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Expert Strategies for Orchid Maintenance

Staff Writer
Share to PinterestExpert Strategies for Orchid Maintenance
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Orchids have a reputation for being finicky and downright scary plants to grow. But the truth is, many types are easy to care for. The most popular orchid for both beginners and experienced growers is the phalaenopsis or “moth orchid.” Not only is it readily available online, at garden centers, grocery stores, and home improvement retailers, it’s available in a multitude of colors and patterns.

It won’t take you long to fall in love with your new phalaenopsis orchid!

01

Bringing your plant home

Share to Pinterestwoman choosing a potted multicolored phalaenopsis flower in the floral boutique
JackF / Getty Images

You just purchased your new orchid, now you need to get it home safely. Keep it stable and secure so that any abrupt stops don't topple it. If you don't have a passenger to hold it, place the orchid and its container in a clay pot, then gently wrap the plant with tissue paper, and lay it on its side.

Put the orchid in a box or cooler, surround it with styrofoam pieces, and buckle the entire box into a seat belt. Never transport it in the trunk.

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02

Planting your orchid

Share to PinterestTwo Phalaenopsis Orchid in transparent flower pot
Emilija Randjelovic / Getty Images

Once your new orchid stops flowering, it’s safe to replant it for the first time. A clear plastic pot allows the roots to absorb sunlight. Drainage holes prevent waterlogged roots. Place a layer of bark and sphagnum moss orchid medium in the bottom. Set the orchid into the pot, roots first.

The leaves of the plant should be slightly above the rim of the pot, but not touching it. Add stakes to stabilize the orchid.

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03

A healthy start: sunlight requirements for orchids

Share to Pinterestpotted orchid flowers next to window
Dmitriy Sidor / Getty Images

The moth orchid prefers low-light conditions, but not shade. Unfiltered, bright light can turn the leaves yellow, while direct sun leads to sunburn. However, if there’s not enough light, the phalaenopsis orchid’s leaves will turn a much darker shade of green and the plant won’t bloom.

An east-facing, shaded window is the best spot for your orchid, or if you don’t have a suitable window, try placing the plant under a fluorescent light.

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04

A healthy start: watering

Share to PinterestWatering orchids phalaenopsis with golden metal watering can
Maryviolet / Getty Images

An orchid has no water-storage organs, so it should never dry out completely. Soak the plant thoroughly — preferably in the morning — but don’t make the mistake of misting the plant and getting water on the leaves or blooms. Wait until the top two inches of the medium feel dry to the touch before watering again. In super-dry conditions, check your orchid daily.

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05

A healthy start: humidity

Share to PinterestClose Up of orchids flowers (Phalaenopsis sp.) in the tropical forest
A. Martin UW Photography / Getty Images

Most orchid varieties prefer humidity levels between 50% and 80%. Increase your plant’s humidity levels by placing the pot on a tray of gravel you’ve filled with just enough water to ensure the pot isn’t immersed. For overly humid conditions, such as in a greenhouse, make sure the air is circulating to prevent plant rot.

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06

A healthy start: nutrients

Share to PinterestOrchid bark and clay balls potting mix, scissors, garden shears, and slow release fertilizer pellets.
Tatiana Sidorova / Getty Images

If your orchid sits in a bark-type orchid medium, fertilize it twice a month with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 30-10-10. A balanced fertilizer works well in other growing mediums. For more flowers, use a high-phosphorus fertilizer, like 10-30-20.

During warm, humid conditions, you can feed it with every watering, but use quarter-strength fertilizer. As the temperatures cool, apply a weak fertilizer twice per month.

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07

Healthy growth: pruning your phalaenopsis orchid

Share to PinterestPruning damaged orchid flowers with scissors
Stanislav Sablin / Getty Images

Most orchids bloom for several months, then again after a resting period of between six and nine months. Not all orchid growers agree on the best way to prune this finicky plant.

Some suggest cutting the stem above the third or fourth node to encourage new growth from upper nodes. Others say cutting the stem about an inch away from the stalk and removing any yellow or brown spots as well is better for the long-term health of the plant.

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08

Healthy growth: repotting your orchid

Share to PinterestMother and daughter child together in kitchen planting Phalaenopsis orchid plants in pots
Valeriy_G / Getty Images

If you’re seeing white roots emerging through the spaces in your container, your orchid is telling you that it’s time for a larger pot. While it’s true that orchids perform better when they’re a bit pot-bound, orchid mediums break down over time and compact around the roots, which can cause root rot. Change out the medium every six months and repot your orchid into a slightly larger container every one to two years.

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09

Can I propagate my orchid?

Share to PinterestRare orchid keiki or offshoot growing on a stem
aLittleSilhouetto / Getty Images

Orchids like the moth orchid grow small, baby orchids along the stem, at the nodes. Use these tiny plantlets, called keikis, to grow new plants. Choose those that have two to three leaves and two to three-inch roots. Cut the connection between the parent plant and the keiki with a sharp knife, then repot it. Orchids are susceptible to infection, so disinfect any instruments you use.

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10

Common diseases

Share to PinterestOrchid petal diseased
suwattana terawattanaphan / Getty Images

Gray mold, late blight, and powdery mildew are just a few of the common fungal diseases for orchids. Using a fungicide and changing out the medium usually ends the problem.

More than 30 bacterial viruses attack orchids as well, but these infections aren’t curable. Cymbidium mosaic and odontoglossum ringspot viruses are the most common. If an infected plant is near other orchids, it can spread the virus, so isolate it or dispose of it.

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11

Common pests

Share to Pinterestmoth orchid phalaenopsis with adult female scale insects on stem and petals
Carmen Hauser / Getty Images

The fast-producing aphid, tiny green or red spider mites, yellow scale, moth-like whiteflies, or pulp-eating mealybugs love to feed on the orchid. Check frequently for infestations and isolate infected plants.

Insecticidal soaps are an effective method of getting rid of most pests, although some issues require more extensive treatment.

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12

Displaying your orchid

Share to PinterestBeautiful multicolored mini phalaenopsis orchid in flower pots.
Nataliya Belova / Getty Images

Most phalaenopsis orchid varieties have colorful flowers that emerge from one or two curved branches, which adds an exotic vibe to your decor. Place yours in a decorative pot or add it to a terrarium.

Orchids are epiphytes, a group of plants that don’t need soil. They latch onto a tree but live off the moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere. You can recreate this natural-world partnership at home by mounting a mini orchid to a piece of driftwood or anything with a craggy surface.

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13

Similar plants

Share to Pinteresthouseplant Asplenium nidus in white flowerpot
OlgaMiltsova / Getty Images

If you like the idea of an epiphyte like the orchid, there are others that you’ll enjoy. Asplenium is an evergreen fern species with similar growing conditions. It makes a beautiful houseplant or an attractive addition to outdoor rock gardens.

If you’re more of a succulent fan, consider an epiphytic cacti. Many varieties feature bright colors and some grow flowers. Unlike regular cacti, they aren’t prickly.

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14

Cautions and additional information

Share to PinterestYellow Phalaenopsis orchid
cunfek / Getty Images

Most orchid varieties are safe to have around the house, even if you have children. Pet owners will be happy to hear they are not toxic to dogs or cats, either. Plus, the flowers and leaves are edible! Bite down on an orchid petal, and you’ll experience a fresh, crispy taste similar to watercress or cucumbers.

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15

Varieties of phalaenopsis orchids

Share to PinterestLiodoro phalaenopsis
Solstizia / Getty Images

Many — but not all — species of phalaenopsis orchids emit a lovely scent, ranging from citrus to musk, cinnamon, and rose fragrances. But it’s the massive array of colors that capture most people’s attention.

  • Liodoro phalaenopsis has star-like flowers with cream-colored edges and a pink middle.
  • Schiller phalaenopsis sports up to 200 large pink and purple flowers on each stem.
  • Mini phalaenopsis has much smaller stalk and stems and is available in an array of bloom colors; it's often used for terrariums and decorative displays.

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16

Seasonal care: adjusting watering frequency

Share to Pinterestspraying water on orchid

Orchids, like many plants, have different needs depending on the season. During the active growing season in spring and summer, you'll want to increase your watering frequency. However, as fall and winter approach, the orchid enters a resting phase, and it requires less water. Be mindful of these seasonal shifts and adjust your watering routine accordingly to keep your orchid in optimal health.

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17

Potting medium matters

Share to Pinterestorchid indoors

The choice of potting medium significantly impacts your orchid's well-being. Orchids can thrive in various mediums, including bark, sphagnum moss, or a mix of both. Each has its benefits and is suited to different orchid types. Experiment with different potting mediums to find what works best for your specific orchid and growing conditions.

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18

Stake your claim

Share to Pinterestwhite orchid blooming

Many orchids grow tall, elegant stems that may become top-heavy when in bloom. To prevent your orchid from toppling over or the stem from bending, use stakes or supports. Gently tie the stem to the stake using soft ties or clips. This helps maintain the orchid's graceful posture and ensures that it remains an eye-catching centerpiece in your home.

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19

Mind the temperature

Share to Pinterestorchid in living room

Orchids are sensitive to temperature fluctuations. To ensure your orchid's well-being, avoid exposing it to extreme temperature changes. Drafts, especially cold drafts in winter, can harm your orchid. Additionally, keep the orchid away from heaters, radiators, and air conditioning vents, as direct exposure to these sources can be detrimental.

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20

Pot Size and root health

Share to Pinterestorchid

When selecting a pot for your orchid, choose one that provides ample room for the roots to grow and expand. Orchids prefer to be slightly pot-bound, but an overcrowded pot can lead to root rot. Inspect the roots periodically, and if they've outgrown their pot, consider repotting your orchid into a slightly larger container. Ensure that the new pot has good drainage and suitable airflow to maintain the health of your orchid.

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