How to care for Orchids
Orchids are recognised all over the world as symbols of love and beauty (no wonder they make such great gifts). So much so, that they often make their way onto the wrists of prom-dates and as centre-pieces at special events.
Most orchids are tropical plants living as epiphytes - this means they grow on trees and between rocks, not directly in the soil.
Orchids are generally robust and simple to grow and maintain, yet are a beautiful addition to the home or garden. The Orchid family (Orchidaceae) consists of more than 750 genera, and over 30,000 different species to choose from, which is growing in number year on year.
Here is some advice to grow orchids successfully in your home as well as an introduction to experiment with more challenging species of orchid available both from this country and further afield.
Choose Your Orchid Species
We strongly advise that you purchase flowering orchids as buying from seed can result in a long wait as it can take as long as five years for a flower to be produced from a seedling. Also, ensure that you always check the label for each species requirements before you purchase to ensure you are considering a good match for your house or garden. Below are three of the most house-friendly species easy to find at your local supermarket, garden centre or florist.
- Phalaenopsis are indoor orchids that are often referred to as moth orchids and produce vibrant flowers that stay fresh for months. They begin flowering at the end of winter to springtime so now is a great time to pick up an orchid for your home.
- Cattleyas require twice the light that Phalaenopsis need in order to do well in the home. They usually last between two to six weeks and flower once a year in the spring or autumn. They are beautiful flowers commonly used in corsages.
- Dendrobiums are beautiful orchids that typically flower white or lavender or a combination, and do so in autumn and winter. The flowers can bloom for three to four weeks and are perfect for the home and very easier to look after.
Consider Your Orchid's Environment
To care properly for your orchid you will firstly need to be certain you can offer the environment to which it is best suited, to ensure it can grow and bloom to its full potential.
You will need to consider whether you have enough room allocated to your orchid for it to grow fully in, and if not, whether you have a second suitable location to move it to (this is greatly dependant on species size).
Secondly, depending on the species, of course, orchids can require either cool, intermediate or warm temperatures to grow, so make sure that you can offer the correct temperature requirements for your chosen species.
Avoid strong, direct sunlight, if you are growing them on a south-facing window make sure it is well shaded.
A cool room temperature is best, avoid placing orchids near heat sources, such as radiators. Ideally aim to maintain a temperature between 65-85f (18-30c), with a few sudden temperature changes as possible. Be wary of colder days as low temperatures can result in the leaves of your orchid turning yellow in colour and proceeding to drop off. If this happens to remove dead foliage and continue caring as normal.
Air Circulation & Humidity
Orchids prefer humid climates and atmospheres. Place the pot on a tray or saucer filled with gravel and water. Remember to keep the saucer topped up with water, but not so it is in contact with the base of the pot. Humidity can also be increased by misting your orchid with water from a spray bottle or a product such as Miracle-Gro® Orchid Mist.
The health of your orchid can be hugely improved by simply ensuring you maintain the good air circulation in the room. A well air-circulated room can also aid any pest of fungal infection your orchid may contract.
In the summer months try to keep windows open to allow gentle sunlight to reach your orchid(s), encourage a bust of crisp carbon dioxide, and promote water evaporation.
Compost For Orchids
Orchids are not grown in ordinary compost. They need an open structure, mainly consisting of bark with added peat. This will help hold the orchids upright, without allowing the roots to become too damp, which can cause root rot.
Orchids don't need a lot of water in the compost and prefer to be kept on the dry side. Never leave an orchid sitting in water, this is the easiest way to kill it. Water should run through the pot and drain away. If you choose to water by submersing the pot, make sure the plant fully drains before returning it to its growing position.
For best results check the label for the plant’s water requirements and act accordingly. Aim to ensure that the plant is evenly moist at all times and not wet. A general guideline is to water your orchids every five to twelve days depending on species.
For best results, feed your orchid every 2-4 weeks. Ensure that you do not overfeed your orchid as that can cause damage. We recommend using a fertiliser that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, such as Miracle-Gro® Orchid Plant Food Concentrate. It is best to use a high-nitrogen fertiliser when new shots are coming out, and one with more phosphorus and potassium later on.
Tip: Water your orchid well before feeding.
Orchid Aerial Roots
Many orchids will produce a mass of aerial roots, generally silver-green in colour. These take in moisture and help the plant ‘breathe’. Never cut these off and do not cover them with compost or moss.
When you re-pot your orchid remember to only go up one pot size, water well before removing from its current pot, cut any damaged or rotting roots off, then simply re-pot with a suitable compost such as Orchid Compost. Try to keep the orchid at the same height in the pot as it was before, and lightly water in.
Tip: Orchids like to grow in small cramped places in trees and between rocks, so don’t worry if they look pot bound. As a general rule re-pot every 2 to 3 years, but only go up one pot size at a time.
Tip: Standing the pot on a saucer of gravel and water removes the need for regular misting, misting can lead to water being trapped in the leaves, causing rot and disease.
Mealybugs and Scale Insects are the most common orchid pests. Cotton buds can be used to physically remove these pests, alternatively, you could apply an insecticide suitable for indoor use.