How to Keep Your Orchid Happy
You don’t forget your first orchid. Mine was a pretty moth orchid with pale pink blooms that floated in mid-air. It survived 18 months, flowered twice and then started to shrivel. I’ve killed every orchid since.
If that’s your experience, take heart. You basically have two options: Marry someone who knows how to grow orchids (that’s what I did) — or focus on fine-tuning your care. Tweak your orchid technique with a few of these easy, practical tips.
Learn When to Water
I killed my orchids with kindness — too much water. This is the No. 1 reason orchids die. When you buy an orchid, it’s usually planted in something like fir bark, stones, charcoal or some other substance that doesn’t hold water. This means you need to water regularly. But you also want the potting medium to almost dry out completely before you water. Sound tricky? It is. The best way to know when to water is to wiggle a fingertip into the potting material and feel for moisture. If your orchid is growing in sphagnum moss, don’t water until the top feels dry.
When you water, make sure water drains freely and runs out the drainage holes. Pour water across the entire surface of the potting medium — but don’t get it onto the plant where the leaves emerge. Last but not least, never let an orchid sit in water.
Get the Light Right
Different orchids need different amounts of light to thrive and flower. In general, an east or west facing window works well. For moth orchids, lower light is ideal, like a spot near an east-facing window. Cattleya orchids, also easy to grow, open into classic corsage blooms. They need more light and can stand direct sun from an east- or west-facing window.
Raise the Humidity
Another secret to growing a gorgeous orchid is high humidity (50 percent or higher). In the wild, orchids grow as epiphytes, perched in tree crotches and absorbing moisture through air roots, those greenish-white stem-looking things that dangle from the pot. Most home environments have humidity around 40 percent, except in winter, when it drops as low as 30 percent. Increase humidity by running a humidifier, grouping plants together or setting pots on a tray of pebbles filled with water to just below the surface of the stones.
Orchids like temperature differentials — one temperature for daytime and another (usually cooler) at night. Your orchid’s plant tag should state what it needs. To provide a cooler night, shift orchids to an unused bedroom kept on the cool side or closer to a window where you leave the curtains open.
Orchids need regular fertilizer. The easiest thing is to use an orchid food that you mix with water, following package directions. Orchid roots are extremely sensitive to over-fertilizing. More is not better when it comes to orchid food.
When orchids bloom, slightly lower daytime temperatures help flowers last longer. On moth orchids, prune the flower spike after blooms die and more flowers will form. Cut the stem just above a node, which looks like a little brown line on the stem. If orchids flower but don’t rebloom the next year and are otherwise healthy, increase light levels.
One of the best resources for orchid growing is the American Orchid Society.