How to Care for Orchids 101

So, you’re ready to stop killing your orchids. And you’re looking for the magic recipe? Take the Orchid Care Oath. Repeat After Me: I Will Not Kill My Orchids.

STOP OVERWATERING! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Learning how to care for orchids is not difficult. But most new growers kill their plants with kindness.

A gorgeous Miltonia hybrid from The Orchid Zone

A gorgeous Miltonia hybrid from The Orchid Zone

For new growers the key to success with these plants is simply to remember that orchids are different than your other houseplants. And as such require different care. Once you latch on to this concept you should see a marked increase in your success at keeping these beauties alive.

How Does Mother Nature Care for Orchids?

Look at one of your favorite beauties in the jungle. You will probably find it hanging on to some tree or rock for dear life. It’s roots intertwined around any attachment it can find exposed for all the world to see. The humidity is higher than a kite, there is a breeze blowing all the time and after it rains those exposed roots dry out quickly after each shower.

If you find any soil at all around our jungle orchid’s roots it will be a little humus that has accumulated in the protected crevices.

Taking Care of Orchids the Contrary Human Way

Humans being contrary (at least I am) have to do things differently. First we stick them in a pot full of rocks or bark or god knows what. Then we bring them into our dry home and expect them to toe the line and show off their beauty.

The SECRET of Orchid Care

A Zagopetalum hybrid

A Zagopetalum hybrid

The trick to being a good grower is reconciling this difference between nature’s way and our way.

An you ask how do I do that? Maybe you are one of that disgusting group of people that just has no problem caring for an orchid. If this is you, go look at the pretty orchid pictures, you don’t need any help and your magic touch just makes me jealous.

Ok, those of you left know we have to work a bit to make our little jewels happy.

Now as you can see, we humans are doing it all backwards. We have the bottom of the plant too wet and the top too dry. Remember in nature the plant is surrounded by high humidity and the roots dry out quickly.

Saving the Roots

Yes we will start from the bottom and go up. You have to keep the mess down in the house so be sure and use a pot (this really makes your spouse happy). Now we need something in the pot. It must hold air and just a little bit of moisture. That means NO SOIL!

One of the Dracula Orchids

One of the Dracula Orchids

The best potting media to use, especially if you’re new to orchid growing, is chunks of bark. The bark chunks have lots of voids to allow the air to flow around the roots and bark holds just a little water…yes, bark is almost perfection.

How often do we need to water? Often enough to keep the plant from drying out but not so often that you rot the roots or in more useful terms about twice a week in the summer and every 7-10 days in the winter. The conditions in your house, the size of the pot and the species you are growing all have an effect on the watering interval. Be sure and check the individual culture sheet for the genera you are growing.

Now that we have a handle on the watering let’s talk about fertilizing. How often and how much?

Start with the old axiom: Fertilize weakly weekly. Put in useful terms, fertilize at every other watering at about half the recommended strength. When using fertilizer always error on the weak side. This is especially true of fertilizers you are using are not formulated strictly for orchids.

And ALWAYS water the plant before you fertilize…never put fertilizer solution on dry roots. If you do you won’t have to worry about those roots any more.

Orchids, Growing them Jungle Style

Now that humidity problem is just a little tougher. Our beautiful home conspires against us and our little beauties. The heater and the air conditioner are both major reducers of humidity in the typical home.

Now jungles don’t have heater vents or air conditioner vents, so your orchid has never learned to handle this situation. The solution is easy, keep your plants out of the drafts caused by heater and air conditioner vents. Watch out for those ceiling fans, as the down draft from a ceiling fan can dry out any plant before you can say OH NO. And for parboiled orchid nothing works better than the top of the television (Isn’t it great that the new TVs are to narrow to put orchids on).

Now just to confuse you. In the jungle where the plants are the happiest you will find a nice breeze blowing. The hint here is on our warm summer days, the gentle breeze that you find so enjoyable is also a treat for your orchids. Try a small fan but direct the breeze away from your plants. The ideal is to draw the air slowly over the orchids into the fan so as not to dry the plants out to quickly.

Your job is to find those special spots in the house where your plants are the happiest. Lacking this (which is normal) provide for a higher humidity environment with the use of humidity trays, or grouping the plants together or?

How Much Light Do Orchids Care For?

The species Paphiopedilum delenatii

The species Paphiopedilum delenatii

The simple answer is enough but not to much. I know, I know you are getting dizzy from all these vague answers. But there is a lot of truth in them. Every genus and species is a little different in their light requirements. The individual care sheets can help you with how much is enough. But you should have a feel for when things are going well. Getting the light right is pretty easy.

Lets start with the gorgeous plant that just won’t bloom. The leaves are a dark rich green and look great don’t they? Yup a great looking foliage plant. But if you want to see flowers you have to get rid of that pretty foliage. What! You say. It’s true a pretty dark green plant is a lazy plant. To get those beautiful flowers you have to make that plant work. Increase the light a little bit and watch the foliage. You’re looking for a light green, a green with just the slightest hint of yellow or red in the background. Now stand back and watch those flowers pop out. Be careful as a sudden increase in light levels and burn the leaves and set the plant back…so just a little more light at a time…sneak up on it!

The Hot & Cold of Orchid Growing for Beginners

What temperature does my plant like? This is about the easiest question to answer. For many species if you’re happy, they’re happy. While this works for many of the orchids available in retail stores today there are exceptions. And it behooves you to check further about the species that you are growing.

Orchid Care at Home

Growing in the home is not always easy. But it’s not that tough if you just pay attention to a few details. As you can see there is no right way. Do your best to avoid the wrong ways and you will be surprised how well things can work out.

There are many different roads to successful orchid growing. This simple guide will help you get started. As you gain experience and learn to “read” your orchid plants the growing options expand greatly. This ability to read your plants will allow you to develop your own recipe.

Orchid Plant Care 102: The Book

Orchids for Dummies By Steven A. Frowine

Orchids for Dummies By Steven A. Frowine

If you are relativity new to orchid growing the best book that I can recommend is <strong>Orchid Growing for Dummies</strong> by Steven A. Frowine. A very easy to understand book that covers what needs to be covered for a beginner and a little extra to satisfy your curiosity (and how I hate the for Dummies title). The book is divided into four parts:

  • Welcoming Orchids into Your Life
  • The Basics of Orchid Parenthood
  • The Best Orchids for Rookies
  • The Part of Tens

Mr. Frowine writing style keeps your attention and makes reading his books and enjoyable experience (the learning just kinda sneaks in on you). I know, he is more subtle then me.

I went to Amazon.com and lifted this little piece where Mr. Frowine writes about the book and says a little about himself.

…If you follow the steps I lay out in this book, you will grow orchids that thrive. Everything in this book comes from many years of my own trials and errors, not from theories about what should happen or what orchids might need. Sure, I’m a professional horticulturist, but probably more importantly, I’m a hands-on, sometimes fanatical, home orchid grower…

If you want to find out more here is the <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Orchids-Dummies-Steven-Frowine/product-reviews/0764567594/ref=dp_db_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1″>link to some other reviews about the book on Amazon</a>.

The book is really worth reading and if you are not ready to buy the book I bet you know where the library is!

How to Take Care of Orchids 103: The Video

After a loong search of the internet for a video on basic orchid care (well, I did have to watch them…tough work, you know) I found a little gem.

This video is titled Basic Orchid Care. The narrator is Sonia Uyterhoeven, Gardener for Public Programs at the New York Botanical Garden. The video runs just shy of four minutes. I know you can sit still for four whole minutes. Go ahead, relax and enjoy the video!

Basic Orchid Care

Click on the image above to open the video in a lightbox on this page.

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