How to to Grow and Care Orchids at Home (Indoors)
To grow an orchid, you have to think like an orchid. The golden rule for orchid success is to duplicate the plant's natural conditions as closely as possible. In nature, most orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other objects, clinging to rough bark or even stone. The showy orchids favored by most people are usually either phalaenopsis hybrids (so-called moth orchids) or dendrobium hybrids.
Optimal Growing Conditions for Orchid Plants
These plants thrive in strong light, but not direct late-afternoon sunlight (although dendrobiums can handle more sun). They also need high humidity and turbulent airflow around the roots. They need regular periods of drying alternated with heavy watering (or drenching rains). Orchids do best in temperatures above 50 degrees but below 85 degrees.
The closer you can come to creating these conditions in your growing area, the more success and better blooms you will have.
Most store-bought orchids come packaged in cheap plastic pots with the roots packed in soaked moss. Obviously, this violates two of the main rules of successful growth. There is no air flow around the roots, and the roots are never given a chance to completely dry out. Thus, the plant cannot breathe and root rot is inevitable.
Orchid roots are highly specialized organs designed to soak up water very quickly and breathe. They do not extract nutrients from the soil.
Repotting Orchids for Success
The first step with any store-bought orchid is to enjoy the bloom. Don't attempt to re-pot a flowering plant.
After the bloom is done, go ahead and cut off the dead flower spike with sterile snippers and repot the plant. Orchids should be potted into specialized orchid pots in an orchid mixture. Orchid pots feature wide drainage slits so water will literally run through the pot. They are widely available. Orchid potting mixture is usually composed of several chunky ingredients, including pine bark, charcoal, and even styrofoam.
To re-pot your orchid, follow these steps:
- Remove it from the plastic pot and carefully remove as much of the moss as you can. Healthy roots should be white and firm, with a small green growing point.
- Cut away any shriveled, rotten or blackened roots.
- Set the plant into the pot and fill in around it with potting mixture. The plant should be firmly situated, but it will not be completely anchored. Eventually, new roots will grow through the potting mixture and attach to the pot itself, thus anchoring your plant.
Once it's re-potted, find a good spot. An east-facing window with a few hours of mild morning sun is perfect. To provide the necessary humidity and catch run-off water, put the plant into a wide, deep tray and fill the tray with gravel.
Tips for Indoor Orchid Care
Caring for your orchid is pretty simple. During the summer months, water it weekly and heavily. Let the water drench the roots and fill up the pebble tray. It doesn't hurt every so often to put the plant in the kitchen sink and really soak it down. Don't worry, you won't kill it as long as it's allowed to dry out afterward.
During the growing season, feed it weekly with a weak solution of a powder or liquid fertilizer.
In the winter, keep your plant warm and cut the water back to once a month or so. Mist it every so often to make sure it stays hydrated. Don't fertilize it.
If you see signs of distress, such as yellowing leaves, wrinkled leaves, or no blooms, move the plant and keep tweaking your conditions. Once an orchid finds a happy spot and falls into a routine, the plant should regularly throw out new roots and leaves or canes and reward you yearly with a beautiful bloom.
More on the Care:
Light Requirements for Orchids
The single most important variable when growing orchids indoors is light. Orchids that prefer high light -- unobstructed sunlight, streaming through a clear, south-facing window or into a greenhouse for 6 to 8 hours -- include vandas and angraecums.
Medium-high light orchids, such as phragmipediums, oncidiums, and dendrobiums, grow in locations that are bright but not directly sunny. Eastern and western exposures are often medium-high light locations, although a western exposure may be warmer. The light intensity is the same, but the air temperature has increased.
Medium-low light is appropriate for phalaenopsis (moth orchids) and paphiopedilums. It may be an east- or west-facing window with no direct sun. It may also be an open northern exposure with no obstructions and some additional reflected light.
Low light is usually a limited northern exposure or any exposure where the light is blocked by an overhang, trees, or neighboring buildings. Jewel orchids grow in low light.
Generally, orchids can be grouped into three temperature categories: cool, warm, and intermediate. Buy a high-low thermometer to measure the temperature range in your orchid location. After that, choosing a suitable orchid is simple. As with light, some orchids easily adapt to more than one temperature range.
Most orchids we grow indoors come from the tropics, and most parts of the tropics are much more humid than the average living room. Orchids grow better if you can boost the humidity in their immediate growing area by grouping your plants together, or placing them on a dry well. Create a dry well by placing plastic lattice or pebbles on a tray, then adding water to just below the lattice or top of the pebbles. Place your potted plants on top of the lattice or pebbles. Learn even more tips for keeping your orchids healthy.
Anyone who has ever watered an orchid knows that most of what you pour in runs out almost immediately through the bottom of the pot. Because orchids are potted in bark mix rather than potting soil, they need to be watered differently.
The goal is to get each mix particle to absorb as much water as possible. To give the potting mix enough time to absorb water, place the entire pot in a bowl of water for 10 to 15 minutes, then lift it out and let the excess water drain before putting the pot back in place. This technique works well for orchids potted in clay. Since clay is porous, water penetrates the walls of the pot and is absorbed by the bark.
If your orchid is potted in plastic, place it in an empty bowl, then add water. If you place the plastic pot in an already full bowl of water, the water will push the bark up and out, floating it away from the orchid roots. In this case, add water to just below the lip of the pot and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain and return the orchid pot to its place.
If an orchid is potted in long-grain sphagnum moss or soilless mix, you can water until water runs out into the saucer below. However, sphagnum moss may feel dry on its surface while the interior may still be moist. Stick your finger an inch or two down into the moss to feel whether it's truly dry.
How frequently you water your orchid depends on:
- The kind of orchid: Is it drought-resistant or not?
- The kind of pot: Porous pots dry out faster than nonporous pots.
- The kind of potting mix: Sphagnum moss needs water less frequently than bark mix.
- The air temperature: Plants dry out faster in warmer temperatures.
- The humidity: Plants dry out faster in drier air.
- The light: Plants growing in higher light need more water.
In general, water drought-tolerant orchids, such as cattleyas, oncidiums, and dendrobiums once a week. Water most others, such as miltonias, paphiopedilums, and phragmipediums every 4 to 5 days. Start there, and adjust up or down according to the conditions in your home.
Water orchids thoroughly each time, then let them dry out before watering again. Click here for more tips on caring for healthy orchids.
Most orchids are not heavy feeders. Many orchids bloom year after year with no fertilizer at all. During active growth, when new leaves are being produced, you may fertilize every other time you water at half the strength recommended on the fertilizer package. However, it's important to deliver water without fertilizer at least once a month to flush excess fertilizer salts from the bark mix and avoid fertilizer burn to the roots.
Easiest to Grow: Moth orchids
Phalaenopsis orchids are the most loved and easiest orchids to grow indoors. Their common name is moth orchid because the flowers look like moths hovering in the air. Learn more about moth orchid.
Moth orchid flowers last for months, the longest-lasting orchid blooms. They grow best in medium-grain bark mix, warm temperatures, and low to medium light. Doritis orchids are closely related.
Moth orchids come in a wide range of flower colors, including white, pink, yellow, orange, deep rose, and lavender.
Moth orchids typically bloom once a year, but they may be coaxed into a second round of bloom. When the last flower fades, if the bloom stalk is still green, cut it just above the second or third node and wait a few weeks. This may stimulate growth in a dormant bud and produce a second bloom stalk that branches off below the cut.
Moth orchids grow slowly and need repotting once every 1 to 2 years. Wait to repot until the orchid has finished blooming and the tips of the aerial roots are green.