Orchids are one of the world’s most recognizable plants with their beautiful exotic flowers. There are over 22,000 species of orchid, so they come in an array of different shapes, colors, and sizes. This makes them a great decorative flower for any home. But orchids look so delicate that many people assume they are difficult to grow. The truth is that orchids are actually an easy plant to care for; they’re just different. If you learn how to look after your orchid, you will be rewarded with gorgeous flowers that bloom for months every year.
Orchids are very different from traditional potted plants, and understanding how they grow in the wild will help you care for your orchid at home. These unusual plants are known as epiphytes or air plants, which means that in their natural tropical habitat they actually hang on trees. Trees give orchids support and allow their roots to breathe. They take in small amounts of food from organic matter rotting in the bark and crooks of branches. But most of an orchid’s nutrients and water comes from moisture in the humid jungle air. Orchids have adapted to times of receiving large amounts of water and times of dryness by storing water in their stems.
Whether you receive your first orchid as a gift or purchase it yourself, it will probably be in bloom. Unfortunately, many are sold in pots that are not appropriate for long-term growth. They tend to come in plastic and are potted in moss. Orchids love to grow on trees with fresh air flowing around their roots. Encasing the roots in moss keeps them wet, which can lead to problems such as root rot. You may be eager to repot your orchid straight away but now is not the time.
Enjoy your orchid while it’s in bloom. Rather than repotting it, allow the moss and roots to dry out as much as possible. Orchids don’t need loads of water to grow well, so hold off on watering. Whenever you want to water it, don’t. Wait a few days or even a week. Your orchid won’t suffer, and you will be doing more good than harm.
Orchids thrive when they receive bright, indirect sunlight. Placing your orchid near an east or south-facing window will provide the right intensity and amount of light. But be careful. Too much sunlight can lead to the leaves burning. If you only have a west-facing window, place your orchid away from the windowsill to prevent scorching.
Once the bloom is over, it’s time to consider the long-term care of your orchid and repot it. Always use pots with good drainage to let excess water escape. You also want to find a fast-draining growing media that’s specially designed for orchids. A basic orchid mix consists of fir bark, perlite, and sphagnum moss. In general, you want to repot your orchid every other year.
Knowing when to water is vital to getting the best out of your orchid. Every couple of days, stick a finger into the growing media and check if for moisture. If it’s wet or damp, leave your orchid for a day or two more. If your finger is dry to the touch, it’s time to water your plant. The key is to give your orchid plenty of water, but only when it really needs it!
Orchids love moderate temperatures and will die if they’re too cold. Aim to keep your home around 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 10-15 degrees warmer during the daytime. Orchids may not like having wet roots but, being a tropical plant, they love humidity. Pick up a hydrometer from the local garden center and test your home. The ideal environment for orchids is 40-60% humidity. If it’s less than this, place a water-filled saucer below the plant or mist your orchid daily.
For your orchid to continue growing and thriving, you need to feed it. Use a fertilizer every two weeks while the plant is flowering and once a month when it’s dormant. You can buy fertilizer specially designed for orchids. Or use a balanced liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 mixed at half strength.
Once the flower has died, you want to snip off the stem at its base. Many orchids don’t flower on the same stem twice so pruning it will not affect the plant's growth. The exception to this is if you have a phalaenopsis or moth orchid. In this case, cut the stem just above its joints or above the two nodes at the bottom, and it should produce another flower on the same stem.
Just like you, bugs love orchids too, especially mealybugs and scale insects. If these insects are attacking your orchid, you’ll begin to notice sticky leaves and a black, soot-like mold. Remove what you can by hand and clean the affected leaves with a small amount of soapy water. If the bugs are stubborn and won’t go away, pick up an insecticide that’s safe to use on orchids.
Take good care of your orchid, and your home will be blessed with beautiful flowers for weeks or even months every year.
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