Beginner's Guide to Growing Orchids At Home

INTRODUCTION

A lot of people are attracted to the idea of growing orchids at home, enticed by the natural exotic beauty of orchid blooms.

Did you know? Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the planet. There are more than 30,000 species and 200,000 hybrid species.

Orchids are found everywhere, not just in the tropics. They grow in the arctic tundra, the wilderness, swamps, and rain forests.

Different types of orchids grow in different conditions.


CHOOSING YOUR FIRST ORCHID

The secret to successfully growing an orchid (and making it bloom!) is you being able to mimic its natural habitat as closely as possible.

Tropical orchids would have to be planted in moss and bark chips in a humid environment. Terrestrail orchids like well-drained soil. Hardy orchids grow prefer the outdoors with the occasional rainy and chilly weather.

Now, consider what environment you can provide. Fortunately, there are many orchid varieties and hybrid species that can be happy growing on a sunny windowsill or under filtered lights.

Phalaenopsis hybrids are called beginner orchids because they're a good choice for newbies and can rebloom in windowsill conditions. Other types that grow well at home are Moth Orchids and Cattleyas. Check those out when you go shopping for your first plant.

Phalaenopsis orchids or beginner orchids

Phalaenopsis orchids or beginner orchids

Here's what you need to ask the nursery or your orchid grower when you buy your first orchid:

  1. Ask for an orchid variety that is adapted to your weather and area. 
  2. Make sure that you are not getting a fussy type of orchid. 
  3. Ask for the most mature plant as younger plants are fussy too.
  4. Pick a blooming orchid so that you know when it blooms and how the flowers look like.

Orchids generally bloom once a year so if you buy an orchid in bloom, you'll know when to expect it to bloom next year. If you take care of your orchid properly, it will bloom more than once. 

Here are some other variables to take into account:

REPOTTING

Image Credit: ThriftyFun

Image Credit: ThriftyFun

Don't repot a flowering orchid. Enjoy your bloom and after, that's when you can repot. Here's how:

  1. Use a plastic pot so you can easily detach and cut it off later on.
  2. Fill the bottom with an inch of foam peanuts.
  3. Place the orchid inside the pot and fill in with bark chunks and other potting mixture.
  4. Check that the crown of your orchid is just below the top of your pot. Use wire to keep in place if you have to. Later on, your orchid will grow new roots and anchor itself to the pot.
  5. Orchids need airflow in their roots so repot when aeration becomes reduced or compromised. Otherwise, orchids hate being disturbed.

LIGHTING

Image Credit: Gardening Know How

Image Credit: Gardening Know How

Light is the most important thing for orchids. Generally speaking, orchids are light-hungry plants. Find out if your orchid likes high, medium, or low light.

If they like high light, place your orchid in unobstructed sunlight. A clear window facing south with 6-8 hours of sun is ideal. Orchids that like high light include angraecums and vandas. 

If they like medium light, place your orchid in a bright area with additional reflected light. Avoid direct sunlight. Orchids that like medium light are phragmipediums, oncidiums, and dendrobiums.

If they like low light, place a low-light orchid in the shaded window of your home. Orchids that like low light are Lady Slipper and Jewel Orchid.

If the leaves of your orchids start to change — lightening or darkening — it is usually a sign that they are either not getting enough sunlight or are getting too much of it. Move your plants around until you find the best spot for them. 

For more light, you can use a reflective Mylar sheet. For less light, you can use a sheer curtain. You can also use artificial lighting for the winter months.

TEMPERATURE

Most orchids that are being sold will do well in temperatures ranging from 50 to 85 degrees. If you buy your orchids from a local nursery, they should be adapted to your climate and temperature.

WATERING

Image Credit: My First Orchid

Image Credit: My First Orchid

Water once a week. This is applicable for drought-resistant orchids like dendrobiums, oncidiums, and cattleyas. For miltonias, paphiopedilums, and phragmipediums, water these every 4 to 5 days. 

You will notice that when you water your orchid, most of it just leaks out. This is natural. You can submerge the pot in a bucket of water for a few seconds or run water through in your kitchen faucet. Just make sure to drain out excess water.

HUMIDITY

Tropical orchids grow well in humidity levels ranging from 60-80%. This falls during winter though and you can make up for it by misting your plant, using a gravel-filled tray, or using a humidifier.

NOURISHMENT

If you think you need to repot your orchid in a pot of soil, think again! Most orchids are epiphytes! This means they grow on other plants or rocks. Unlike the other plants in your garden, orchids don't do well with soil. What they need is a loose and aerated potting mix. They need room to breathe and draw water from the air. 

While orchids aren't so hot for soil, you do need fertilizer to get them to grow healthy and a-blooming. Use fertilizer when your orchid is in active growth. Use a diluted liquid fertilizer. A lot of orchid growers use Peter's 20-20-20. Or, you can do a 30-10-10 dilution, 10-10-10 or 10-10-30. (Best to get this info from where you purchased your orchid.)


COMMON BEGINNER MISTAKES

windowsill orchid.jpeg

No blooms and leaves that are yellowing, darkening, or wrinkling are signs of orchid distress. Make sure to avoid these newbie mistakes:

  • Overwatering
  • Soaking
  • Direct sunlight
  • No airflow around roots; reduced aeration
  • Low humidity
  • Not enough 
  • Too much soil 
  • Not enough fertilizer
  • Repotting when in bloom
  • Wrong orchid

ORCHID RECOMMENDATIONS 

  • Don't know when to stop watering? Lady's slipper or Cypripedioideae
  • Tend to forget about pet plants? Cattleya, Moth Orchid (or Phalaenopsis), Dendrobium
  • Warm house? Vanda, Moth Orchid (or Phalaenopsis),
  • Cold house? Cymbidium, Pleurothallis, Restrepia, Odontoglossum, Masdevallia
  • Warm house? Lydisia, Oncidium
  • Dark house? Jewel orchids, Paphiopedilums
  • Dry air in house? Cattleya, Dendrobium
  • No big windowsills? Mini-cattleyas, Restrepia, Pleurothallis, miniature moth orchids
  • Bad with plants? No green thumb? Moth orchid, Dendrobium
  • For pet owners (can remove toxic agents from air): Pink Rock Orchid (Dendrobium), Moth Orchid