The orchid is an eye-catching, unique plant with an exotic history spanning centuries. Popular for dressing up everything from living rooms to dinner plates, the edible flowers are a mainstay of luxurious decor.
Though a bit daunting to maintain, orchids provide perennial beauty for those who understand their needs. Answer all your burning questions to build your confidence in caring for these iconic plants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Once you know what you're doing, growing orchids won't be intimidating. The process isn't difficult, but it's challenging because they're not like any other plants. Maintaining orchids goes against the grain of standard houseplant care, so once you get out of this mindset, their cultivation becomes an art — and for some, an obsession.
Orchids are technically succulents because the plant retains the moisture it needs to sustain itself. But they're also epiphytes, which are air plants. This means their exposed roots seek out water and nutrients from the natural environment rather than the medium on which they grow.
Orchids will not survive in soil, which is a common mistake for many first-time growers. Epiphytes need a host to latch onto, but they aren't parasitic. Their roots take what they need from the air and decaying matter, which aids in keeping the host healthy.
Common growing mediums for indoor orchids include tree bark, perlite, loose mosses, and lava rock. These play host to the plant by giving the roots something to latch onto while also allowing them fresh air. Depending on the variety, orchids may require specific mediums, so always do your research before buying.
Light is another area to research for your specific plant before giving it a permanent home. Orchids vary in their sun preference, but overall, a high source of indirect light works best. Some types require 12 to 16 hours of subtle lighting per day, which can be achieved with a grow lamp.
Required light is something you'll have to fine-tune with your plant. Start with an eastern or western window, and go from there. If it's receiving too much sun, use a sheer curtain as a filter, or move the orchid slightly away from the window. You'll have to monitor the situation and act accordingly until you find a spot that's ideal and won't burn your plant.
Drainage is the most important feature of any orchid container. Whatever type of pot you select should have an adequate amount of drain holes so excess water has no chance to pool at the bottom.
The next feature you'll want to look for is transparency. The container's material doesn't matter: plastic and glass are common choices. But you need a clear or translucent pot because roots require light exposure.
Generally, an orchid does well with weekly watering. If the top inch or two of the growing medium is dry, it's time for a drink. It's important to note that temperate water is best.
There's a myth that putting an ice cube into the medium is an easy drip-watering method., but don't do this: it will both shock the roots and force the medium to retain stagnant water.
Watering an indoor orchid is not the same as watering a houseplant. Place the container in a sink and gently run water to soak the roots. Be patient. Slowly repeat this process several times after all water drains through the pot. This provides thorough moisture without saturating the orchid's roots.
If you can remove your orchid from its pot and the root ball will hold (without losing all the medium), this is another suitable option.
Since orchids obtain nutrients from the air and not soil, it's important to ensure their environment is giving them what they need. Specially-formulated fertilizers are available, so don't use anything else. Mix the blend as directed, then add it to your watering regimen.
Fertilize your plant no less than once per month. Weekly is even better.
It's perfectly okay if the roots are growing outside your plant's pot: this is a necessary part of development. Orchid roots are called tendrils, and they need air to survive. While air does circulate through the planting medium, having a few exposed air roots helps acquire more moisture and nutrients.
Don't ever cut back these tendrils if they're white and firm. If they're unhealthy, though, remove them with a sterile blade.
Indoor orchid pests include the typical offenders common to most houseplants: aphids, mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and thrips. To get rid of them, wash or wipe off the plant. If there's still an infestation, a horticultural oil spray should eliminate the problem without causing any damage.
Prevention is key though. Keeping your orchid away from other houseplants reduces the likelihood of pests.
There are a few instances when orchids should be repotted. The most critical has to do with overwatering. If your plant's growing medium is holding too much water, this can be deadly. Switch it out with a fresh, dry batch to avoid root rot. Do the same when the medium breaks down, which happens every one to three years.
Additionally, when your tendrils get too crazy, it's time to upgrade. Use a slightly larger container with new growing medium. Gently clean and soak the roots before replanting. Only transplant when the flowers aren't blooming.
In the wild, many orchids have evolved as epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants, typically trees, without taking nutrients from them. Instead, they absorb moisture and nutrients from the surrounding air and rain. This unique lifestyle doesn't make them parasitic; they merely use trees as a supportive platform. When caring for orchids at home, understanding this can help enthusiasts recreate the optimal environment. By mimicking these conditions, you can provide your orchid with the most natural and comfortable habitat, ensuring it thrives.
The bloom phase is a highlight for any orchid owner. These delicate flowers can be encouraged to last longer with a few simple steps. Maintaining a consistent watering routine, ensuring the orchid isn't exposed to sudden environmental changes, and providing regular fertilization during warmer months can all contribute to a prolonged and vibrant bloom. Remember, each bloom is a testament to the care you've provided, so every extended day is a shared success.
After the captivating bloom phase, it's natural to think something's amiss when your orchid enters its dormancy period. However, this rest phase is crucial. It's a time for the orchid to conserve energy, strengthen its root system, and prepare for future growth. While the plant might appear inactive, it's busy below the surface, ensuring that the next bloom cycle is even more spectacular. Patience during this period is key.
Air circulation plays a pivotal role in the health of an orchid. In their natural habitat, orchids experience gentle breezes that keep their environment fresh. At home, ensuring good airflow can mimic this, helping to strengthen the plant and ward off potential diseases. Whether it's through natural ventilation or the aid of a gentle fan, regular air movement can significantly benefit your orchid, promoting healthier growth and reducing the risk of ailments.
Orchids are undeniably beautiful, and their display can be enhanced with the right container. Beyond the practicalities of drainage and support, choosing a decorative pot that complements your orchid can elevate its aesthetic appeal. Whether you lean towards a rustic ceramic pot that hints at its natural habitat or a sleek modern design that contrasts its delicate blooms, the right container can transform your orchid from a mere plant to a statement piece.