With around 30,000 species and 140,000 hybrids, orchids (Orchidaceae) are believed to be the second largest family of flowering plants. It can be confusing to know exactly how to care for your orchid plant. It is crucial that you know what variety of orchid you have so you can tailor your care for the plant. Many orchids cared for at home are the commonly cultivated Phalaenopsis variety, which can bloom for up to three months if looked after properly.
Things You'll Need
- Orchid food
- Garden scissors
- Moistened bark
- Fluorescent light fixture (optional)
Place your orchid in a south-facing window, where it will receive strong, indirect light. Provide additional light, if required, with a fluorescent light fixture approximately 1 to 2 feet above the foliage; turn this on for up to 12 hours per day. Check the recommendations for your particular orchid variety. Miltonia, Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum, for example, prefer less intense light, and should be positioned farther away from the window or in a north- or east-facing window. Protect your orchid from the hot midday sun by hanging sheer curtains or moving the plants back from the window on particularly hot days.
Lower your night temperature to 55 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of four weeks. After this time, increase the night temperature to 60 to 65 F. The change in temperature should stimulate your orchid's growth.
Water your orchid every 5 to 12 days, depending on the variety, time of year and temperature. Water more often in the summer than the winter. Water Paphiopedilum, Miltonia, cymbidium and odontoglossum varieties most often, keeping the soil moist at all times. Water cattleya, oncidium, Brassia and dendrobium varieties more often during active growth periods to keep the soil moist at all times. When the plants are not growing, allow the soil to dry out. Water Phalaenopsis, vanda and Ascocenda varieties sparingly, allowing the soil to get almost dry between waterings. Avoid wetting the leaves when watering. Dry the leaves immediately with tissue if they do become wet. Never allow residual water to make contact with the pot's base.
Fertilize your orchid with a specially formulated orchid food, following the directions provided. Fertilize around once per month to encourage growth.
Inspect your orchid's leaves regularly. Generally, healthy orchid leaves are bright, not dark, green. Dark green leaves need more light, while reddish-green leaves have been receiving too much light. Black blotches on the leaves indicate sunburn.
Repot your orchid after two years, or if it has several long roots hanging over the edge of the pot. Repot when the plant is not in bloom. Remove all dark-colored, soft, or mushy roots with sharp garden scissors. Center the plant in the pot with all its roots hanging downward. Add moistened bark to just under the bottom of the lowest set of leaves. Resume normal watering and fertilizing after one week.
Cut your orchid spike halfway down the stem after the last flower drops, and carry on caring for your orchid in the normal way to encourage another bloom.
- Beautiful Orchids: Frequently Asked Questions
- "Orchid Basics"; Brian Rittershausen, et al.; 2008
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images