General orchid advice
Then the rest of the plant just rotted into the pot and you pitched it. I feel your pain! Chances are if your orchid doesn’t bloom it’s a lighting issue. You can mess around with temperature and other variables, but your orchid won’t bloom again if it’s not getting the correct light. Don’t get discouraged! Keep tweaking your tactics until you get it right.
Most of the advice on the internet is geared toward the phalaenopsis or the moth orchid, probably the most popular type. While this is fine for general tips, it’s vital you get specific info for the species you’re trying to grow.
Quick Orchid Tips:
- Orchids prefer bright, but indirect light.
- If the leaf is warm or hot to the touch, it’s getting too much light.
- Sun changes seasonally, arrange your plants accordingly.
- Orchids like nights that are cooler than their daytime temps. As a general rule – orchids enjoy a ten degree – or more – swing between day and night temps.
- Don’t overwater. Orchid roots will rot. When in doubt, go drought. And never let an orchid sit in a dish of water for days at a time.
- Water once a week, more in summer, less in winter.
- Lightly misting in the morning is a good idea.
- Use temperate tap water – not from rock salt water softener – flush monthly. Rainwater is good to use, too. Distilled water is great if you keep in mind it doesn’t have any minerals. So you have to add a small amount of fertilizer with each watering.
- Fertilize weakly, weekly. If you use tap water, be aware that it contains some minerals, so use half the recommended dose of fertilizer so you don’t over-feed the plant.
- Orchids should be re-potted every 2 years to reduce the amount of salts that have accumulated in the medium (most likely bark chips) from the fertilizer used.
- Always re-pot an orchid you have just purchased because you don’t know how long the orchid has been sitting in that medium. There could be pests not visible to the eye! Put the date you re-potted right on the tag with the name of the orchid.
- Good air movement and light are just as vital as water and fertilizer. A fan will help.
- Orchids love humidity. Not typical of most of our homes in winter which are hot and dry. So you can do two things 1.) Add a few humidifiers to your space and 2.) Cluster the orchids together in a humid spot in like the kitchen or bath. Think of your steamy dishwasher, that steaming pasta on the stove and hot showers and baths….all for the love of orchids.
- Orchids greatly benefit from getting to chill outside during the summer months. Just ensure they don’t get too much sun! This will burn the leaves. And always keep them off the ground.
Is your orchid epiphytic, terrestrial or semi-terrestrial?
The biggest differentiation is where they grow. Terrestrial orchids grow in the soil on the ground, while epiphytic orchids cling on structures like trees, rocks, poles, stumps and logs. Epiphytic defines a plant that grows on another plant without being a parasite. Epiphytes take their moisture from the air and nutrients from whatever debris is floating around and landing on or near them. Their roots do not require moisture around them all the time. So in the natural world, epiphytic orchids basically live off bird droppings and dead bugs. Gross!
The roots have a membrane that soaks up water and clings to rough surfaces. The membrane tells the plant when it needs water. The dry membrane is silver or white, and a watered root is usually greenish. When you water, do so thoroughly whether it’s done under the tap or by a good dunking in the tub, bathroom sink, or even a bucket of water. Then drain it well. Never let the roots sit in standing water.
The vast majority of orchids you find in stores are epiphytic including phalaenopsis, cattyleas, vandas, dendrobiums and oncidiums. If the orchid is growing aerial roots without any issue, you probably have an epiphytic orchid plant. Since they require no soil, their medium must be very well ventilated, so the more air pockets it can hold, the better for the roots.
Epiphytic orchids tolerate drought better than terrestrial or semi-terrestrial varieties. So if watering isn’t your strength, an epiphytic might be spot-on for your personality. But if you are a heavy handed waterer, it’s much easier to rot the roots of your terrestrial or semi-terrestrial orchids.
Other epiphytes include ferns, bromeliads, mosses, algae, lichens, air plants, and cacti. Traveling down south I’m sure you’ve see the Spanish moss that drapes off the live oaks. Stores also sell air plants glued to wood and charge a boatload for these epiphyte souvenirs. And I buy them.
How to grow them: No soil for this epiphyte. Instead choose a potting medium consisting of mostly bark chips to allow ventilation of the roots. Remember that if the media stays too moist for too long, the roots can rot. A clear plastic pot drilled with lots of holes works well for the moth orchid. The holes permit extra air circulation around the roots. An added benefit is that you’ll easily be able to determine if there’s an issue with the root system or if water is needed. The plant will also be able to photosynthesize in the plastic pot. Pot size is vital! You want the roots to be rather snug in the pot so the plant focuses on blooming, not on producing a bigger, badder root system. So don’t plant a tiny orchid in a big pot.
Now onto water. Moth orchids actually do like a lot of water, especially in the form of soaking. The tricky part is how often to water. The easiest way to tell if the plant needs water is to look at the roots. If the roots are bright green, it means the plant is hydrated. If the roots look silvery or gray, the plant is asking for water. If you are unsure, wait a day and check the roots again and assess the root color. Always use lukewarm or room temperature water for a moth orchid. Cold or hot water can actually damage the root system! Tap water is okay if it’s not hard.
Promote big blooms with the phalaenopsis with fertilizer. The moth orchid is a heavy feeder which should be done roughly every 2 weeks. In the spring and summer when the orchid is in the vegetative growth state producing leaves and roots, use a fertilizer high in nitrogen. It’s the first number you see on the fertilizer label. In the autumn and winter when flower spikes typically emerge, try using a fertilizer higher in phosphorus to encourage those blooms. It’s the middle number you see on the fertilizer label.
The moth orchid isn’t fussy about light, intermediate light is just dandy. And direct sunlight might burn the leaves. As eastern exposure of direct morning light only is great. But southern and western exposures need to be shaded at least in part, perhaps with a sheer curtain. Bright shade is spot-on for your orchid. The best way to tell if your moth orchid is getting enough light is by looking at the leaves. If they are very dark green, the orchid is probably not getting enough light. But if they are very light green, lighting may need to be reduced.
Phalaenopsis like the same temps as you or I! So if you are comfortable in a room, it’s likely your phalaenpsis is happy too. Similar to us, the moth orchid like higher temps during the day with cooler temps at night (so we can sleep.) That equates to about 78 degrees F. for your orchid during the day and 64 degrees F. at night.
Secret tip: In order for a phalaenopsis orchid to produce a flower spike to bloom, a drop in temps at nighttime is a must, usually in the beginning of autumn. Temps of 62-64 at night is ideal to stimulate a flower spike. Once the spike is initiated, the orchid can come inside and be kept warm.
After your moth orchid has bloomed, the spike should be cut between the scar that’s left by the first flower and the last node (you know, those little lumps) on the stem. One of the lower nodes will start to produce flowers within 8-12 weeks once again for you. By cutting the flower spike you’re also allowing the plant to put more energy into the leaves and roots, too.
How to grow them: Another epiphyte, the dendrobium prefers a coarse potting medium of bark chips mixed with a little coconut husk. They don’t like sphagnum moss or any material that can suffocate their roots. Ventilation is the key to success. But they do want water and lots of it, especially in the summertime. When you notice that the medium is dry give them a good soak and then drain them well. If you are unsure whether to water or not, examine the canes which will start to shrivel when the plant desires more water.
Dendrobiums LOVE fertilizer. Still, it’s better to under-fertilize than over-fertilize. So if you use tap water like I do, use half the recommended dose of fertilizer as the tap water has minerals in it. Failure to do so could result in root burns. If you use distilled water, it’s fine to use the dosage on the fertilizer label.
Your dendrobium wants plenty of light, even direct sunlight in the middle of summer! Tolerant, even 10 hours of direct sunlight won’t burn the leaves of the dendrobium. In fact, it is light that will allow the plant to re-bloom because most of the time, it is the vigorous, thicker canes that cause the plant to re-bloom. With too little light, the plant will produce thinner canes that tend to not result in blooms.
Dendrobiums are tougher orchids so they are a great choice for beginners. More tolerate of dry air than some other types of orchids, they are flexible about indoor temperatures.
Secret tip: Dendrobiums need a winter rest if your goal is lots of blooms. Mark your calendar. At the end of August stop fertilizing entirely. To encourage blooms with lower temps keep them outside for approximately the next two months or the first frost. When you notice less growth as in, the leaves have stopped growing, reduce watering entirely. A good rule of thumb is to not water much from November to Valentine’s day. But if during this dormant phase, the cane does start to shrivel, add a bit of water. This could be every 3-4 weeks. When you do notice little buds forming, start introducing water again little by little again on a regular basis.
How to grow: Vandas want lots of air circulation around their roots, so they’ll do best in a hanging basket. If you do choose to grow them in pots, provide support for the tall stems. They will bloom for you indoors with extremely warm temperatures and excellent light. Morning light preferred. But your best bet is a greenhouse or sunroom that feels like a greenhouse. In fact, vandas even like direct sunshine unlike some other orchids. Or you can block some of the rays with a sheer curtain for indirect light. It also depends on the climate in which you live. For example, Floridians are going to have a much easier time from vandas than those of us in the upper Northeast. Vandas are just better suited in the south! 71-81 degrees is spot-on for them!
Watering is the key to success if you want your vanda to bloom its heart out. Keeping the vanda hydrated is a must. Soaking this orchid once a day in a bucket for 10-15 minutes will keep it in good condition. Do this in the morning if possible. The soaking process is super important if you can’t keep the humidity extremely high. (See what I mean about being fussy and not for beginners?) Fertilizing is a close second for the demanding vandas. Vandas want to be fertilized every week or so in summer and about once a month in the winter.
Secret tip: Consider growing a vanda orchid in a clay pot with a medium consistency of chunky wood or another material that won’t retain water for long periods of time. Clay pots are nifty because they let the roots breathe and also because the plant gets tall making it top-heavy. But the vast majority of growers choose to grow this plant hanging bare-rooted! Maybe this is because the healthy root system can get quite extensive growing several meters in length, making some species hard to grow in a pot as they expand and become unruly!
How to grow them: A water retentive media works best and can save you from frequent waterings, too. Ventilation is vital for the roots so a mixture of bark media and sphagnum moss works well. Too much moisture can compact the media and suffocate the roots. Remember, the oncidium orchid is an epiphyte.
The adaptation of pseudobulbs on the plant tricks us into thinking it doesn’t need as much water as other orchids. Even if oncidiums can tolerate drought better than a phalaenopsis orchid, they will suffer from lack of water and take a lot of time to recover. Lack of hydration will make the bulbs shrivel and unappealing to the eye. New growths will be more fragile and smaller in size.
Oncidiums love moisture and will have plump pseudobulbs and straight leaves if adequate moisture is provided. If the media is almost dry, meaning it’s only slightly moist to the touch in the lower levels of the pot but not soaking wet, you should water your oncidium. Never let it go bone dry as this will make the pseudobulbs really wrinkly. If your oncidium is dehydrated, the leaves can develop an accordion type shape. Also, new growths will suffer also growing misshaped. Using tap water is fine as long as it’s not hard water and the pH is not above 7.4. Rainwater, clean melted snow or filtered water work well, too. But you will need to add fertilizer as these liquids are lacking in nutrients and will starve the oncidium. Never use mineral water as it’s much too hard for their preferences.
You can use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer for your oncidiums if you don’t want to fuss too much over fertilizer. When about to bloom, an orchid bloom booster might be spot-on, but then switch to a high nitrogen fertilizer for the rest of the season to nurture the leaves. Never over-fertilize.
The majority of oncidums LOVE bright light. So go ahead and place your oncidium in a bright location, but beware of direct sun. Sheer curtains work well to protect the leaves from burn. Morning sun is most appreciated! Low light results in low bloom count or a non-blooming orchid altogether – boo hoo!
Oncidiums are pretty flexible temperature-wise and do well in warm and intermediate conditions. So if you are comfortable in your home, so is your oncidium orchid. Best temps are about 65 degrees F. at night and 82 degrees F. during the day. It’s believed a drop in nighttime temps encourages blooms.
Secret tip: A few oncidium orchids are incredibly fragrant, perfect for a tantalizing indoor garden! An oncidium will bloom almost every time a pesudobulb matures which can happen once or twice a year depending on the variety. The more pseudobulbs it has, the more orchid spikes it can send out. Each pseudobulbs will only bloom once, but it can produce 3 or 4 flower spikes. Never remove old pseudobulbs off the plant unless you are dividing the plant. The old pseudobulbs are very important in the future development of the orchid!
As their roots can’t adapt to total dryness, a loose and well-drained medium is best. Still, they like to stay on the damp side of life. The roots should be moist and never be allowed to get bone dry, especially days in a row. That’s a disaster waiting to happen! Being just a tad fussy can be key. Misting is ideal here.
How to grow them: Since they are semi-terrestrial, cymbidiums are not as picky about the medium. If they are somewhat compacted, or the medium broken down, they are okay with that. As long as they are not soggy, you won’t loose roots.
Cymbidiums grow new pseudobulbs during the spring, summer and autumn and need a tremendous amount of water during this time. Keep the potting medium constantly moist during this growth season. You can reduce watering when some of the bulbs are fully mature. In the winter, you barely need to keep your cymbidium moist, watering about every 7-10 days. Humidity isn’t that critical of a factor when growing cymbidium.
Cymbidiums are heavy feeders during the growing season. They’ll like being fertilized every other watering with a diluted amount of fertilizer accounting for the minerals already existing in tap water. In winter, fertilizing once a month should suffice. Although cymbidiums are heavy feeders, you must be sure to flush the pots between fertilizing to reduce salts so they don’t get black leaf tips.
Light is one of the most important factors in growing cymbidiums. You want the maximum amount of light short of burning the plant. Cymbidiums do best in a garden environment outside if you shelter them from direct sun. They will enjoy light shade during the middle of the day between 12 and 4 p.m. Leaves should be a medium green to light green in color, never dark green.
In summer, growing in semi-shade, cymbidiums like temperatures between 75-85 degrees F. Towards the end of summer heading into fall, cymbidiums must be between 50-60 degrees F. at night and 65-75 F. degrees during the day. Cymbidiums are content outside until autumn right up till the first frost when they must be brought inside. A bright, but cool location is best for the winter months.
Secret tip: Keeping in mind the roots to these big plants also get big, select a pot that will allow the roots to expand for 2-3 years before having to re-pot. A good medium might consist of 40% peat moss, 10% perlite, 30% sphagnum moss, and 20% medium bark.
Paphiopedium Paeony ‘Regency’
How to grow them: In the wild, the paphiopedium grows on the forest floor making them semi-terrestrial. They grow in debris with a bit of soil, some branches, decaying leaves and so forth in an aerated environment. At home, you might grow them in a potting medium of bark or bark mixed with sphagnum moss and/or coconut husk because these additives retain slightly more water than just plain bark. Bottom line: it’s not a true epiphyte and does not like to be completed dried out for long periods of time.
When watering a paphiopedium never let them go bone dry. The frequency of watering depends on your environment. Watch the medium and when it’s slightly damp give it a good watering. Since a paphiopedium is not a true terrestrial orchid either, ventilation is still important because you do not want the roots to rot.
Paphiopedium like fertilizer which can be done weekly, weakly, every other week or even once a month. Some might require calcium. Tap water, crushed seashells and limestone are all good sources of calcium. In between fertilized waterings you need to use clean water to flush out the salt build ups.
As far as light goes, paphipedium like intermediate to lots of light.
Regarding temperature, paphiopedium orchids like a cool to intermediate environment but can withstand higher temperatures. It’s not ideal, but they can handle the heat. For most of the hybrids you’d buy at the shops, a range between 62 degrees F. at night and 75 degrees F. during the daytime is going to be perfect.
Secret tip: Paphipedium have very unique roots which are not green but brown and they are thick, and fuzzy! As a semi-terrestrial, their non-aerial roots must remain in the potting media or they will dry out and die. When you do get a spike, it’s a good idea to stake it. They can be propagated but it’s a challenging process. Maybe not the orchid for a beginner!
I’m growing mine in my terrarium as it’s a terrestrial plant and I’ll keep you posted when it does bloom! Over the past three months, I’ve discovered the jewel orchid is easy to care for and is a little more interesting and contemporary than some of my other houseplants.
How to grow them: Jewel orchids prefer low to medium light and never direct sunlight. But don’t interpret that to mean this plant likes darkness either, you just want to shield the leaves from any harsh sunrays. Jewel orchids love tons of humidity which why it’s so happy growing in my terrarium in which the humidity stays between 75-100%.
Lack of humidity could result in dry, brown and crispy edges to those fabulous leaves! And the slightly damp condition as found in my terrarium is also ideal for the jewel orchid. It doesn’t like to be either bone dry or soaking wet and prefers to be dried out between waterings. If its roots sit in water, death is near.
Never let the temp surrounding your jewel orchid to dip under 50 degrees F. These orchids tend to spread out rather than grow tall, so their roots don’t require a deep pot. A shallow but wide pot is perfect. Unlike the other orchids mentioned in this post, you can actually use normal potting compost to pot your jewel orchid as it’s a terrestrial plant.
Secret tip: The jewel orchid is super easy to propagate. The problem is that plant sellers typically want a lot of money for them. Boo-hoo. But they are easier for them to sell when in flower. So if you can find one not in bloom, you should be able to buy cheap! Propagate your plant through stem cuttings when you are re-potting the main cluster. New roots should develop within a few months. I went from one jewel orchid to now three jewel orchid plants through simple propagation! Yay!
There’s lot of conflicting info out there on orchids. Just dive in and you’ll quickly figure out what they need. (I did say killing orchids is part of the fun, riiiiight?) If a plant isn’t thriving the way you like, it’s probably a lighting issue. Move the plant! See what happens.