Elegant orchids add color and interest to your home and are not always the persnickety houseplants we suppose them to be. Some varieties can tolerate low indoor light and still bloom. And once you learn how to water them properly, you’ll never lose an orchid plant to root rot again.
Of the many species of orchids, phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, are the easiest to grow as houseplants due to their reasonable sunlight demands. If you can grow African violets, then you will be successful with phalaenopsis orchids. Moth orchids have long arching sprays of flowers that stay fresh for up to several months and bloom in winter and early spring.
Another houseplant favorite is cattleya, the classic corsage orchid. Its profuse blooms emerge just once a year in spring or fall. Cattleya need about twice the amount of sunlight as moth orchids, and are perfect on sunny window sills.
Oncidium orchids are called “dancing ladies” because their blooms look like ladies in skirts. They require bright, diffuse light and temps no higher than 80 degrees.
Read on for answers to five of the most popular questions about orchid care:
1. Does my home have enough light for orchids?
Orchids like bright, indirect light. Cool morning sun is best, so choose an east- or north-facing window, if possible. Natural light can be supplemented with grow lights, although a mix of both types is desired for optimal blooms. If the weather is snowy or icy, move orchids away from the window so they don’t catch a chill.
Orchid varieties that tolerate low indoor light conditions are oncidiums, phalaenopsis and paphiopedilums.
2. How often should I fertilize orchids?
Select a water soluble fertilizer designed especially for orchids. Most orchids need to be fed once every three to four weeks. After flowering, reduce watering and feeding until new leaf production begins again. Once new leaves emerge, resume the full schedule of watering and feeding.
3. My orchid dropped its flowers. Will my plant bloom again?
Orchids have periods of dormancy that can last up to nine months. Make sure the plant is adequately fed and watered (not too much, not too little) and receiving enough sunlight. Orchids like indoor temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Encourage your orchid to bloom again by fertilizing it every other week with a liquid fertilizer designed for orchids. Do not water on weeks that you fertilize. Move the plant to a room with nighttime temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit until a new flower spike emerges. Return the plant to its original location and continue watering regularly.
4. What is the best way to pot an orchid?
Orchids are epiphytic, which means that in their native habitat in the rainforest, they attach to trees and climb to the tree canopy for sunlight. If you use ordinary potting soil for orchids, you will kill the plant. Mimic your orchid’s native environment by using orchid potting mix that is made up of woody bark. Terra cotta orchid pots give roots room to grow, but any clay or plastic pot with sufficient drainage will work.
5. How often should I water orchids?
The easiest way to water orchids is by placing ice cubes on the potting media once a week. Let dry slightly before the next watering.
Orchids need humidity in the 40 to 70 percent range. This is much more humid than the average home. The humidity requirement can usually be found in a bathroom with a sunny window. You can also place orchid pots on a tray filled with rocks or gravel that is then filled with water. On the down side, humidity can lead to mildew problems, so be sure to provide plenty of air circulation. If you think orchids may be your new hobby, invest in an ultrasonic humidifier.