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Category: Orchid care

Basic orchid care pointers

Ann's Orchid in need of repotting

I love my orchids. I love the colours of their blossoms, the way a fresh flower looks like it’s covered in glitter. I feel happy when their leaves are rigid and shiny, and I love the stillness that my 10 minutes of orchid checking gives me everyday.

A while back, my friend Ann got given an orchid as a house warming present. She was rather scared that she was just going to kill it off, like she had with previous orchids, so she asked me for some pointers.

Most people buy (or are given) Phalaenopsis orchids as the most common ones in the shops. Their blooms are beautiful and, despite the myths to the contrary, are the easiest of all the Orchidaceae genera to care for.

The most common reason why people “fail at orchids” is that they treat them like a normal house plant: park them on a sunny windowsill, water them every couple of days “so they don’t dry out” and often leave them in the puddle of standing water that collects in the base of the pretty ceramic pot they come in.

However, this is exactly the opposite of what they need. They need minimal fussing, dappled sunlight and only a sparing amount of water. This is because they naturally grow attached to the bark of trees in the canopy of the Rain Forests, where life is generally humid but not very out-and-out wet.

Importantly, as well as water, their roots also need both light and air, as Phalaenopsis’ photosynthesise with both leaves and roots. Orchids ship in clear pots for this reason. (Although, some companies pack their orchids with moss into a rubbish flexible PVC pot – these orchids will need re-potting as soon as they finish flowering, as the moss will be stopping air getting to the roots).

Because the roots need air, any standing water can very quickly cause root rot.

The plant usually remains in bloom for ~3 months, the flowers die off then fall off one by one. This is totally normal and not a sign that the plant is dying at all. Also, the very bottom leaf turning yellow and detaching on occasion is also totally normal, this is simply natural wastage, usually in response to humidity levels.

So, this translates at home to:

  1. Usual household temperatures, anything from 16°-28° is generally good. The occasional overnight drop down to ~10° will cause new flower spikes, but consistent cold is bad.
  2. Either a north facing windowsill, or a windowsill that generally doesn’t get more than 2 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  3. A “Drench watering” every other week (or weekly if it’s very warm) – Hold the pot under a running tap – tepid water, not cold –  for a minute or so, also running the water over any aerial roots, then leave to drain totally. Ensure that minimal water remains in the pot, do this by tipping the pot at an angle, this will drain the water that has collected at the bottom of the pot.
    Getting water on the leaves isn’t an issue, but ensure that you don’t get water in the crown. If you do, remove the puddle immediately with the corner of a paper towel. Crown rot will happen if you leave the puddle in there.
  4. Not moving them around too much – picking them up and plonking them down too often “just to peek at them” is bad. Visual inspection and touching the leaves to check rigidity is good, but you only really want to move them around to water them as above.
  5. If you notice the bark drying out quickly, or your house is not very humid then mist them every other day as well.  Leaving them above the water line on a water filled pebble tray is also good.
  6. On visual inspection, you are checking that the bark is not totally dried out (generally, condensation on the inside of the pot should be visible right up until the day before drench watering) and the leaves are rigid –  if the leaves are floppy, the plant is dehydrated – Either mist the plant and the bark heavily, or consider a drench watering. If they are wrinkled, and water is being supplied on a regular basis then the roots are not supplying the leaves with water for some reason. That’s the subject of another article!
  7. Talking to your plants when you inspect them is totally allowed, even encouraged! Giving living things your total focus give you happiness and keeps you in the now. There is also documented science that plants that are spoken to nicely grow better. 🙂

There are “advanced class pointers” around feeding, re-potting and how to spot issues, which I’ll be writing on in coming weeks,  but using these basic tips will keep your orchid thriving and blooming for many years to come. Following these pointers, Ann’s orchid is very happy, and has thrown both a new leaf and a new flower spike!

Have I inspired you to get an orchid, or to start growing things on your windowsill? I do hope so. Leave me a comment below, and we can start connecting those dots.

Catch you next week!