My blog site is primarily dedicated to growing tropical and subtropical plants, whether as a houseplant or in the garden

Orchid Plant Care!

Orchid Plant Care!

Intro to Growing Orchids!

I’ve been asked by so many people how to properly care for orchids and get them to re-bloom.  There is a common misconception that they are difficult to grow.  Contrary to what many people think, they are tough as nails and taking care of an orchid is simple once you know what they like!  Most people are familiar with the ubiquitous Phalaenopsis orchid, or “moth orchid.”  It is the one pictured above with the white flowers.  This particular one is one of my plants that I’ve rebloomed.  They come in a huge variety of colors.  Phalaenopsis orchids are available everywhere these days:  grocery stores, Home Depot, Lowes, etc.  I would recommend starting with a moth orchid.   When most people think of an orchid, this is the one that pops into their head, but there are literally hundreds of orchid genera and THOUSANDS of orchid species.  Here’s a quick tasty orchid tidbit for you (pun intended), the vanilla bean comes from an orchid!  

First off, let me tell you what NOT to do with your moth orchid!  For the love of God and the baby Jesus, please do not just “add 3 ice cubes” [insert scream here] regardless what the tag says!  This has always made my blood boil.  The majority of orchids come from tropical and subtropical areas of the Earth, and they have never met an ice cube or icicle in their lifetime!  The ice can damage the roots if in direct contact, and you won’t get a good soaking of the potting medium with just 3 ice cubes.  You’ll likely get dry, dead zones in the potting media and not achieve a consistent soaking.  There actually are orchids that are native to areas that freeze (including Ohio!) but not the ones that you commonly see at the store, and definitely not moth orchids.  Orchids are among the largest plant families on Earth and there are varieties that are native to every continent except Antarctica!   But for moth orchids and other exotic orchids that you’ll see…just say HELL NO to the ice cubes.  I’ll describe how I water my orchids below.  Keep reading.  

Picking Your First Moth Orchid

When you pick your first Moth Orchid, try and choose one that doesn’t have all the buds open.  This will ensure that the flowers will last longer.  If all the flowers have opened, you have no idea how long they’ve been open.  I grow many kinds of orchids, but one of the reasons I love moth orchids is that one plant can easily bloom for a good 3-5 months!  They can quickly become an obsession.

When you take your orchid home, I like to place it on display anywhere inside the house. After it’s done blooming, I will return the plant to its permanent home by the window.  For a display area though, just pick an area that isn’t in any sunshine or too much heat (or too cold!  Keep it above 55 degrees…remember, they’re tropical).

When it is done blooming, you can do one of two things.  I like to cut the entire flower stalk complete off and then return the plant to a window.  You can also cut the flowering stalk off one or two nodes below where the bottom flower was, and sometimes they will start branching off and grow new buds.  You’ll want to cut right above the node or little bump that you’ll see on the stalk.  I normally don’t do this because I like to cut the whole stem off so that the plant can start regaining it’s energy from blooming.

Where Should You Place Your Moth Orchid?

I find that eastern exposure windows are great for moth orchids!  They are great for many types of orchids…Place it pretty close to the window, without touching the actual glass.  The light intensity drops dramatically as you get further from the window.  You can grow moth orchids in other exposures such as west or south, but you should shield them from too much sun otherwise they will burn!  Either draw your blinds or a sheer curtain. Filtered bright light works great.

Watering & Fertilizing Your Moth Orchid

This is where most people don’t know what to do!  Let’s learn now how to care for an orchid.  In most indoor environments, watering your moth orchid once a week is sufficient.  Consistency is key!  I take my orchids to the sink every weekend and give them a good soaking in the sink.  Use tepid water.  REALLY SOAK THE HELL OUT OF THEM!  Moth orchids, like many types of orchids, are epiphytes.  Epiphytes grow above ground, derive their moisture from the air and rain, and usually grow on another plant, such as a tree branch or trunk.  If you look carefully, you’ll notice that moth orchids do not grow in potting soil!  You will kill a moth orchid if you repot it into potting soil.  They need a highly aerated mix.  They are most commonly grown in a chunky bark mix or in sphagnum moss.  

If your pot looks really dry, soak it first with plain, tepid water.  Then water it with a diluted fertilizer.  A good rule on fertilizing is “weakly, weekly!”  You can use many different types.  I like to use a balanced fertilizer and actually have had success with the Miracle-Gro liquid African Violet Plant Food.  I follow the directions and use that every week.  If you have a fertilizer that isn’t meant to use at every watering, use 1/4 strength and water with this every week.  You can also use a balanced fertilizer during the growing season, and then a bloom booster fertilizer (contains more Phosphorus) when it’s bloom season, but let’s not get too fancy yet!  Start simple.

If you insert your orchid pot into another decorative pot with no holes, just make sure that your orchid never sits in water!  Epiphytic orchids like moth orchids enjoy FABULOUS drainage in nature.  Get a clue from how plants grow in nature, and you will be successful.

Getting Your Moth Orchid to Rebloom

Your moth orchid should rebloom once a year, and like I mentioned, the bloom period will be 3-5 months!  Occasionally you might get a bitchy orchid (they are just like people!) and it won’t rebloom faithfully every year.   The blooming may be more sporadic.  Don’t give up.  My solution is to buy more orchids and grow your collection until you get more confidence!

Summering your orchid outside does WONDERS for orchids or any plant.  This is when your moth orchid should grow a leaf or two.  It may not seem like a lot, but the leaves are huge.  Again, just make sure that it never sits in any water for any period of time or it will rot.  Keep it in a very shady spot outdoors.  Wait until the night time temperatures are consistently a minimum of 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit before even thinking of putting it outdoors.  If in doubt, wait!

Also, a drop in night-time temperatures of 10-15 degrees or more between day and night temperatures will help trigger your orchid to re-bloom.  Keep your orchid outside until late summer/fall and bring them inside when the nighttime temperatures start to dip below the 50s.  Bring them in before they go below 50 though.  Then return to its normal window.  This drop in temperature outside should be enough to start a new bloom spike to grow in the fall/winter and should bloom in the winter/spring.  Some of them will choose to bloom whenever the hell they want though so don’t be shocked if they bloom during another period!

The question I get the most is “What do I do after my orchid is done blooming?”  Click HERE to read my blog post on exactly that topic.  Also, when you ready to repot your moth orchid, click HERE to read my blog post on when and how to repot.

That’s it for now!  This should be enough to get your started.   And beware, because it may become an obsession…