Orchids 101: Guide to Orchid Care

The world of orchid care can be intimidating for a newbie. Maybe you’ve heard of people complaining that they can never get their orchids to grow.

Perhaps you want to grow orchids but you have no idea where to start or how hard it will be, yet rest assured that it’s not as tough as you may think. Plenty of people have found success growing orchids and you can too.

It’s such a rewarding hobby. Many around the world love orchids and decorate their homes with the intricate, fluttering blooms the flower displays.

If it is your heart’s desire to learn how to grow beautiful orchids at your home, but you aren’t exactly sure where to start, then this article is the guide you need to help you grow breathtaking orchids.

What You Need to Know About Orchids

With 25,000 – 30,000 different species populating the earth, these beauties are among the most diverse flowering plant families. You can find these tropical plants abundantly in nature growing on rocks or hanging on trees for support.

When they’re not flowing from trees or lounging near rocks, you can spot them growing on the jungle floor. Then there are the hybrid orchids that are created when someone takes the pollen from one orchid and uses it to mate with another.

1 orchid hanging on tree
Orchids can grow in a number of places. As you see here, it’s flowing from a tree. You can also find orchids growing on land or rocks.

Hybrids are popular because they are easy to care for and are devoid of certain difficult care aspects that accompany pure orchids. It is true that there is great diversity in the orchid family.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t general guidelines for how to care for them. Although some orchids require special equipment, many are easy to grow.

Local nurseries only carry a few species so you won’t be overwhelmed with options when you go to the facility to pick one out. Since hybrids are rapidly increasing you will likely be offered one to purchase.

Although orchids are not like traditional potted plants, that doesn’t mean that orchid care is difficult. What it means is that it’s different.

Orchids have developed a bum rap for being difficult to grow. This isn’t fair to them because there are many varieties that make amazing house plants.

Given the proper tender loving care, an orchid can be in bloom for months each year. It can even live indefinitely making it a great investment of your time and energy.

Take good care of your orchids and they will yield a marvelous bounty of booms every day. With that being said, you should learn how to care for easy maintenance plants before you graduate to more challenging orchids that require heat lamps or a greenhouse to flourish.

2 phalaenopsis
Start out with an easy to care for orchid such as the phalaenopsis, pictured above. When you master the easy orchids, feel free to graduate to the harder to care for ones that may require a heat lamp or greenhouse to grow.

In order to successfully grow orchids, you need to make sure that you have an understanding of a few basic factors that have a huge impact on the health of your orchid.

These factors include the temperature, humidity, lighting, water, and ventilation of the area where you will grow your orchid. Master these make or break areas and you will be able to grow orchids nearly anywhere.

Temperature

Orchids can survive in a variety of climates from the humid rainforest to the bone-chilling arctic, these adaptable plants have the ability to thrive in a wide range of environments. Yet and still, most of them are particular about the temperature setting where they live.

Orchids may be robust, but that doesn’t mean you can disregard how well they tolerate the heat or cold. Put them in an area that is too cool and you’ll stunt its growth.

As a result, getting it to blossom becomes much harder. Its bulbs may even fall off in some situations.

On the other hand, if you put them in an area that is too hot, they will react by slowing their growth. Also, they may begin to wilt and shrivel up.

If you want to cultivate stunning orchids that are happy and healthy, then you must make sure to allow them to grow in an area that has a temperature range they can tolerate well.

Getting the temperature just right will largely depend on the type of orchid you have and the climate where you live.

3 thermometer
A great way to monitor the temperature of the room where you keep your orchids is to use a thermometer. It will alert you to when the area is getting too hot or cold. Notice how easy it is to read the temperature just by looking at the markings on this thermometer.

Be on the lookout for sudden temperature changes or drafts. A lot of orchids don’t like freezing temperatures. They begin to falter when temps dip to 50 degrees F.

Humidity

Humidity and orchids play very well together. You can damage the plant by exposing it to an area that has low humidity levels. This is one sure-fire way to stop your orchid from reaching its full potential.

Many types of orchids originally grew in the tropics and are better suited to environments that have lots of humidity in the air. Fortunately, there are practical solutions to increasing the humidity level in your home without turning your lovely abode into a sweltering delta.

Since having a good level of moisture is so critical to the health of your orchid, you should opt for clear orchid pots. It will be much easier to see when the plant’s roots are doing well and when they are not.

Furthermore, clear pots carry the added benefit of making the process of photosynthesis possible. This is very important since orchid roots engage in photosynthesis.

You can also use white pots. They will allow some light to pass through them to reach the roots.

Assuming you have extra time on your hands, you can mist the air around your orchids several times a day with a water bottle. The less humid your room is, the more you’ll need to do this.

But, it is a great way to increase the level of humidity in the room where your orchids are growing. However, if you’re like most people and barely have time to iron your clothes in the morning, then you can use a room humidifier instead.

4 humidifier
Get a humidifier like the one in the above image to add much needed moisture to the air. This will be a simple way to prevent drying out of your orchid. Your plant will love it.

Position it to blow air across your orchid after placing the plant on a humidity tray that sits atop a shallow pool of water.

The humidity tray will allow the water to collect in the base while the plant floats above the water. You can buy a commercial tray.

But why not save some bucks and use what you have around the house? Take a cake pan and fill it with stones or inverted pot saucers.

The idea is to add anything that will keep the orchid pot suspended above the pool of water. As the water evaporates, the orchid will soak up the moisture.

Good humidity levels must also be combined with air movement if you want to hit your goal of growing a healthy orchid. A lack of air movement mixed with too much humidity can cause the plants to be more prone to rotting.

Yet, too much movement of dry air will leave your orchids feeling parched. This is why it’s important to understand the role that ventilation plays in orchid card.

Ventilation

Orchids thrive in environments where there is adequate airflow. Providing your budding orchids with similar ventilation will help them grow successfully into healthy plants with glorious blossoms.

A budget-friendly way to ensure your orchids get the air they so richly deserve is to employ the use of a fan.

Lighting

As discussed previously, photosynthesis plays a key role in the development of a thriving orchid.

Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water.

5 good lighting
Good lighting is one of the keys to keeping your orchid healthy. Make sure that it has plenty of sunshine. You can do that by placing it near a window like you see here.

Therefore, light is essential to the healthy development of plants such as orchids. But, it isn’t as straightforward as putting your plant near a table lamp. Orchids are picky and they don’t all want the same amount of light.

As a helpful reference, there’s a simple way that you can quickly determine the kind of light your orchid prefers. Look at its leaves.

If you get an orchid with thicker, robust leaves, then you have one that tends to prefer high amounts of light. Conversely, if you get an orchid that has softer, less robust looking leaves, then you have the kind that prefers lower amounts of light.

Pay attention to the leaves as your orchid starts to grow. It will tell you whether it likes the light it’s receiving. Happy orchids have nice, green leaves that are uniform in shape.

Overall, the plant will look healthy and feel strong. It may also have some blossoms. However, a plant that doesn’t get enough light won’t be able to bloom.

Give it too much light and the leaves will develop a yellowish tinge. They will look unhealthy and somewhat dark as if they were burned on the edge.

You want to pay attention to the signs an orchid gives off so you know when you need to adjust the level of light you expose your orchids to.

Most orchids respond better to filtered bright light than direct sunlight, which can be too strong. Put your orchids close to a sunny window that is shaded by a sheer curtain.

Watering

Do you know the saying about killing with kindness? Well, in the orchid world it is a real thing.

6 pouring water
When watering your plant, don’t over do it. Place your plant directly under the faucet or hose as you see pictured. Then let the water drain from the bottom.

Giving your orchid an abundance of water may seem like a nice thing to do, but it is not.

Overwatering orchids kills them more than anything else. Unfortunately, it’s a mistake that far too many newbie orchid growers make.

Giving an orchid the proper amount of water is hands down one of the most challenging parts of getting orchid care right. Orchids are fussy and will only respond favorably to receiving the right amount of water.

You can’t give them too much or too little and expect them to flourish. Although you would think that watering a plant would be a very simple task, it’s a bit complex.

This is because orchids are designed to retain water. Orchids are great at hoarding water to withstand periods of dryness.

They even have thick stems called “pseudobulbs” that help them with this process. Their ability to store water makes them susceptible to root rot when they are overwatered.

Since you don’t want to overwater your precious orchid, make sure to restrict the amount of water you give it during a watering session.

There are a few other challenges in determining the correct amount of water for an orchid. The proper amount of water will vary depending on the type of orchid you have.

You will also have to take into account the type of environment it’s growing in. As the seasons change, the right amount of water will also change.

Orchids are sensitive to temperature and will dry out faster when they are hot in comparison to when they are cold. In order to hit the sweet spot, you have to be prepared to put in the work.

7 woman watering plant
Notice how the woman in the picture is watering her flowers in the warmer months. Take a note from her and make sure to regularly water your orchid especially during the summer. Orchids dry out faster in the heat than in the cold. 

It will take time and patience. The trick is to switch up how often you water the orchid. Also, be ready to change the type of mix and pot you use. That’s not all.

You’ll need to consider if it’s getting the proper amount of air circulation and make sure that the mix is packed tightly enough. This may sound like a lot to monitor, but when your orchid blooms and shows off their health and beauty, it will be well worth the effort.

Giving your orchid the right amount of water will help it thrive. You can water it on its humidity tray or bring it to the sink to let running water saturate the mix.

After you finish watering it, place the orchid back in its spot until the next watering session. Depending on the orchid, that could be anywhere between a few days to a week.

As with anything else that’s important, it will help to get a routine going so you’ll be in the habit of giving your orchid the care it needs. For example, you could water it on the weekend and check to see how it’s doing on a Wednesday.

If you’re in doubt about whether your plant needs more water, refrain from adding more water. Remember, when it comes to orchids, it’s better to give it less water instead of too much.

Certain orchids do better when they get close to being dry and then being immersed in water. You don’t want to send it to an early grave.

8 healthy orchid
Keep your orchid positioned near a window for ample exposure to the light. This orchid is receiving plenty of light which will help it thrive and encourage the soil to dry. Place sphagnum moss in a pot like the one pictured so you can check to see how dry it is.

Many newbie growers will do well to go with using sphagnum moss because it is easy to determine when it gets dry. All you have to do is touch the moss to tell.

If it feels crunchy, then you know that’s it’s time to water it. Another helpful tip is to get the correct type of pot for your orchid.

A pot will help retain moisture around the roots of the plant. Orchids need healthy roots to grow nice and strong.

If the roots are well developed it’s a great sign that the plant is healthy. Keep roots strong by being careful not to smother them or cause them to rot.

The pot you use will be dependent upon the type of orchid you’re growing. If you have an orchid that would rather be wetter, then your best bet is to go with plastic pots.

However, orchids that can handle dryness better might be better suited for clay pots. Keep in mind that clay pots will allow the soil to breathe better.

As a result, the water will evaporate faster. So you will need to water more frequently than if you were to use a plastic pot.

The downside to plastic pots is they do not let the soil breathe. Therefore, the soil will dry from the top down.

Do take into consideration your potting mix as well. Depending on your material, it may or may not absorb water well.

9 potting mix
Make sure you add potting mix like the kind you see above to your list of items to buy for orchid care. As long as it absorbs well, it will contribute to the health of your orchid.

The absolute best orchid mixes support good airflow and healthy drainage. Orchids do not grow in the dirt.

Unlike other types of dirt dependent plants, orchids can’t handle the stuff because it will smother their roots and kill them. You don’t want that to happen.

Instead, make sure that your orchid gets the media it requires to grow. The media that will be most beneficial to your orchid will be the kind that best matches the type of orchid you have.

It must also support the conditions in which your orchid is growing. Multiple media that are added to an orchid mix will bring additional benefits to the party.

At the end of the day, what matters most is that you have a mix that absorbs moisture well and is open and airy.

Now that you know the most important factors to give attention to when engaging in orchid care, you are ready to grab your tools. After all, those delightful orchids are not going to plant themselves.

Tools of the Trade

Arming yourself with the right tools will make orchid growth and maintenance much easier. Here are the tools you’ll need to have on hand now.

Pruners

The one tool you can’t afford to go without is a pruner. You’ll need something to cut a stem or trim the leaves.

This is the one item you’ll reach for more than anything once your orchid starts growing. You don’t need an expensive pair. Budget buys work just as well.

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This ergonomically designed pruner has non-slip handles that are strong, lightweight, and comfortable.The blade is made of premium titanium steel. It’s a great pruner to have in your orchid care toolkit.

10 pruners
As depicted above, the use of pruners is a great way to trim leaves to improve the health and appearance of your orchid.

Scissors

Pruners may not work as well as scissors at certain times. When you are doing a bit of flower work it may be better to use scissors if you find that your pruners feel too awkward.

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Livingo’s scissors are another good tool to have. Its strong, stainless steel blades are rust resistant and ultra-sharp for smoother cutting. The soft-grip handle reduces pressure on joints so you can cut with precision, control, and maximum comfort.

Spray Bottle

A spray bottle can work really well at ramping up the humidity level in the area where you keep your orchid. A plain spray bottle will work just fine.

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This spray bottle is the kind that works well for watering plants such as succulents, flowers, or herbs. It is sturdy and has a reliable squeeze trigger sprayer. You can even store essential oils in the spare bottle since the material protects against degradation from ultraviolet light.

Sterilizers

Keep your tools safe by using a sterilizer to keep them clean. Scissors or pruners carry germs and you don’t want to infect your orchid with anything that could cause its demise.

You can disinfect your tools with rubbing alcohol, a handheld lighter, or even a small, hand-held blow torch.

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Sondiko’s butane torch is small and easy to use. It is designed to be used at any angle. You can even turn it upside down and it will still work like a charm with effortless one hand operation. Plus, the adjustable temperature regulator gives you complete control of the flame.

Thermometer

Break out a thermometer to help you accurately monitor the temperature where you keep your orchids.

Since these plants are sensitive to temperature, you should get a simple wall thermometer to help you determine whether you’re creating an environment where your orchids can thrive.

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ThermoPro’s digital thermometer makes keeping up with the temperature in the room a breeze. It even comes with a humidity level so you can make sure your orchids are getting all the moisture they need.

The Best Orchids for Beginners

As a beginner, you want to start with a plant that is easy to care for. It can be getting ready to bloom or already in bloom. Consider beginning with a healthy cattleya (cat-LEE-yuh) or phalaenopsis (fay-lay-NOP-sis).

Oncidium (“on-SID-ee-um”), paphiopedilum (“paf-ee-oh-PED-ih-lum”), cymbidium, and dendrobium orchids have a good reputation also for being easy to care for at home.

You can purchase these readily available orchids either from a nursery or your local grocery store.

Cattleya

11 cattleya
Cattleya, as you can see, is a striking orchid. Plus, it’s one of the easiest to care for making it a great species to start with.

The beauty of this easy to care for orchid species is that it doesn’t make unreasonable temperature demands. During the day it prefers to keep things in the comfortable range of the 70s and at night it likes to cool off and dip into the 60s.

These flowers are long-lasting and often smell divine. Keep them healthy with weekly watering and filtered light to help them thrive.

Dendrobium

The dendrobium orchid is a delight to the senses. It can fill a room with a heavenly scent.

This orchid is well suited to cooler temps and a high light level. However, you should slowly introduce it to the sun after you bring it home from a nursery. You don’t want to burn its leaves.

Exposing it to full light in the winter will help the flowering process. You’ll have to be patient when waiting on it to blossom. It is a slow-grower.

Typically it won’t bloom until it’s around eight years old. When it has reached maturity, you can expect to see the flowering process start in the spring.

Spikes of flowers will pop up in the summer around July or August.

You will need to water this orchid regularly during the growing season. A good tip to follow is to let the roots dry a bit between watering. Remember, you don’t want to overwater orchids.

Phalaenopsis

The phalaenopsis is also known as the moth orchid. Like cattleya orchids, it enjoys daytime temps in the 70s and nights in the 60s.

Keep it happy by watering it once a week. You only need enough water to drench the potting mix. Let all the excess water drain out.

12 phalaenopsis
This phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, would make a beautiful addition to your orchid collection. You’ll love how long lasting the blooms are. 

With proper care, the blooms will last for weeks. But, eventually, they will fade. When this happens, cut the bloom back close to the crown. In time a new flower stalk will rise.

Cymbidium

This is hands down one of the easiest orchids to start growing. You get to take your pick of where you want to grow this beauty.

Whether you place it indoors in a well-lit room or outdoors in an area where it is protected from the cold, it can thrive.

Ideally, the temperatures at night will be between 50°F and 60°F. If the temperatures drop as low as 40°F, don’t water the orchid as much. It will need to be kept on the dry side.

Make sure it gets plenty of good light to help it flower well. Avoid putting it in direct sunlight, unless you’re okay with the leaves burning.

Place your cymbidium in a spot where it can get enough light without getting burned. Keeping it partly shaded is a good idea.

Expect this fast-growing orchid to be a heavy feeder. You will need to feed it every month of the year. Put it on a weekly feed schedule of orchid food.

Oncidium

Oncidium, a.k.a. the dancing lady, is one of the largest orchid genera with some 750 species to its name. This orchid is perfect for those who love to keep their house on the warm side.

If you can make sure that one room in your home is 80°F or more, then this plant may be well-suited to that living space. This orchid prefers conditions similar to cymbidiums.

13 oncidium 2813506 640
This oncidium is big on color and has a distinct, eye-catching pattern. Keep it happy with water, orchid food, and lots of warmth.

At night it likes the temperature to be around 53.6°F. The humidity level of the room should be roughly 60% to keep it satisfied.

Place bowls of water in the room to increase the humidity level if needed. Give it plenty of light to encourage flowering. However, don’t load it up on direct sunlight.

Keep it somewhat dry between waterings. Feed it at least once a month with orchid food.

Let it have a short rest period between the time you water and feed it once it flowers. It prefers to be kept in a small plastic or clay pot and planted with bark mixes.

Paphiopedilum

This lovely species is also known as the slipper orchid. It can be split into two separate categories.

The kind that has uniform green leaves does better in cooler temps. The other type has mottled leaves and enjoys warmer weather conditions.

Paphiopedilum orchids thrive with roughly 60% shade coverage. But if a plant is weak or young, it may require a bit more shade.

Pay attention to the state of the leaves to determine the kind of shape the orchid is in. Plants with very pale green leaves are most likely on the receiving end of too much light.

Hitting the plant with direct sunlight can burn the leaves and this is not good. On the other end of the spectrum, if you do not give it enough light, you may end up with a plant that has plenty of dark green leaves and no flowers.

14 proper lighting
Notice how the leaves on this orchid are the perfect shade of dark green. The leaves have not been burned by the sun so it’s not getting too much sun. The beautiful blooms also indicate it isn’t being deprived of light either.

Unlike some other types of orchids, this gem has no pseudobulbs to store water. As a result, it requires constant moisture throughout the year.

How often you water the orchid will depend on the season. Just make sure that you check on the compost regularly. It should always be damp but never soggy.

You want to avoid over saturating the roots so they won’t die from being overwatered. You must also ensure that you don’t let it dry out too much.

The best practice is to water your orchid early in the day. Doing so will allow the water to dry before nightfall and avoid the problem of rotting.

Protect Your Orchids

You’ve worked hard to grow and nurture your precious orchids. Don’t let bugs deprive you of the joys of having a healthy, flowering plant with beautiful blooms.

There are a few common bugs you need to be aware of. At some point in your orchid care journey, you can expect to find the following critters to crawl around your orchids.

  • Aphids
  • Scales
  • Slugs
  • Snails
  • Spider Mites
  • Thrips

Break Out the Pest Control

You can protect your orchids from annoying pests without filling your house or lungs with harmful chemicals. Shop around to look for the best pest control that will not harm your plants as it goes to town clearing out bugs.

You may need to use a product that contains chemicals. If that is the case, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guide for how to protect yourself while using the product.

15 bug
Don’t let bugs make a mess of your hard work. Orchid care is serious business. Take care of annoying bugs by removing them with your hands, soapy water, or insecticide.

Diseases, Fungi, and Viruses

Bugs aren’t the only problem you’ll face when caring for orchids. Diseases can also wreak havoc on your delicate plant.

Unlike bugs that tend to be rather easy to spot, fungi, bacteria, and viruses are not discernible to the eye until it’s too late. Unfortunately, you only know there is a problem when you see evidence of damage, not before.

You have most likely heard of the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Well, this especially applies to disease control.

You want to follow the sterilization advice listed earlier. Use a cigarette lighter or bleach to clean your tools.

Being proactive places you in the position of doing everything you can to stop a nasty disease from ruining all your hard work.

Yet, life being what it is, you may still have to contend with a virus from time to time. Certain things are beyond your control and this is one of them.

When you see signs of damage, apply either a bactericide or fungicide. Hopefully, your marvelous orchid will return to its days of disease-free glory.

The orchid pests you really have to be on the lookout for are scale insects and mealybugs. Inspect the leaves for signs of infestation such as stickiness or black sooty mold.

Check the top and bottom surface of leaves and flower stalks for scale insects. Inspect new leaves for signs of mealybugs.

Once you spot them, all you have to do is get rid of them by hand. Alternatively, you can use a soapy sponge to clean the leaves or spray them with an insecticide.

Also, be sure that you clean your tools after each use. Inspect your orchids on a regular basis for bugs. It’s much easier to nip a problem in the bud at the early stages than it is to try to get rid of it further down the road. Catching bugs early is your best line of defense in protecting your beloved orchids.

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