By Sarah Wilson
The houseplant trend has led to a huge surge of interest in how to grow orchids. Just go on Instagram and watch the live streams by the orchid obsessed and you’ll see yourself how easy it is to become hooked on these lush-looking blooms.
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. Some even grow as tall as 3 metres. But what really distinguishes them is, of course, their fantastic flowers.
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 colors.
If you love the idea of flower-filled shelves opt, then learn how to grow orchids as these beauties will bloom for months. Give them the right TLC and the plants last for years too. Just remember a few key pointers: they like to grow in bright light, enjoy a little humidity and hate being overwatered. Then you're away!
How to grow orchids: easy tips for success
Whether you’re growing orchids as part of your indoor garden ideas or outside in a greenhouse, your plant will have some common needs to factor in.
- Position your orchid in a bright room or on a windowsill, but one that isn't in direct sunlight as this can burn the foliage. Instead, for the best results with how to grow orchids, position them in indirect sunlight.
- Don’t put the plant near a radiator or in a draught, which it will hate.
- If you're growing orchids as part of your greenhouse ideas, they will need good ventilation too.
- All orchids thrive on humidity, which must be balanced with temperature, so as the heat rises so does the humidity. This makes the bathroom an ideal environment for growing orchids.
- Mist orchids daily and, about once a month, stand them in a sink full of water for a couple of hours to have a good soak, which allows the compost to become fully rehydrated.
What are the main types of orchid?
Orchids can generally be divided into three main groups. Get your head around the differences and it's easy to work out how to grow orchids from there.
- Cool growing orchids
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.
How much water does an orchid need?
Aim to water your orchid once a week. In very hot weather switch this up to every two or three days. In winter, water no more than once every two to three weeks.
When watering plants, 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.
Although orchids are versatile and adapt to any water source, if you live in an area with hard tap water it's better to water them with rainwater. Whatever water you use, lukewarm water is best.
One key thing to remember with how to grow orchids is that you shouldn't leave the roots standing in water for long periods, as they will rot. 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 this could be caused by overwatering. Trim off any affected areas and water more sparingly next time.
Does keeping orchids hydrated with ice cubes work?
Using this clever ice cube trick for how to grow orchids has lots of fans. In basic terms, you can keep your orchid watered by placing one or two ice cubes at the base of its stem once a week. Not everyone agrees with this way of watering orchids, but there are plenty of fans of this slow drip method so it's too good to ignore.
It’s also the perfect trick if you're in the habit of regularly forgetting to water your plants. It's also been scientifically proven that ice doesn't damage the orchids in any way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are the most popular types of orchid?
Whether you're learning how to grow orchids for the first time or you're buying more to add to your growing collection, here's our round-up of some of the best types to choose from.
1. Moth orchid (phalaenopsis)
This is one of the most widely available and popular orchids. They come in a great range of colors and are easy to grow in a special bark medium. They like humidity, so thrive in bathrooms. They also like bright light but not direct sunlight, and hate cold drafts or being waterlogged. Once yours has finished flowering, cut off the old flower stem at soil level. It will produce a new flower spike in about six months.
2. Cattleya orchid
These sumptuous, exotic orchids are prized for their brightly-colored, showy blooms. These are frilly and flouncy, and can reach up to 20cm across. They burst into flower in either autumn or spring. They are available in a range of colors and shapes, and are also highly scented. Plants produce ‘pseudobulbs’ topped with one or two fleshy leaves.
3. Miltonia 'pansy' orchids
These stunning plants have large flowers with a distinctive ‘face’, just like pansies, so the name should come as no surprise. They flower between April and September, often twice a year. The richly colored blooms last four to six weeks, blossom profusely and are often fragrant. They like cooler temperatures but are forgiving of temperature fluctuations.
This type of orchid makes a stunning house plant, with flowers in a range of colors including pink, purple, orange and blue. They don’t need soil or bark chippings, and can be displayed in flower vases (with no water in them) or in small baskets hung from the ceiling just like the Victorians used to display their orchids. They need daily watering in summer, unless kept in a steamy bathroom.
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 UK:
- Shop orchids at Amazon
- Shop orchids at Crocus
- Shop orchids at Dobies
- Shop orchids at Love Orchids
- Shop orchids at Thompson & Morgan
- Shop orchids at Waitrose Garden
Where to buy orchids in the US:
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.
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