Orchid care: expert growing tips for these beautiful indoor blooms

All the info you need for success with growing orchids as houseplants

how to grow orchids
(Image credit: Love Orchids)

The orchid has to be one of the most beautiful houseplants, and it's recently received a huge surge in interest. Appearing all over Instagram, these lush-looking blooms are the perfect way to add a touch of the exotic to your interior scheme.

Orchids belong to one of the largest families of flowering plants, a diverse group that runs to 28,000 different types. They are found pretty much everywhere in the world (apart from Antartica) and come in all shapes and sizes.

As one of the best indoor plants, they come in a huge range of shades from dramatic magenta and plummy purple, to lemon yellow and tangerine orange, as well as pure white. Some have plain colored petals while others are splashed or speckled with contrasting hues. 

If you love the idea of flower-filled shelves, then you'll need to know the crucial factors of orchid care. Give them the right TLC and these beauties will bloom for months, and the plants last for years too.

Easy orchid care tips for happy houseplants

Growing orchids as part of your indoor garden ideas is simpler than you might think, as long as you provide them with the environment they need to flourish. These quick tips will help you get started.

1. Place your orchid in the right place

Jo Lambell, founder of Beards & Daisies, advises to ensure your orchid has bright, indirect light. 'Too little light means your orchid might not flower,' she warns. However, too much direct sunlight can burn the foliage.

So, for optimal orchid care, position your plant in a bright room or on a windowsill that isn't south-facing.

2. Keep the humidity levels up

'Humidity is vital when it comes to caring for an orchid,' says Jo. 'It needs regular misting – just avoid spraying the flowers directly.

'Keep your plant away from dry heat vents and drafts, too, as this will dry it out,' Jo says. Kitchens are a good place to put one, and they are also one of the best plants for bathrooms.

Lara Jewitt, Senior Nurseries Manager at Kew Gardens, also says that you can place them on a shallow tray with pebbles and some water – 'the pebbles keep them out of direct contact with the water.' 

orchid plant on a bedside table

Orchids love a humid environment, so be sure to mist them regularly, especially if they're not in your bathroom

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

3. Adjust the temperature to suit the type of orchid you have

Orchids can generally be divided into three main groups, all of which require slightly different environments to thrive.

  • Cool growing orchids. These are also known as cool house orchids. These include varieties like dendrobium, odontoglossum and cymbidium. They enjoy temperatures between 60˚F  to 70˚F (16˚C to 21˚C) in summer and no less than 50˚F (10˚C) in winter. They're a good one to choose if you're new to growing orchids as they're tolerant of mistakes and you will consistently get good results with them.
  • Intermediate house orchids. These include paphiopedalum, cambria, oncidium and cattleya. They like temperatures of between 65˚F to 75˚F (18˚C to 24˚C). There are some real beauties in this category.
  • Warm-growing orchids. These include phalaenopsis and vanda. They like temperatures of between 70˚F to 85˚F (21 to 29˚C) in summer and no less than 60˚F (18˚C) in winter. This means they're a good choice for growing in centrally heated houses.

orchid plant

Orchid types fall into three main groups, all of which require slightly different temperatures

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

How much water does an orchid need?

Orchids generally require weekly watering, says Jo. In hot summers, this may need increasing to once every two or three days. In winter, you can reduce it down to once every two or three weeks.

Just be careful not to kill it with kindness by overzealous watering, as warns Jo. 'It's prone to root rot, so only water if the top layer of soil is dry to touch, or if the pot it is in feels light. 

'Remember not to water directly onto the leaves and you should have a thriving specimen,' she adds.

To water an orchid, you can dunk the whole pot into a sink or bowl of water and leave it submerged for a few minutes to allow the roots to absorb all the water they need. Alternatively, run the pot under a tap for around 20 seconds, allowing water to drain out of the bottom. 

Lara points out how the quality of the water is also important. 'Ideally use rain water or filtered water,' she says. This is especially important in hard water areas where there's a risk that the calcium in the water will build up on your orchid.

As a general guide, if the leaves are green, your orchid is happy. If silver or white, they could do with a drink, especially if slightly wrinkled. If they're brown, you might be overwatering it. Trim off any affected areas and water more sparingly next time.

orchid plant

The Little Botanical Mini Moth Orchid from Dobbies 

(Image credit: Dobbies)

Does keeping orchids hydrated with ice cubes work?

You may have heard of the ice cube trick when it comes to orchid care. In basic terms, you can place one or two ice cubes at the base of its stem once a week instead of watering it in the more traditional ways. Not everyone agrees with this method, but there are plenty of fans of this slow-drip approach, so it's too good to ignore.

It's been proven that ice doesn't damage the orchid roots in any way. The potential problem, however, is that you could end up damaging the stems and leaves, which are are not hardy and will be damaged if they come into contact with ice. 

So, only use this method if you tend to overwater otherwise, don't want to water your orchid in the sink/under the tap, and are certain you can position the ice cubes in a way that won't touch the leaves or stems. It may also be worth trying if you're in the habit of regularly forgetting about watering plants

moth orchid plant

If you regularly forget to water your plants try the ice cube method for orchids

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

Should you feed orchids?

Although your orchids will survive without liquid feeds, it’s a good idea to treat your plants every two weeks when you see them putting on growth for the best results.

If you don’t have a dedicated orchid feed, most other house plant feeds are suitable when it comes to how to grow orchids. Alternatively, in spring a high-nitrogen feed will stimulate growth, while a high-potash fertilizer will do the trick later on to encourage flowering. Just be sure to use it in a very diluted form, around a quarter of what it says on the label.

orchid terrarium

(Image credit: The Urban Botanist)

Do you have to prune orchids?

Orchids produce small lateral branches of blooms from dormant nodes once their initial flush of flowers has ended. These can spoil the elegant shape of the plant. Snipping whole flowering stems back to soil level will encourage the production of new ones, which will give you more lovely blooms for your indoor plant ideas

Cut the stem back when there’s at least one flower left, which shows the stem is active. If it’s already dried out, cut back to near the base of the plant. 

Dry looking grey-brown roots protruding from the bark can be cut off without harming the plant although it may hinder its development. So if you find these aerial roots unsightly, repot your orchid instead to give it more space. 

Chewton Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

When should you repot an orchid?

For continued success with how to grow orchids, it's a good idea to repot your orchid every two years, or sooner if the bark has begun to compost down as this prevents air reaching the roots, which can lead to your plant becoming diseased. Otherwise, repotting isn’t necessary before then unless your plant outgrows its pot. 

Always use proprietary bark-based orchid compost, never a loam-based or standard multipurpose one as these will kill your orchid. It will take a week or two for a repotted plant to settle down. Monitor the compost to check it hasn't dried out.

You'll find plenty more tips on how to repot a plant in our guide.

orchid plant in a yellow pot standing on a dining chair

If your orchid starts to outgrow its pot, replant it in a roomier one to allow it to reach its full potential

(Image credit: Dobbies)

How do you get an orchid to bloom again?

If you want to coax your orchid to flower again, don’t cut off the whole flower spike when it finishes flowering. Orchids often send out a side branch of new flowers off the main stem just when it looks like it’s dying back. If you're too hasty and snip it off at the base, you’ll miss out on this.

orchid plant in a pot with a rainbow design

Coax more flowers from your orchid by cutting it back in the right way when it finishes flowering

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

What can go wrong with orchids?

  • If flower buds drop off or shrivel this could be because either you're underwatering the plant, it’s in direct sunlight or it's positioned in a draft.
  • If the leaves turn yellow it could be triggered by overwatering or a blast of direct sunlight.
  • If the leaves become spoiled by light or dark spotting this can indicate the plant compost is stagnant or that your orchid is simply getting old. 
  • If the tips of the leaves turn black it means the temperature isn’t right, either too high or too low, or the orchid is in a draft.
  • Some orchids are deciduous and shed their leaves in winter at the start of their rest period so cut back on watering but never let the soil dry out completely. And don't panic that your plant has died.

orchid plant

The leaves of your orchid plant reveal everything you need to know about its general health

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

Can you grow orchids from cuttings?

Learning how to take cuttings from plants is a great way to get extra plants for free. It’s possible to remove the growing tip from an orchid plant and place it in a growing medium to produce seedlings. 

Cuttings can also be taken from some varieties such as vanda. A side branch can be cut off and potted up when the aerial roots growing from it reach about 7cm.

You can also propagate orchids by division. Sometimes a small plantlet appears on the stem which sends roots into the air. These small plants can be cut off with a sharp knife and planted in pots filled loosely with compost to let air circulate around the roots. Spray finely with water until the plant becomes established.

orchid plant

If you know what you're doing it's not difficult to propagate from your orchid plant

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

What's the best scented orchid?

Many orchids such as the cattleya variety are heavily scented. These have sumptuous frilled flowers too. Odontoglossums are also sweetly scented, with the added advantage that a single flower spike has as many as 20 blooms.

Where to buy orchids

Ready to start giving how to grow orchids a go? There are lots to choose from both online and at the garden center from a huge range of suppliers. 

Use our quick links below to make life easy and take your pick from the best there is on offer.

Where to buy orchids in the US: 

Where to buy orchids in the UK: 

orchid plant

(Image credit: Love Orchids)

Sarah Wilson has been a lifestyle journalist for many years, writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, as well as Country Homes & Interiors and Modern Gardens magazines. 

Her own (small urban) garden is a work in progress  - so many ideas, not enough space to cram them in. Hero plants include her ever growing collection of ornamental grasses, black bamboo and ferns, and the perennials like salvias and penstemons that come back reliably year after year. All very restrained though when in fact she'd love to pack her garden with gaudy dahlias and giant cannas, so these are top of her wish list for what to grow next.