Orchid Care, For Those Who Asked

Orchids are relatively easy plants to care for–they must be, or I’d have killed mine by now. :)  And I qualify what I post in the way of information by saying I’m certainly no expert.  There are many good sites and blogs which can give professional advice.  But for those of you who asked, here’s what I try to pay attention to.

This is how I’ve always killed my orchids in the past–by over watering.  Orchids’ roots are like their “lungs” and rest at the top of the pot, not the bottom.  They must breathe through their roots; therefore, you must be careful not to “drown” them.

Now, the tag which comes with my Phalaenopsis or moth orchids instructs a watering of a mere 1/4 cup of water, once a week.  Other sites online state that you should place the orchid (in its plastic pot) in a sink of room temperature water until the planting medium is completely soaked, then remove and let excess water drip away before replacing it in its decorative pot.

That method proved disastrous for me in the past, so I’m a little more stingy with the water now.  Remember that the roots need air.  I think experience and experimentation are the best teachers in this instance.

Adequately watered plants will maintain a dark green, glossy leaf and I believe it would always be best to under-water rather than over-water.  Orchids also like humidity.  They can be placed on a humidity tray with pebbles to keep the pot above the water, or can be lightly misted a few times a week.

Feed your orchid a water-soluble fertilizer created specifically for orchids every two to three weeks while the orchid is growing. Although orchids need fertilizer to maintain their blooms, it’s better to under-fertilize than feed them too much. Too much fertilizer could burn the roots, producing dark green, limp leaves.  I have also done this in the past and lost the plant.  I use Shultz Orchid Food, sparingly.

Orchids like a place in the home where there is a consistent temperature with no drafts or direct sun–an east- or north-facing window will give ample bright light without direct sun.  Generally, as I’ve been told, if the temperature is comfortable for you, your orchid will probably be happy.

Potting Medium
Orchids must be grown in a medium specifically designed to accommodate their root system.  Most orchid “soil” is composed of bark chips, mosses, or a mixture of the two.  Potting them in regular potting soil will kill them.

When your orchid has finished flowering, cut the flower stems down to one inch above the second “node” from the base. This is where your new flower will appear, if you’re lucky and patient.

Leave the plant in the same position and don’t fuss over it for a while. Also reduce the water and food you give your plant for approx four months to give it a rest.  When/If your new flower buds appear, you can slightly increase your feeding then.

My only experience with orchids is with the Phalaenopsis or moth orchid, and they are fairly forgiving and a good orchid to start with.  Their blooms last weeks, sometimes months.  They usually bloom from December to May (give or take) and are a bright spot during the winter months.  I look forward to venturing into some other orchid types.

Oh, and though I wouldn’t recommend letting kitty damage your lovely plant, orchids are not known to be toxic to cats. :)



Author: nancybond

A writer, photographer, naturalist from small town Nova Scotia, Canada.

10 thoughts on “Orchid Care, For Those Who Asked”

  1. I think I’ve been guilty of too much sun, and over/erratic watering. I would like to try growing an orchid again though, and I expect our humidity here closer to the coast will suit them better than my last house that was almost desert dry. Thanks for sharing your tips Nancy.

  2. Thankyou, Nancy…I think that I’m going to try to grow one. I tend to over water things, so maybe I’ll do the quarter cup watering. I think that other varieties may need a greenhouse….not sure. Thanks again,Balisha

  3. Good to know about the cats! I’ve never tried Orchids, so maybe with all the encouragement from Blotanical friends I’ll try it next year. Beautiful photos, as always, Nancy!

  4. In my experience, Phalaenopsis do quite well with the “dunk” watering method *but* you need to make sure you don’t do it too often; the potting mix should be pretty much dry (usually at least a week between waterings).

    Also figure out if your plant is rooted in moss or bark chips – you have to be way more careful with water in moss than in bark chips as it’s much easier to drown them in moss.

    It’s also generally a good idea to have a quick look at the health of your plant’s roots when you get it home – in a clear pot, that’s pretty easy. Healthy orchid roots are green and fat (if they’re dry, the velamen layer might be white) – never brown or mushy.

    Phalaenopsis don’t like bright light – direct sunshine will kill them. Treating them a bit like African Violets is often suggested, if you’re familiar with those.

    They also don’t much like being watered with cold water – try room temperature or very slightly warm water.

    And make sure you keep water out of the crown (the part where the new leaves grow out of at the top).

    Good luck!

  5. ‘Overwatering’ is a very misunderstood concept among non-horticulturalists. The definition is not using too much water at a given watering, It is watering too frequently and not allowing a thorough enough exchange of gasses.
    In the monsoon season in orchid habitats, it may rain for days or even weeks at a time. Since the roots are exposed to air constantly however, they do not rot. They get a chance to dry out rapidly after the rain stops as well, and breezes constantly blow around the roots. All of these things work to keep the roots from suffocating and being poisoned by their own waste products. For more info, read about carbonic acid and root rot on first rays orchids website.

    Orchids can be grown in almost anything- even regular potting soil just fine, but it’s easier for most people to kill them because you don’t let the dry enough between waterings or they stay wet too long because the pot is too big, root system is too small, humidity is too high, lack of air movement, etc.

    You should totally drench your orchids at each watering, allowing a huge volume of water to run out the bottom. You should also do this rapidly. The rapid filling and draining of the pot will exchange the toxic gasses and fresh air that roots breathe out (think of trying to breathe repeatedly in a ballon). The more times you exhale into that ballon, the less oxygen is in it.
    As the water exits the pot, it pulls fresh air back into the mix.
    Large volumes of water also allow the salts to be flushed out and allow the salts in the pot to dissolve more than if you just used a small volume like ice cubes or a quarter cup of water. Salts build up over time, especially if you have hard water or do not flush enough at each watering. It is the biggest problem for indoor growers that isn’t talked about much because all the big growers who write books or articles grow in greenhouses or outdoors where they water with a hose and don’t have the same issues with drainage etc that indoor growers have. The first symptom is root discoloration on the aerial parts of existing roots and root tip damage when new roots come out and contact the surface of the potting mix.
    After reading your article here and knowing that you’re an indoor grower, I can be certain that those white deposits on your portting mix is salt either from hard water, using too much fertilizer, and/or not flushing your pots enough at each watering.
    For more info about this, the aos has two members only webinars that show you how to water. The one on roots and the most recent one on Cattleya (spotted and splashed) hybrids.
    Any good orchid book will tell you to drench pots, water, then water again, etc. William cullina’s book, ‘understanding orchids’ covers the salt topic quite well and when my collection was dying and I got that book, I realized why and got an RO system. That did not solve my problem entirely however. Occasionally I slip back into not drenching my pots enough and root tips start to blacken when they get to the clay pot walls, and by then, the problem is so bad that leaching won’t even fix it and the plants have to be removed from the pots. To test my hypothesis about me not drenching enough and getting salt buildup, I stuck a clay pot causing black root tips in a pot, boiled it, and let it soak overnight. Now on day 4, my tds reading is down from 500, but is still too high at 200 ppm. It just goes to show how tightly some media can hold onto salts and how hard it is to get them out once they’ve dried. Sometimes damage will occur even before white deposits are visible, or even on a new pot, tricking the grower into thinking its disease or something else, but cultural problems are more common than diseases and I’ve been growing orchids long enough that, when I potted some orchids into new clay pots and the roots started dying, I surmised that there was some toxin in the pot. I removed the plants and put them in plastic pots. Roots recovered. The media was the same, so that wasn’t it and when I soaked the new pots in distilled water and got a high tds rating, that also confirmed my suspicions. It makes perfect sense since clay is dug out of the ground and soils, particularly clay, can hold a lot of salts.
    I hope this information is helpful. If you think I’m wrong, just try repotting one plant with white deposits, and water only using distilled water with no fertilizer for a few months. If you don’t see an improvement after at least 3 months, you can rule salt out. Plants with no fertilizer for three months will be fine without it. Salt damage occurs over time and is very sneaky that way, but it may very well be a big factor in the past failures that you’ve had.
    Alternatively, if you have a tds meter, you can soak your plant in distilled water overnight and then test the water. (I promise it will not hurt it. I’ve done it for years on occasion). Remember the rain in the jungles. The important part comes when you remove it from the water. You must let it drain thorough and let it dry before watering again.
    Welcome to the wondrous world of orchids. Don’t get discouraged, keep on learning, and keep on observing :D We all loose plants in the beginning. Happy growing!
    Also last thing- I noticed that someone left a link to the npr thing about orchids. I have a huge amount of orchid, plant, and flower documentaries in my playlists on YouTube. I’d love for you to come check out my channel, even if it’s just to watch fun documentaries. First flower is a neat one and Vincent price narrates the language of the flowers is all about orchids.

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