Orchid care is different from many other plant care. Maybe you snagged that orchid on an impulse buy at the store because it was just too beautiful to pass up. Or, perhaps, you were given one as a gift. Either way, you now own an orchid. Either way, that orchid is yours, and it is not low maintenance, water-and-go type of plant.
What does orchid care entail? Proper potting and pruning, ideal light conditions, and climate control are four key elements in maintaining a healthy, colorful, blooming, orchid.
However, it’s a little more complex than putting that plant in a pot and giving it a little water here and there. Orchids are notoriously fickle when it comes to cooperating with your efforts to keep it thriving. Keep reading to find out a few helpful hints to keep that orchid alive.
1. A Properly Happy Home for Your Orchid
When you first get your orchid home, you’ll want to re-pot it right away. Generally, orchids are sold in a plastic container with a few holes in the bottom for drainage, but this won’t do the trick for long-term orchid care.
The Right Pot
Proper water is key, so allowing for drainage to run out of the pot is an absolute must. More often than not, the holes at the bottom of the store’s container aren’t all that great. But, when it comes to new pots, you’ve got options.
A plastic pot with ample drainage allowance is an acceptable place for your orchid to grow. Although this material does provide insulation for an orchid’s roots in colder air, it can also retain too much moisture.
Also, orchids are on the taller side, so if you’re really doing a great job of keeping that orchid healthy, the blooms will make it heavy, and it could tip over. Here are a few options for plastic pots that will work for orchids:
- 6 ” Inch Round Clear Plastic Orchid Pot – 5 Pack
- Meshpot 4 Inches Clear Plastic Orchid Pots with Holes (2PCS Clear White)
These are the ideal and most logical option for a few reasons. Clay is a more breathable material, so even though there’s usually only one hole for drainage to get out, the porous clay does allow for evaporation.
Terra cotta and clay containers are also heavier, so they do the trick for plants that are top-heavy, like orchids. These clay pots are some of the options available:
- 8-inch Orchid Pot with Saucer, White
- MUZHI Orchid Pot with Net and Holes (set of 3)
- 6-inch Marble Plant Pot
Both baskets and wooden containers make lovely homes for your orchid, but because they’re typically made out of natural elements. It’s hard for them to withstand the conditions that you have to maintain to keep your orchid alive, especially the humidity. The dampness from the humidity and water from, of course, watering your plant, can cause the basket or box to rot or warp.
But, if you have a basket or box that you’re just dying to use to pot your orchid, you don’t have to get rid of the idea completely. If possible, you can house your orchid in a plastic or clay pot first, then fit it inside the wooden box or basket.
- Sun Bulb Square Cedar Basket, 8″
- Cotton Rope Plant Basket for 10″ Planter/Flower Pot
- BlueMake Woven Seagrass Belly Basket
2. The Right Potting Materials
After you’ve chosen a pot for your orchid, you’ll need to find a medium to put in the pot for your orchid to grow. A major no-no in orchid growing is soil. Regular soil is not natural for orchids. In nature, orchids grow on trees. Not in the ground. Therefore, the soil is just not going to keep your orchid alive.
Here are a few of the favorite ingredients used and mixed among orchid growers:
- Fir bark
- Sphagnum peat
- Tree fern
- Sphagnum moss
- Coconut husk chips
But you’ll want to get just the right combo of these ingredients to make sure your orchid is getting all the health and nutrition it needs for long, healthy life. This Homemade Orchid Soil video can help you get started on the right path.
If you’re not up to the DIY challenge of making your own potting soil for your orchid, you can just buy it. These are a few of the favorites chosen by orchid growers:
Even healthy orchids need a little trim here and there, both the blooms and stems.Before you get started, make sure you have a sharp pair of pruning shears. It’s also very, very important to wash these before and after every trim, especially if you use them with multiple plants.
This will prevent spreading any diseases or plant germs. These are a great option if you don’t have any already: Fiskars 6″ Micro-Tip Pruner, Non-Stick Blades.
Healthy Stem Trim
If your orchid just finished blooming, then it’s time for a healthy trim. The spikes have little triangular-shaped bumps running along them. These are called “nodes.” Find the bloom that’s closest to the bloom and trim just above it. Don’t forget to cut on a diagonal.
Unhealthy Stem Trim
If your orchid spikes are looking sickly, you’ll need to level them off all the way at the base. Stems that have a yellowish or brown tint, they need to be cut right away. Leaving them attached to the rest of the plant can cause further harm to the parts that are still healthy. Take those shears and trim the spike as close to the base of the plant as you can get.
3. Ideal Light for Growing a Happy Orchid
Orchids are very light sensitive. They need both a little and a lot. Your orchid will do best in a room that’s bright and full of natural light, but it has to be indirect. The orchids don’t like the sun shining directly on them.
How to Tell if Your Orchid is Getting the Right Light
- If your orchid is in a spot that receives too much sun, it can burn the leaves. This is known as “leaf scorch.” Leaves will turn red, just as if they were getting a sunburn.
- On the other side of the light, if your orchid’s leaves are darkening, it’s not receiving enough sun.
Your orchid’s leaves should be thick and green. All green. The leaves should also appear to be shiny and have a rubbery feel. These are all qualities in a healthy orchid.
4. Climate Control for a Healthy Orchid
Orchids are very picky when it comes to temperature. They want it just right. Not too hot, and not too cold. If you couldn’t tell from previous mentions, orchids aren’t fans of extremes in any fashion.
The ideal temp for orchids is between 65- and 85-degrees Fahrenheit. However, orchids prefer 50% of their air to be humidity. If you live in a place that has particularly dry air, this can be a bit of a challenge.
Humidity… you either have it, or you don’t. Orchids rely on humid air to keep the colors and texture that they’re known for. This is part of what keeps them healthy. If humidity isn’t exactly natural in your neck of the woods, there are a few things you can do to infuse a little water into the air.
- Some orchid growers suggest keeping your plant in the bathroom. With all of the water usage going on in a smaller, usually enclosed space with good lighting, it does make an ideal spot. However, if you don’t have a decent window in your bathroom, this probably isn’t the best option for you.
- You can also create a water tray to rest your orchid’s pot in. Using any tray or even baking sheet with edges, you can set out a few rocks and pour some water in it. Then, you just rest your orchid’s pot on the rocks. Put this out next to a radiator or window, and the evaporation of the water will add a little humidity back into the air.
- Sometimes, a simple misting of your plant is the easiest option. Just use a spray bottle and some lukewarm water, then give your orchid a daily spritz. But be sure it’s just a little mist, not a soaking. The goal is to infuse humidity into the plant, not douse it with water. Too much water, remember, makes an angry orchid.
Feeding: What Kind of Food Suits an Orchid Best?
Orchids can have any plant fertilizer, as long as it doesn’t have much urea. If you can find a fertilizer that has no urea, that’s even better. Here are a few easy to find and orchid approved snacks to fertilize your plant:
Watering: Weakly, Weekly
A rule of [green] thumb (see what I did there?) that seems to appear on many sites for orchid growth is the idea of feeding your plant “weakly, weekly.” The “weakly, weekly” idea is to feed your orchid a diluted amount of fertilizer each week, instead of a regular amount every month.
Orchids actually survive more on less fertilizer and diluted amounts, rather than overdosing here and there.
More Tips for a Happy, Healthy Orchid
Fertilize After Watering
Before you fertilize your orchid, make sure it’s not dry. If it’s been a long time since you’ve watered, or your orchid seems to dry out quickly, make sure that it looks and feels like its roots are damp.
Giving your orchid any kind of food or fertilizer if the roots are too dry can, and most likely will, burn the roots. This can cause permanent damage to your orchid.
Protect Your Orchid Against Common Plant Diseases
Even though your orchid is a houseplant and won’t be outside in the elements where you would think plant diseases lurk, it can still catch a plant disease. Here are a few that you might want to be on the lookout for, and how you can possibly prevent and even treat them.
Bacterial Soft and Brown Rot
Symptoms of this orchid ailment can be any of the following:
- Spots on the leaves with yellow rings around the outside
- The appearance of water stains on the leaves
- Unpleasant smell
If you think your orchid is showing any of these signs, remove the affected areas right away. Make sure whatever you use to cut away the diseased leaves has been thoroughly washed and sanitized.
You’ll also want to use hydrogen peroxide to gently clean all of the leaves, including ones that are on adjacent plants.
This particular disease is caused by water that sits on the leaves for too long. It can happen if you’re pouring water into your orchid from above, without allowing the leaves to dry.
Bacterial Brown Spot
Although this is possibly the most common orchid disease, it can also be the most dangerous to your orchid. Symptoms of this illness can be:
- Green blisters on the leaves that start to turn brown or black
- The liquid that comes from the blisters
- Spots grow in size
Treatment of this disease is similar to that of the previously mentioned orchid illness. You’ll want to cut away any of the infected spots as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. This time, you’ll want to treat the plant with pesticides or a 10% bleach solution. Be sure to treat the neighboring plants as well, just in case they’ve even exposed.
To prevent this from happening again, try to lower the temperature where your orchid lives, and, if possible, create a less humid environment. This water-borne pathogen loves heat and dampness, so keeping those two out of the equation until your plant has healed is ideal.
Bulb, Stem, and Roots Rot
This orchid disease is also known as “Fusarium Wilt.” It’s just as unpleasant as it sounds. Fusarium is a fungus, and when it infiltrates an orchid, it clogs the plant’s circulation and prevents the flow of any water or moisture. As you can imagine, knowing how moisture-sensitive orchids can be, this can be a very detrimental ailment.
Fusarium Wilt can be spread by using tools for pruning that haven’t been properly cleaned or sanitized. And although you may not know that one plant has been infected, the fungus can still be transferred. Symptoms of this kind of rot can include:
- Yellowing leaves
- Leaves that are thin and brittle
- Wilting and shriveled leaves
- The flower stalk has spots that appear rotten
If you let this go too far, your plant will die within three to six weeks. Even orchids that are slightly infected with this fungus will deteriorate slowly over time. This being said, it’s clearly important to keep an eye on your orchid for these signs.
To remedy the fungal growth, you’ll want to take out the entire stalk that’s been infected. Throw it out and repot the rest of the plant. But make sure you’re only repotting plants that you’re 100% sure haven’t been affected. Also, as you’re trimming away the diseased parts, sanitize your tools after each and every cut.