Orchid Care: Watering, Light, Fertilizer, and Tips

How to Care for Orchids After Blooming

By Cynthia Van Hazinga
December 22, 2016
Orchid Care

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Orchid care is easier than you might think these days. We’ve highlighted how to care for your orchid, covering the basics for watering, fertilizing, lighting, re-potting, and more.

Orchids may seem delicate, however these beautiful flowers are long-blooming and long-lived, if you care for them well. Few pleasures in gardening surpass the thrill of seeing orchids thrive and bloom.

Once rare and expensive, orchids now outsell every other houseplant, surpassing even African violets, chrysanthemums, and poinsettias. This is because modern cloning techniques allow for mass production of plants, and cultivation that used to take 7 years from seed to bloom now takes 2 years.

We’ve all seen orchids at supermarkets and home stores and wondered if they’re a wise purchase. Absolutely! Inexpensive orchids are no less likely to thrive. Just choose a strong, healthy-looking plant and give it plenty of TLC.


Orchid Care Basics

In their native habitats, orchids grow like weeds, but they are inclined to homesickness as houseplants. For best results, provide the conditions they prefer. Some species have individual preferences, but all need a balance of light, air, water, food, rest, and, from time to time, a new pot in order to thrive—all detailed here.

Orchid Light

Without adequate light, expect lush growth but no flowers. Direct sunlight can burn orchids, but insufficient light is the most common reason for failure to bloom. Leaf color is a good indicator of the amount of light a plant is getting:

  • Healthy orchids have bright green leaves.
  • Dark green leaves signal that a plant is not getting enough light.
  • Yellowish-green or red leaves indicate that a plant is getting too much light.
  • If you suspect that your orchid is exposed to too much light, feel the leaves. If they feel noticeably warmer than the surrounding air, move the plant to a location with less intense brightness.

Orchid Air Circulation

Orchids must also have fresh, circulating air. In the wild, continual gentle breezes are vital for their survival. Air in motion helps to evaporate stagnant water, a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria that are trapped during watering. Create gentle breezes: Open windows in the summer and use an oscillating fan in winter. Without ventilation, orchids eventually die from rot, lack of carbon dioxide, or infection.


Orchid Watering

Experts say that more orchids are killed by incorrect watering than die from any other cause. Orchids should be watered just as they dry out. Overwatering causes rot, which kills orchid roots. In general, douse plants early in the day with tepid water once a week in winter and twice a week in warm weather. Water until the water runs out of the pot freely; this also flushes out any naturally occurring salts. When indoor air is dry, spray orchids with tepid water to keep the humidity up.

Orchid Fertilizer (Food)

As a general rule, fertilize orchids every 2 weeks in spring and summer and once a month in fall and winter. Use a 30-10-10 fertilizer diluted to half-strength or orchid food. Approaching bloom, use a balanced fertilizer, such as 20-20-20.

Orchid Dormancy (Rest)

Many orchids need a period of dormancy, or rest, generally in winter. During this time, plants strengthen their root systems, grow leaves, and stockpile energy for their next growth spurt. Typically, an orchid can rebloom every 8 to 12 months.

Orchid Repotting

When an orchid spills out of its pot or its growing medium is reduced to crumbs, repot at the beginning of the next growth cycle (typically the spring).

Never pot an orchid in soil. All orchids need a lot of air around their roots. The best medium is one that is very light, porous, and fast-draining, such as fir bark. Most garden stores can supply fine, medium, or coarse bark particles, which are usually mixed with perlite, peat moss, and horticultural charcoal. Large plants with older roots do better in coarser mediums.

Select a pot large enough to allow an inch of space around the roots. Inspect the roots and cut off any that are blackened, hollow, spongy, or damaged. Hold the plant upright in the new pot and fill in around it with new potting material, tamping down gently, to about an inch from the top of the pot. Water well and stake the plant to keep it steady. Green bamboo and curly willow make good-looking stakes.


Orchid Types

The orchid family is one of the very largest in the realm of flowering plants: More than 25,000 species grow naturally, on every continent except Antarctica. The world’s richest concentration of orchid varieties is found in the tropics—mostly in Asia and Central and South America. In most of North America, orchids must be grown indoors (exceptions include natives such as the lady’s slipper).

Some orchids have an amazing fragrance. Among the most sweet-smelling are …

Angranthes grandalena: sweet jasmine

Brassavola nodosa: freesia or lily-of-the-valley

Cattleya walkeriana and hybrids: cinnamon and vanilla

Maxillaria tenuifolia: roasted coconut

Miltoniopsis santanaei: roses

Neofinetia falcata: jasmine

Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’: vanilla and chocolate

Phalaenopsis bellina: freesia with a touch of lemon

P. violacea: spicy, cinnamon 

Rhynchostylis gigantea: powerful citrus

Zygopetalum: hyacinth    

If you grow houseplants, see our plant care tips for other popular indoor plants.

Reader Comments

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Do you cut the flower stem back after all the flowers have died off? Therefore just leaving the leaves?

Repotting orchids

I can not find anything
that shows good sign for repotting.

gardening signs...?

The Editors's picture

If you are referring to the zodiacal gardening signs, the days for certain tasks, those are in the 2017 Almanac on page 244 (plant, transplant, graft).


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