By Anna Cottrell published
Growing orchids can be more challenging than growing other types of house plants. Orchids are unlike any other house plant because they're epiphytes, which means that in their native environment, they don't grow in soil like other plants but, instead, wrap their roots around tree trunks. This makes caring for these plants different, but you also have add the usual difficulties of caring for indoor plants in winter, such as air dryness from central heating.
Yet orchids are surprisingly unfussy plants – so long as they're watered correctly. If you've nailed the watering, your orchid almost certainly will do alright. We've asked Lara Jewitt, Senior Nurseries Manager at Kew Gardens, for her expert advice on caring for your orchids correctly.
Lara's top tips for successful orchid growing is 'Don’t overwater! Orchids in general should only be watered when they have become dry and should never sit directly in water. However, they do like humidity. To increase humidity you can place them on a shallow tray with pebbles and some water – the pebbles keep them out of direct contact with the water.'
Checking the roots of your orchid often is the best way to know whether your orchid needs watering or not. Silvery or white roots are a telltale sign of a parched orchid, while roots that are turning black are a warning sign of an orchid that's succumbing to root rot due to overwatering. Healthy, just-watered orchid roots are a vibrant green colour.
Like so many of the plants you might have included in your indoor garden ideas, getting the watering right is key to a healthy plant. There's no one correct way of watering orchids, and different species of orchids prefer different methods (if in doubt, look up the exact orchid species you have online or in a botanical dictionary).
The main thing experienced orchid growers all agree on is that when you water your orchids, you shouldn't hold back on the amount of water you give them. Little and often really doesn't work, while occasionally saturating the roots under a running tap for a good few minutes seems to do the trick.
Lara also points out that it's important to water thoroughly between feeding with fertiliser: 'Water in between feeding to flush out any build ups of fertiliser, and water directly into the pots and let it run through until the weight of the pot is heavier.'
And what about the ice cube watering method? Here opinions divide. On the one hand, watering or orchid by placing ice cubes in its pot won't harm it, despite the fact that it's native to the tropics. A recent study has shown that orchid roots suffer no damage in temperatures as low as -7°C, while ice cubes only cool down the roots to about 4°C.
The potential problem with this method is that you could end up damaging the plant itself rather than its roots. The stems and leaves of orchids 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.
As Lara points out, however, the quality of the water 'is more important – ideally use rain water or filtered water'. 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.
Feeling inspired to add more orchids to your home? We've got plenty of suggestions on how to display your house plants to great effect in our indoor plant ideas feature.
Anna is a keen urban gardener, with David Austin roses and Japanese acers among her favourite plants. She moved into the world of interiors from academic research in the field of literature and urban space a couple of years ago. She's always been interested in how people make houses into homes, and how our concepts of what's stylish change over time.
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