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How To Care For Orchids - A beginners Guide

Updated on May 2, 2013

Phalaenopsis Orchid

A close up photo of a flower on one of my Phalaenopsis Orchids - also known as moth orchids.
A close up photo of a flower on one of my Phalaenopsis Orchids - also known as moth orchids.

So you have an orchid - what now?

Orchids are such beautiful plants and will brighten up any home. When you see them in the shops they are so attractive you just have to have one. They also make a beautiful gift for that special person in your life.

After a week or two of displaying your new orchid in your home things may start happen to the plant.One by one the flowers may start falling off, or the leaves may start turning yellow or gowing wrinkly. The fact that you are visiting this web page is a good sign as it means you have decided to not just throw the plant away when it's 'done', but to see if you can take care of it. Fortunately you will be glad to hear that it's not all that difficult at all to look after an orchid

Basic Needs of an Orchid House Plant

When you keep orchids as house plants there are things you need to know, such as how much light they need, what temperatures best suit them, how to water them (yes, the 'how' of watering an orchid is important as doing this wrong can kill it quickly), when to water them, when and how to feed them, and what compost to they prefer to live in.

All this will be covered in the sections below.

Ideal Temperature for Orchids

Luckily for us, orchids like the same kind of temperatures as we do - and therefore make fantastic house plants! I will not go into specific temperatures as this is just a guide, but if you feel your house is warm enough for you, then it will be fine for your orchids too.

There may be an issue if you live in a really hot, dry part of the world where the humidity levels are very low. You may need to invest in a humidifier, or if you prefer, create a more humid micro climate around your plants by standing them in a tray of gravel that is half filled with water. However you do this, just make sure that the water level is not above the level of gravel and the orchid's roots are not sitting in the water. This will case root rot.

An Orchid's Light Requirements

In the wild, orchids grow in shaded areas, shaded by the canopy of the tree it's growing in. Therefore these conditions need to be replicated. Again, fortunately this is easy to do. If your house has North and South facing windows, place your orchid near the North facing window so no direct sunlight is hitting it.

They key is make sure that it gets some brightness, but do not sit the plant in direct sunlight as it will quickly burn the leaves.

Feel free to more your orchid around the house to give it some light and to avoid the sun streaming through your windows.

If on the other hand the light levels are too low, you may need to place a small lamp above your plants to give them the light they require.

This orchid had suffered from sitting the the sun. Keep you plant in a bright but shaded area.
This orchid had suffered from sitting the the sun. Keep you plant in a bright but shaded area. | Source

How To Water Your Orchid Without Killing It

Again, this is a fairly simple task, yet it is important for the health of your plant that you know a few things about watering it, as orchids don't really like water very much. Yes, they certainly need it but water can easily kill your plant too in more ways than one.

Orchids like to have a bit of moisture about their roots - and that all! This is the reason why orchid compost is very free draining, and usually a bark mixture. When the growing media becomes almost dry, water again.

Many people water orchids by sitting the pot in water for a couple of minutes, then taking it out again and letting all the excess drain out the holes at the bottom of the pot. Some will say you should always water your orchid from the top by using using a fine watering can or turning on a tap (faucet) and wetting the compost.

There are two points to watch for that will destroy your plant regardless of what method you use to water the plant.

  • make sure all excess water has drained away from the compost and that the roots are not sitting in any water at the bottom of a decorative outer pot or root rot will kill your plant.
  • Any water that has got onto the leaves and has pooled by the stem will need to be soaked up by a paper towel or cotton swab immediately.

It may sound like a lot to remember it put simply, don't over water and don't let them sit in any water that has pooled.


Feed Your Orchid

The potting media that orchids traditionally grow in hold very little to no nutrition for your plant, so you will need to feed it every now and then. I good guide is to add feed to the water and feed it every second watering during the period of growth, and once every 3rd or 4th watering when your orchid is more dormant.

Again people's opinions differ or what to feed your orchid. Some will opt for a fully balanced feed with an NPK value or 20-20-20 (or similar) and it best to opt for a feed that also contains trace elements (THE) too. On the packaging you will see something like N-P-K: 20-20-20+THE.

N stands for nitrogen. This is essential for strong leaf growth.
P stands for phosphorus which promotes a strong root system.
K stands for potassium which helps with flower production.

You will also find on sale many orchid fertilizers that have a higher K value to help promote flowering., but most growers will recommend a fully balanced formula such as the one above, but add feed to the water at half the recommended amount, or if you want to feed you orchids at every watering, add 1/4 the recommended amount to the water and feed it every week, or when it needs watering.

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    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 

      17 months ago from Port Elizabeth

      Thank you for sharing and all the practical advice on orchids.

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