It’s easy to fall in love with growing and caring for orchids. If you’re a beginner indoor gardener or just new to growing orchids, this beginner’s guide is for you. This is the guide I wish I had read before I started growing orchids.
Caring for orchids requires infrequent watering, acidic and well-draining orchid soil, bright and indirect light, temps between 50-90°F, humidity between 40-70%, and orchid fertilizer during the active growing season.
Caring for orchids can be tough, but this informative, in-depth guide will answer all your questions. I’ll discuss the types of orchids you can grow, blooming timelines, basic care steps, and how to ward off pests and diseases.
Orchid Types: What Are Your Options?
Did you know that about 28,000 orchid species exist? They’re spread across 850 genera.
You might feel too overwhelmed to possibly choose, but don’t worry. Indoors, you’re likeliest to see only two common species.
The first is the Dendrobium or cane orchid, sometimes called the blotched cane orchid.
Hailing from Australia, the canes on this flowering plant develop stalks with flowers. The flowers appear in rows and come in hues like purple or white.
The second variety you could choose is the Phalaenopsis or moth orchid.
Up to 70 species comprise this genus. The flat flowers and coarse roots differentiate the moth and cane orchids.
Moth orchid flowers feature one stalk and round petals in colors such as pink, purple, and white. If you’re lucky, you could even see a combination of colors on a single flower!
Orchid Care for Beginners
You’ve chosen the right orchid for you and brought it home. Congrats, as that’s the first step to a long, happy bond with your beautiful flowering plant.
Per the intro, let’s review the care requirements for indoor orchids.
Watering Your Orchid
Here’s one thing you must know about orchids: they’re incredibly sensitive to the fungal disease root rot. I cannot stress that enough.
If you don’t know about root rot, watering your plant too frequently often causes this plant affliction, so you need to go very sparingly with the water no matter which type of orchid you’re caring for.
How sparingly? You should give the orchid’s soil or growth medium time to dry out almost completely before watering again.
I recommend using the fingertip test to determine when it’s time to water an indoor orchid. Ideally, the soil shouldn’t reach bone-dry status, as then you can dehydrate the plant, but you shouldn’t feel any moisture, either.
If you can see your orchid’s roots, check those. When the roots look dry and begin turning gray, you need to water the plant ASAP. If the roots look green or white and feel plump, hold off for now.
I don’t like to use watering schedules, but for those keeping track, a healthy orchid will receive water once a week in moderate weather and up to twice a week in warmer weather.
If you’ve gone upwards of three weeks without watering your orchid, you’ve officially waited too long.
Here’s another pointer: water the plant earlier in the day versus later.
The orchid will have time for its water to evaporate from its leaf surfaces, which should surely happen by noon or later in the day.
Orchid Soil Requirements
While you can sustain many plants with a traditional potting mix, that doesn’t apply to the orchid.
Instead, this plant requires orchid mix, either the handmade variety or store-bought. It doesn’t matter as long as it has the right concentration of ingredients.
So what is orchid mix, exactly? It’s a soil mix containing amendments such as shredded bark, peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.
These ingredients maintain two required conditions for the orchid: well-draining and acidic soil.
While the orchid’s soil shouldn’t dry too quickly, standing water at the bottom of the pot can absolutely lead to root rot, so you don’t want that either.
The right level of acidity for the orchid is 5.5 to 6.0 on the pH scale.
If you’re looking for some alternative soil amendments for a homemade orchid mix, try these!
While fibrous coco coir suffices for many plants, orchids need something more aerating. I would skip the fibrous coir and upgrade straight to coco chips.
Coco chips absorb water well so the soil won’t get too soggy. That said, they can retain water for a while, so use them sparingly in the pot.
All orchid mixes worth using should contain fir bark. The bark is flat and comes in a variety of grades from fine to coarse.
The finer the fir bark, the slower it dries and the more moisture-retentive. Coarser fir bark has more water resistance but later dries quickly.
The Best Pot Material for Orchids
You’ve got some orchid mix, but what kind of pot do you fill it up with?
You must avoid nonporous materials since they’ll retain water. However, overly porous materials will suck up water too much, leaving you at risk of overwatering your orchid.
I would recommend a happy medium. Glazed clay, terracotta, or ceramic are only semi-absorbent. You won’t have to worry about your plant feeling deprived of water, but it won’t have standing water either.
Double-check that the pot you purchase has large drainage holes. Some pots veer more decorative and lack the necessary drainage. That won’t help your growing orchid one iota.
The Right Lighting for Indoor Orchids
The orchid needs bright, indirect light if you hope to see your plant bloom (which, of course, you would want to!).
Bright, indirect light traditionally comes from a north or east-facing window. A southern-facing window, provided the plant sits a few feet away, also works.
The window must have a curtain that filters the bright sunlight so the orchid doesn’t burn, because indeed, this plant can scorch.
You would lose more than the appealing foliage of your orchid, but you’d also have to prune the scorched flowers. That’s the most heartbreaking loss.
How will you know if your orchid gets enough sunlight? Your plant should experience consistent growth, and its foliage should look healthy, happy, and green.
If the foliage begins looking paper-like and brown, you need to get your orchid out of there ASAP. The plant has already received too much light, and further exposure could burn it.
You’ll have to prune any discolored parts of your plant since they’re dying or already dead.
If all the growth you see comes from the stems, that’s a sign you’ve deprived the orchid of light. The plant has gone leggy.
You’ll have to prune the thin stems and increase the amount of light your plant receives.
Setting the Temperature for Orchids
Orchids like it hot, so make sure you’ve set your thermostat to match.
By day, the ideal temperature for the orchid is 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and by night, 65 degrees.
The orchid has great tolerance for upper and lower temperature extremes. The plant can withstand temps as cold as 50 degrees. However, in conditions that cold, you’ll never see your orchid bloom.
What’s worse is the orchid could sustain frost damage, so try to avoid temps that low if you can help it.
As for upper temperatures, the orchid won’t sweat until the mercury hits 90 degrees. Whether you treat your orchid to a summer afternoon on the porch or keep it indoors in very balmy conditions, don’t let temperatures get that high.
The plant can burn, and you already know how detrimental that can be!
Orchid Humidity – How Much?
Growing an orchid indoors requires plenty of moisture in the air. Set the humidity levels between 40 and 70 percent.
More than likely, you’ll have to induce humidity. Indoor environments like an office cubicle or home contain humidity, but only around 30 to 50 percent.
You can grow an orchid in 40 or 50 percent humidity, but it might not bloom as quickly as 60 or 70 percent humidity.
So what can you do? That’s easy! Use a humidifier to moisten up the orchid’s space.
Fertilizing Your Orchid
When the orchid growing season begins, you can fertilize your plant.
The active growing season gets underway in the summer, although you won’t see most orchids bloom until the fall or possibly the winter. Your orchid might not even show its flowers until the following spring.
Use a balanced houseplant fertilizer with a macronutrient ratio of 20-20-20. The formula should also contain trace elements of micronutrients.
Fertilize every two weeks during the spring and summer. Scale back the fertilizer application to monthly uses in the autumn.
Some indoor gardeners will fertilize their orchids into the winter. If yours is still actively blooming at that point, I don’t see the hurt, but you can also stop fertilizing around this time.
Make sure you follow the fertilizer instructions to the letter. If the instructions tell you to dilute the fertilizer with water before applying, please do so.
Inundating the orchid with too much salt will not help it grow!
When Will My Orchid Bloom?
Orchids traditionally bloom in the winter, right when you need the pick-me-up since most of your plants have entered their dormant stage or aren’t growing as actively.
You will often only see an orchid bloom once a year, although some bloom twice or more. The blooming can last for months, so it’s not like it’s short-lived.
However, it’s not guaranteed that your orchid will bloom.
If the blooming season passes and you don’t see a single flower, check the lighting you’ve provided for your plant. A lack of bright lighting can prevent an orchid from blooming.
Pre-Bloom and Post-Bloom Orchid Care
When an orchid blooms, it’s a wondrous sight to behold. Now is no time to get lax on your care, so make sure you follow these tips.
Pre-Blooming and Blooming Orchid Care
As your orchid enters its blooming stage and begins displaying those bountiful, beautiful flowers, you can do your part to ensure a healthy blooming season.
- If you see any large blooms developing, insert a stake or bamboo pole to support them. You can clip the orchid to the pole or tie it with twine.
- Wait to repot until the blooming season ends.
- Leave your orchid where you put it. Don’t stress it out by moving it now.
- Water the plant consistently following the instructions above. Don’t overwater just because your orchid has begun blooming, as the water saturation will stop its progress.
- Maintain the proper lighting.
- Check the orchid’s temperature and humidity levels each day.
Following these tips can potentially prolong the duration of your orchid’s blooming!
Post-Bloom Orchid Care
Your orchid has stopped blooming. It’s a sad time, but don’t despair. If you keep your orchid in healthy condition, it will bloom again next year.
In the more immediate future, expect some not-so-nice changes. For example, you might notice leaf discoloration such as yellowing. The shininess of the leaves can also fade.
The orchid spike can become brown, and those beloved flower petals you admired for so long will begin wilting and possibly shedding from the plant.
These changes are upsetting but all perfectly normal if this happens after blooming. If you notice these symptoms any other time of the year, you need to revise your plant care immediately.
Just know your orchid hasn’t died. It’s not dying, either. It’s simply dormant.
Don’t panic and begin deadheading, and don’t continue the same care routine either.
Water as much as needed. Don’t fertilize in dormancy. Maintain the proper lighting, temperature, and humidity.
Orchid Pests and Diseases
Keeping your orchid free of pests and diseases will go a long way toward prolonging its life and allowing it to bloom year after year. Here’s all the information on diseases and pests that you need to know.
A whole laundry list of insect species gravitates toward the orchid. Here’s the full list for you:
- Pill bugs
- Scale insects
- Fungus gnats
Avoiding some of these insect species is as simple as growing your orchids indoors rather than out. That should reduce the number of roaches, slugs, and snails.
Keep in mind that smaller insects can and will get into your home or office even if you keep your orchid indoors. So what can you do about it?
You have to confirm an infestation first. Beginner indoor gardeners can often miss pests because they don’t see anything atop the orchid’s leaves.
However, pests will covertly suck sap from the undersides of the leaves, so that’s where you have to lock.
Next, it’s removal time. If you’re especially brave, you can flick non-flying insects like scale bugs off your plant and into a bucket.
I wouldn’t suggest blasting the bugs with a gardening hose only because the orchid doesn’t like too much water.
Instead, you might mist the leaves with a mix of water and liquid dish soap or isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle.
Try neem oil for more serious infestations that haven’t responded to other measures. That should do the trick!
As the orchid can fall to plenty of pests, so too can diseases shorten its lifespan. Let’s go over some of these diseases and their signs.
- White Phalaenopsis ringspot: If yours is a moth orchid, it’s susceptible to developing white Phalaenopsis ringspot. This appropriately-named virus causes white areas to develop across an orchid’s foliage. Thrips can possibly spread this disease, as can the pathogen Tospovirus.
- Phyllosticta leaf spot: The fungal disease Phyllosticta leaf spot is attributed to the Phyllosticta sojicola fungus. The leaves of your orchids will develop dark-colored lesions. The lesions usually look circular but can have a V-shape. Black spots develop on older lesions.
- Mesophyll cell collapse: In low water and air temperatures, Mesophyll cell collapse can transpire. Never water your plant with water that’s colder than 25 degrees or expose your plant to temperatures under 35 degrees.
- Botrytis blight: Gray mold or botrytis blight develops on orchids exposed to overly moist conditions. High humidity or overwatering can cause mold spores to spread. Despite the nickname gray mold, botrytis blight can cause tan or brown spores.
- Root rot: The fungal disease root rot, as I touched on earlier, is caused by overly moist conditions from overwatering or compacted soil. The roots drown in the soil, eventually killing the entire plant.
So what works for plant diseases like these? Well, if you can identify a care mistake that’s causing the issue, remediating the mistake immediately can help.
Fungicides or bactericides might also kill the pathogens, especially if you catch an orchid disease early enough!