers to mess about mixing their own special formulations of macro and micronutrients and mixing this and that to be applied whenever there are two full moons on a Tuesday!
Most of us just want to know how to feed our orchids easily, without killing them, and with the chance of getting some nice blooms.
A Quick Guide To Fertilizers
The two main groups of fertilizers commonly used are:
Liquid fertilizer comes as a ready-mixed product ready to apply or as a powder or concentrates ready to dilute before application.
A slight variation of this is to use a homemade compost tea but take care to water it down to about one-third strength for use on orchids.
Slow Release Fertilizer
Slow-release fertilizers usually in granules to mix in with your compost when you are repotting orchids or as pellets to place into the pot or ground beside the plant. Or you can buy a stick form for slow release, which is great for use indoors with potted plants.
Look for fertilizers that contain little or No Urea. Orchids do not like urea so you really should try to avoid it.
Plant fertilizer in general will provide the necessary elements for plant growth in different formulations. You will recognize most fertilizers with numbers in them like 10:10:10 or 20:10:20 etc. this just refers to the ratio of the three main nutrients N nitrogen, P phosphorus, and K potassium, written as N P K and always in that order.
So a fertilizer with 10:10:10 NPK would contain 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium. Easy! By the way, K for potassium is just the chemical symbol used by chemists.
What about this NPK?
- N – Nitrogen…is important for the strong growth of the leaves and stems. It gives plants lush green growth.
- P – Phosphorus…is essential for root and flower development.
- K – Potassium…helps the strength of the plant and enables chlorophyll production.
General plant fertilizers also contain a range of other nutrients and minerals needed for a good healthy plant.
Look for an NPK with a good balance of all nutrients between 10-10-10 and 10-30-20. Although there are specialist orchid feeds that have different NPK and do very well. If you’re in doubt, don’t overcomplicate things. Pick a specialist orchid feed and maybe check out customer reviews and see what they experienced.
Applying Orchid Fertilizer
The number one tip for feeding your orchids is… do not over feed them! Orchids are very resourceful plants, they can survive without added fertilizer. However, if you want gorgeous orchids, you should apply low rates of liquid fertilizer sparingly. I recommend using less than half the suggested rate of general-type feeds. If you choose a specialist orchid fertilizer I would still reduce the rate a little perhaps by 20%.
Weekly feeding works for me. Apply low rates once a week while the plant is actively growing. Do not feed in the winter months, and about once a month water your orchid quite heavily without feed. This will flush the growing medium and help remove excess harmful salts that can build up over time.
General Plant Fertilizer vs Specialist Orchid Fertilizer
General fertilizers used as recommended above will give good solid results. By using some specialist orchid fertilizers you can go that bit further and they can give some spectacular results. I would advise you to get the plant established and happy before trying out any specialist orchid feeds. You can also look into some organic choices that are available.
To sum it up, keep it simple to start with, do not overfeed, flush regularly, avoid urea, and don’t worry too much about your NPKs!
How To Repot Orchids: Why It Matters
Repotting Orchids is a task that does require a little extra care, compared to repotting most other plants. This does not mean it’s difficult, so don’t be put off having a go, in fact, it is something that you must do if your orchid is to thrive. Follow a few general rules and you will have great success. So knowing how to repot orchids is just a matter of following a simple process.
Why Repotting Orchids Matters
The first, most obvious reason, is the plant will simply grow too big for its current pot. The second reason is more specific to orchids. Orchids are always potted in composts that do not contain soil, usually mixes of bark and sphagnum moss.
These potting mixes are used to keep the air flowing in and around the roots and need to be very open in nature, remember many orchids grow on trees and not in the ground. After a while, these composts will decompose and break down into finer textures and so will lose their ability to let the air penetrate them. They become fine and
How often to repot orchids?
You should aim to repot every eighteen months to two years on average. Use your common sense here and try to judge the overall look of the plant and the compost, two years may be too long if the compost has degraded rapidly. If your compost looks mushy and over wet it’s time to re-pot.
When it’s best to repot!
It can vary according to the orchid types, but most professional growers will repot in late spring when the plant has come to life but before it has started vigorous growth. You do not want to start repotting orchids when they are growing vigorously or when they are in full bloom. This will lead to damage to your plant. It is best to put off repotting if your plant is already flowering or has massive new growth.
How To Repot Orchids: The Process
It will pay off to be extra careful when repotting orchids. The day before you start, give the plant a really good soak, this will make handling a little easier. You will need a disinfectant, sharp clean pruners, a clean work surface, a clean pot, preferably new, and some fresh orchid compost.
Notice I keep repeating clean. Orchids are prone to viral and fungal diseases and you should try to protect against these. Use a disinfectant, watered-down bleach will do or you can buy a horticultural disinfectant.
Clean the worktop, pot, and pruners with this solution, this will stop any pests and diseases from spreading to your prized orchid! If you have more than one orchid to repot, do them one at a time and clean everything between each one, you don’t want any cross-contamination.
This all sounds a bit fussy but trust me, a few simple steps to stay clean will pay off.
The Orchid Pot
When choosing your new pot make sure it has plenty of drainage holes. Drainage is the most important thing to consider when repotting orchids. It is also good practice to put some stones or styrofoam pieces into the bottom of the pot to increase drainage. I sometimes place a mini upturned pot in the middle and arrange the roots around it before filling it with potting material.
The pot size really depends on the size of the plant, but try to guess a size suitable for about another two years of growth. Orchids do not like being potted into pots that are too big for the plant so try to go up in sizes each time you re-pot.
Oh, the experts will be at it again overcomplicating things. Using some wonderful mixture of 12.5% coconut, 20% fir tree bark from Canada 10% Egyptian wool, and some other things most people have never heard of. Again my advice is to keep it simple. You want a growing medium that is very coarse in texture for good drainage and will not degrade in a short time.
No soil repeat no soil! Bark-based composts are generally recognized as the way to go. You could even splash out on a specialist orchid compost which will give you that extra bit of confidence that you’re doing the best you can for your plant.
Repotting An Orchid
The actual process is fairly simple, much like any other plant. When repotting orchids you want to remove most, but not all, of the old compost from the roots by gently shaking and prising the roots apart a little. Then check the roots. Prune away any dead or decaying roots and dispose of them. Give the roots a light trim as this will encourage good strong regrowth.
Depending on the type of orchid you have, you may be able to divide the plant at this stage and have two or more orchids. Get your already prepared pot and compost and pot that plant! Be sure to re-pot to the same depth as before and gently firm the compost around the pot.
How To Take Care Of Orchids After Repotting
As soon as you have finished it’s very important to water orchids and helps bed the compost around the roots. I will usually place the newly re-potted orchid in partial shade for 3-4 days and keep it a little wetter than normal. After a few days return it to its usual position and resume your normal care.
So there you have it, pretty easy really. Repotting orchids does not need to be a difficult task. As with all things, you just need a little bit of care and you too can enjoy beautiful orchids.
Pests & Diseases: Taking Care of Orchids
Learning about pests and diseases can be another complicated issue, but as always I recommend keeping things as simple as possible. You do not need to become an expert in plant health. Taking care of orchids can be kept reasonably simple once you know the rules and tell-tale signs to look out for. Your plant will let you know if anything is wrong.
Orchids are not particularly prone to major problems with pests and diseases. As with any plant, you can get attacks from the usual suspects such as aphids, mites, and mealybugs. Common pests like slugs and snails will also eat your orchids if left to roam free. So it pays to keep a lookout for the usual common pests. The most likely diseases to cause problems with your orchids will be fungal or viral.
Orchids do suffer from viruses and these are incurable, however, it is a more serious problem among professional growers than the average enthusiast. Many amateur growers will not even recognize the virus, so don’t lose sleep, you are very unlikely to get a virus. The one time you need to take precautions is when you are repotting orchids. Here you just need to be careful and keep things clean.
Fungal infections can attack your orchids, most commonly at the base of the plant and the roots. You should cut away any infected leaves and roots and adjust your watering schedule. If the problem persists, consider spraying with a fungicide.
Orchid Root Rot
Orchid root rot is a common problem caused by overwatering where the orchid roots are left standing in a poorly draining growing medium, or the plant is simply watered too frequently. But don’t worry it does not have to be a terminal problem. If you have orchid root rot it is pretty easy to identify:
- Lift the plant from the pot and remove the growing medium from around the orchid’s roots
- Check the roots for signs of browning with a mushy texture
- Use a sterile blade or pruning scissors and clip off roots with symptoms of root rot
- Spray the remaining root with a diluted 3% hydrogen peroxide solution
- Repot the orchid into a new growing medium and take care of your watering regime
Orchid Pests The Usual Suspects
In general, you should not encounter many orchid problems, at least nothing your average plant wouldn’t suffer from. Good strong plants with the correct cultural conditions should remain healthy. Orchid health problems are usually to do with poor growing conditions. If you concentrate your efforts on providing a good orchid care program your plants should thrive and be happy!
Ideal Indoor Orchid: Oncidium Orchids
Oncidium orchids are among the most popular indoor orchids around today. This is mainly due to the fact that they produce masses of beautiful flowers during their peak flowering season. There are also dozens of different species to choose from in a range of different colors and growth habits. The proliferation of the plant across the different continents and climatic regions has allowed it to cross-pollinate efficiently giving rise to a wide variety of plants in this group.
Due to the sheer number of different oncidium species, even the world’s top botanists have a hard time classifying the plants. There is often confusion when it comes to naming the various species of oncidium. One of the things that separate this species from other orchid species is that they can freely cross-pollinate and create hybrids with other orchids.
This allows orchid growers and enthusiasts to create their own beautiful hybrids relatively easily. Years of this prolific breeding has led to the vast numbers of different orchid types available today.
Ideal for Indoor Orchids
While these plants can be grown outside of your home, the most common oncidium specimens are suitable as indoor plants. The unusual and exotic beauty of these orchids makes them perfect as a great gift idea for gardeners – you cannot help but be impressed by them.
Oncidium orchids are also known for their pseudobulbs which can be seen growing from the complex network of roots. The roots of the oncidium variety, as opposed to other popular orchids, are usually quite thin and can break easily if not handled properly. So an extra level of care is necessary when handling oncidium orchids.
The leaves of the common oncidium species can grow really large, up to two feet in length. The flowers usually start emerging during the fall season in temperate zones. In tropical zones, oncidium orchids tend to grow after the rainy season. They are well known for the prolific beautiful flowers they produce.
Oncidiums are generally quite tolerant of direct strong sunlight – even more so than other popular orchids such as the phalaenopsis orchid. Unlike other orchids, you do not have to place oncidiums in the shade to protect them from the sun’s rays – they can handle the heat and direct light quite well.
In fact not only do they tolerate direct sunlight, but they will also actually bloom better if they are exposed to heavy sunlight quite often. If you want to compare the light requirement of oncidiums, you can also take a look at the basic light requirements of dendrobium and phalaenopsis orchids.
As for the water requirements – like other sun-loving orchid species, oncidiums enjoy and thrive on a lot of moisture. If you plan to keep some oncidiums at home, be ready to water these orchids at least once every other day, especially during the heavy growing season. Again, the growing season in temperate zones is usually during the fall season, so once you see the leaves of the plant browning; give your oncidiums plenty of water to facilitate the growth of the flowers.
Well cared for oncidium orchids are capable of producing a lot of flowers. So much so, that at times, the stems of the plants can be pulled down and even broken by the weight of the newly grown flowers. Keeping a close eye is recommended and be ready to tie in some plant supports if necessary.
Since you will be giving your oncidiums a lot of water, it is vital to make sure that the drainage system works well to prevent water from accumulating in the plants. Orchids, in general, can be prone to fungal root rots and other water-related diseases. The growing media or orchid compost needs to be very open and free draining to serve its purpose of storing and conveying the much-needed moisture to the fragile root network of the oncidium orchids.
Frequently Asked Questions
About The Author
Ben Hilton is a Horticultural writer, lifetime gardener and Founder of The Yard and Garden. Contact Ben here or follow him on Twitter @_YardandGarden