Orchid care: expert growing tips for these beautiful indoor blooms
All the info you need for success with growing orchids as houseplants
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 Antarctica) 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 will last for years.
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 the environment they need to flourish. These quick tips will help you get started.
1. Place your orchid in the right place
Jo Lambell, the founder of Beards & Daisies, advises ensuring 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. This is the same for many houseplants, including the elephant ear plant.
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.'
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. If you need some tips on how to care for houseplants in winter, our guide has you covered.
How much water does an orchid need?
Orchids generally require weekly watering, says Jo. In hot summers, this may need to be increased 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 Jo warns. '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 from Kew Gardens points out how the quality of the water is also important. 'Ideally use rainwater or filtered water,' she says. This is especially key 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 with your best secateurs and water more sparingly next time.
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 the method, but there are plenty of fans of this slow-drip approach.
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 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.
Should you feed orchids?
Fertilizing plants can help them grow strong and healthy. 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 houseplant feeds are suitable. 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.
Lara also points out that it's important to water thoroughly between feeding with fertilizer. 'Water in between feeding to flush out any build-ups of fertilizer, and water directly into the pots and let it run through until the weight of the pot is heavier,' she says.
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. Pruning orchids by 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.
Dry-looking, gray-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.
Repotting an orchid
For continued success, it's a good idea to repot an orchid from time to time. You should think about doing this every two to three years.
The best time to do this is after it has flowered or when you start to see the roots pushing outwards. Plus, orchid fan and columnist at Amateur Gardening magazine Anne Swithinbank suggests repotting 'Miltonia Sunset' orchids when spots appear on the leaves, as this is a sign of stress.
Once you've removed any dead or rotting roots, place the orchid in a pot that is slightly bigger than the original (typically around 1-2 inches bigger), then add a stake to give it added support as it grow new stems.
Can you propagate orchids?
Yes, it is possible to propagate orchids, but it does take a bit of know-how. One of the best methods is to detach and replant a keiki – that is, the baby plant that develops on some varieties.
Growing orchids from seed is possible but takes a very long time, so is best avoided.
Common problems with orchid care
- 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.
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 bring an orchid into your interior scheme? There are lots to choose from, both online and at the garden center, from a huge range of suppliers.
Use our quicklinks 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:
Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.
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