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How to Care for Orchids

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Six Methods:Selecting orchidsWatering and feedingPottingPruning and careAir ventilationIndoor orchid


Orchids have long been a symbol of love and beauty. Grown by enthusiasts for their
sheer elegance and fascination, they're also favored as either a corsage worn on the
dress, or as a wristband at many proms and special events. On many occasions, from
weddings to conferences, sprays of orchids grace the tables as decoration.

With over 750 genera of orchids, over 30,000 hybrids and more introduced every year,
there is a huge variety of orchids to choose from for the orchid enthusiast. Indeed,
orchids grow in every continent but Antarctica, so a grower can choose between native
orchids or introduced ones, depending on availability and suitability. And while the true
orchid enthusiast could (and should) spend considerable time poring through entire
tomes on the growth and care of orchids, the first time grower needs to begin
somewhere. In this article, you'll learn the basics of caring for orchids that are generally
robust and easy to grow. Once you've grasped these basics, if you still find your passion
for orchids intensifying, you'll be able to explore the more challenging orchid varieties as
you gain confidence.

Method 1 of 6: Selecting orchids


Find the right orchid for your home. The proper care of orchids starts with choosing
plants that are suited to your particular environment. The orchids discussed in this
article are suggested for growing in the home because of their adaptability to most
conditions, ease of growing, ready availability, and their beautiful flowers. If you do find
yourself wanting to extend beyond the easier varieties later, it's recommended that you
do plenty of research into the specific needs of the more delicate and fussy varieties of
orchids. Some things to bear in mind when choosing an orchid include:
 Will the orchid have enough space when fully grown? Or will it need to be moved
somewhere else? Some orchids can be massive when fully grown and are best placed
in a greenhouse.
 Can you provide the temperature requirements that the orchid needs? Orchids can be
divided into three types by temperature requirements––cool, intermediate and warm,
meaning that orchids require certain minimum night temperatures in order to grow
 Do you have a greenhouse or conservatory if needed? Many orchids will thrive best in
such an environment than simply sitting in the house or back porch. If you don't, prefer
the orchids that like being indoors (see list below).


Buy flowering plants. The plants that already have flowers are a great buy, because it
can take up to five years for a seedling to produce a flower. Unless you're exceedingly
patient, or already have a greenhouse full of orchids, you probably don't want to wait
that long.

3. 3

Consider your growing conditions. Select an orchid based on the growing conditions
in your home. This matters because each type of orchid has different requirements,
dependent on the orchid's origins. Always read the label accompanying the instructions
to make sure the plant is suitable for your home and garden conditions. Here are some
common species of orchids that usually grow well in the basic home environment:

 Phalaenopsis: Usually referred to as moth orchids, these are elegant orchids for indoor
use. Their long sprays of colorful flowers stay fresh for months. Flowering begins in
winter or early spring. This orchid generally needs less light than cattleyas (see next)
and does well in most indoor conditions.
 Cattleya: These orchids are most easily recognized for their use in corsages and for
having a flower that can last from two to six weeks. They usually flower once a year
during spring or fall, but need twice the amount of light than moth orchids to do well
inside the home.
 Dendrobium: These beautiful orchids produce long, graceful sprays of flowers that are
typically white, lavender or a combination of the two, during fall and winter. Their flowers
can remain open about three to four weeks, and they are one of the easiest plants to
care for.
 Paphiopedilum: The popular name for this orchid is Lady's Slipper, because the third
petal is modified to form a pouch that looks similar to a lady's slipper. The pouch
functions by trapping insects so that they are forced to climb up past the staminode,
behind which they collect or deposit pollen. The leaves are quite often attractive with
green or mottled green and white colors. These orchids require bright light, but no direct
sun. At home, an east, west or shaded south window is best (for the northern
hemisphere). Foliage should be naturally semi-erect and firm, not drooping. Room
temperature is ideal for their growth.
Method 2 of 6: Watering and feeding

Learn how to water your orchids. Orchidaceae are one of the largest families of
flowering plants, and as such there are many sub-families, or variations, and they have
different watering requirements. What might be parching to one species risks drowning
another. Generally, water your orchids every five to twelve days depending on what
type of orchid you have, what the temperature is, and the time of year—–or more in
summer, less in winter. While your nursery adviser or florist will be able to give you
specific information, here is a general guide to help you determine the best watering
course for your orchids:
 Keep these varieties evenly moist (not wet) at all times:

 Paphiopedilum
 Miltonia
 Cymbidium
 Dontoglossum.
 Keep these varieties evenly moist during active growth, but let them dry out between
waterings when they are not:
 Cattleya
 Oncidium
 Brassia
 Dendrobium
 Keep these varieties almost dry between waterings:
 Phalaenopsis
 Vanda
 Ascocenda
 Take care to avoid wetting the leaves when you water your orchids. If they do get wet,
gently dry them with a tissue or cotton swab.

Maintain the media. Remove the inner pot from the decorative one, place in the sink or
in the bathtub. Add orchid food to a watering can or container, and completely water the
base. Allow the water to completely drain before replacing it into the decorative pottery
planter. Never allow it to sit in water, as it will kill the plant.

 Note: Epiphytic (branch-growing) orchids are not planted in earth like the terrestrial
orchid varieties, but in the shell of a coconut, bark or cork. Or, they can be grown in
slatted baskets or on rafts of wood. Their roots grow from the top, and not the bottom as
usually found in terrestrial plants.

Feed the orchid. In general, once a month is recommended for most fertilizers. Look
for fertilizers that contain nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), plus trace
elements like iron (Fe). Use fertilizer with a higher nitrogen percentage when new
shoots are coming out, and fertilizer with more phosphorous and potassium later in the
season. Do not overfeed orchids––this can damage them.

 If you're growing your orchid on bark, use a fertilizer that's significantly higher in
nitrogen (in a ratio of 30(N)-10(P)-10(K)). The bacteria in the decomposing bark will
consume a lot of nitrogen.
 Water your orchid thoroughly before feeding.

Method 3 of 6: Potting


Understand the differing needs of terrestrial and epiphyte orchids. Many orchids
are epiphytic (tree- or branch-growing) and require very different growing media than
terrestrial orchids; indeed, orchids are commonly killed by being planted in soil when
they're not a soil type orchid. Epiphytes have thick fleshy roots used to attach
themselves to trees or bark and to absorb water and nutrients; others have aerial roots
that will grow unattached. Epiphyte orchids grow best in soilless mixtures or attached to
pieces of bark or cork. Epiphytic orchids require a growing media with extremely good
aeration and drainage.

2. 2

Provide suitable growing media for your orchids. Common growing media includes
fir bark, coconut husks, sphagnum moss, tree fern fibers, perlite, or a mixture of any of
those. However, the growing medium will depend on the orchid type––terrestrial orchids
should have a medium formed mainly of loam with equal parts of such substances as
sphagnum moss, damp peat or sharp sand. Epiphytic orchids should have a growing
substance that consists of equal parts of sphagnum moss, finely ground bark,
vermiculite and moist peat. It's easiest to buy readily mixed media suitable for the orchid
type, and always know the specific needs of the variety of orchid you're growing, as
these can vary quite a bit.

 Commercially prepared orchid potting mixes are available or a mixture can be prepared
containing chopped tree fern fiber, volcanic stone, charcoal, a little peat, fir bark or
combinations of these.

Repot as needed. You will need to repot on occasion, both to refresh the media, and to
account for growth. Spring is the usual time for repotting orchids. Here are some things
to consider:

 Orchids planted in bark should be repotted every 18 to 24 months, in general.

 Select the pot size based on the size of the root mass. Orchids tend to prefer smaller
pots. With a pot that's significantly larger, the orchid will expend most of its energy
rooting, and show no real new growth or foliage for months, so keep the containers
small. All orchids prefer being somewhat root-bound with their roots protruding from the
top of the media (or aerial roots should simply hang free). However, as plants produce
more new canes or spikes, they can eventually outgrow their pot.
 The pot will affect how you water. An orchid potted in a porous pot such as clay (good
for orchids) will need more frequent watering than an orchid in a plastic container.
 Always use a pot with a drainage hole. Sitting in water will rot the roots and the orchid
will become mulch.
 In larger pots, media in the center may take much longer to dry out––a condition that
will harm your orchid. To alleviate this, use broken clay pots in the bottom of the
container to increase drainage.
 If using a clay container, enlarge the drainage hole or make additional holes on the
sides (near the bottom) of the pot.

Replant the orchid according to its type. Carefully replant your plant into a slightly
larger pot or suitable container, using the suitable porous media suggested above.
Always ensure good drainage.

 For a terrestrial orchid: Remove the plant from the original pot. Carefully tease off the
old medium. Place the plant into the clean pot, sprinkle in fresh medium around the
roots. Firm into place using a dibble or small stick. Leave a small space between the
compost and rim to allow watering space. About 12mm (1/2") space is adequate.
 For an epiphytic orchid: Remove the loose, old medium. Cut away dead roots and
discard them. Hold the orchid upside down and pack new medium around the roots to
create a firm ball. Turn the orchid right side up and place back into the chosen
container. A repotted epiphytic orchid should not be watered for about one week after,
as this allows the roots to re-establish. Water sparingly after this, to ensure the new
roots are not damaged.

After repotting, keep the medium appropriately moist. This is especially important
from late spring through summer.

Method 4 of 6: Pruning and care


Maintain the blooms. Peak blooming time starts from late winter, primarily February
and March in the northern hemisphere. Blooms normally last from four to twelve weeks.
When the blooms fade, cut off the spike 1/2 inch (12mm) above where it projects from
the foliage. Also trim off any dead leaves and tissue, including old flower stems, old
leaves, anything rotting, dead roots, etc.

 In the event of fungal rot or disease, cut a little past the infected tissue to help stop the
progression of the infection.

Don't prune an orchid like a shrub. If you cut part of an orchid leaf, the rest of the leaf
may die, and cutting into a live pseudobulb will severely damage your orchid.

Use sterile tools while cutting an trimming orchids. This will help prevent the spread
of diseases from plant to plant. It's recommended that you soak the tools in bleach
between uses, or use a disposable razor blade.

Watch for new growth. This will be in the form of a new cane growing from the base of
the old ones. Under correct conditions, the new cane can be larger than the mother
cane before it is ready to bloom again.

 Cool nighttime temperatures help to initiate blooms. With proper care in accordance
with the variety's particular needs, the orchid plant should grow and bloom annually.

Method 5 of 6: Air ventilation


Keep the correct temperature. 65-85ºF (18-30ºC) is best. For brief periods, they can
withstand temperatures ranging from 60 to 100ºF (16-37ºC) but they dislike sudden
temperature changes. Cold temperatures will cause the leaves to turn yellow and
eventually drop off. If this happens, remove the yellow foliage and continue caring for
the plant normally.

Ensure proper air circulation. Having good air circulation can make all the difference
for the health of your orchid. This will help your orchid heal if you do experience a fungal
or pest infestation that must be treated. Air circulation is also a big part of the prevention
of these types of infestations by keeping the leaves and flowers dry.

 In the summer, open windows so that the natural airflow will circulate the air. This
promotes water evaporation and lots of fresh carbon dioxide. A gentle breeze will also
help orchids handle bright sunlight without scorching the leaves.
 In the winter (or in the summer, on still days), use an oscillating fan to gently stir the air.
Move it around occasionally so that one spot isn't being over-blown.

Method 6 of 6: Indoor orchid varieties

1. 1
The following list shows the orchids that can generally handle growing indoors,
albeit with some careful placement, additional lighting and temperature control:

 Brassolaeliocattleya "Norman's Bay"

 'Cattleya bowringiana
 Coelogyne cristata
 Cymbidium devonianum
 Cymbidium "Touchstone"
 Dendrobium nobile
 Epidendrum cochliatum (also known as Encyclia cochleata)
 Laelia enceps
 Maxillaria tenufolia
 Miltonia clowesii
 Paphiopedilum callosum
 Paphiopedilum "Honey Gorse"
 Pleione formosana
 Vanda cristata.


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Orchid care isn't as difficult as you think, and to discover the orchid care secrets or the pros,
Meghan Carter of visited award-winning orchid breeder Dick Wells.
There she discovered the best technique for growing orchids.

 One of the fastest ways to kill an orchid is to let it sit in a waterlogged pot. The
frequency of watering depends on the type of orchid, media, light conditions, container
characteristics and temperature.

 Fertilizing: Orchids require regular fertilization to grow and flower properly, but too much
fertilizer can quickly damage plants. Water-soluble types of fertilizer specifically
formulated for orchids are available at most garden centers and are easy to use.

 After flowering, when the foliage growth stops, reduce water and fertilizer applications
until new leaf production starts again.

 Water is especially critical for phalaenopsis, because they do not have organs
(pseudobulbs) for water storage. Do not let phalaenopsis completely dry out.Water
thoroughly, and do not water again until nearly dry throughout the container. Do not
allow water to remain on the leaves or in the leaf axils, as this may readily lead to
disease and death.
 Apply soluble fertilizers monthly, according to the rates recommended on the label. A
dilute fertilizer solution can be used to water plants weekly during the growing season.
Each month, use plain water to rinse any accumulated fertilizer salts out of the pot.
 More frequent watering may be required for plants in clay or small pots and those
growing in open bark mixes. In these cases, watering twice per week is usually
satisfactory. Orchids rest after flowering; watering should be reduced at this time.

 Orchids growing in bark require fertilizer with a higher ratio of nitrogen, such as 30-10-
10 or 15-5-5. Mounted orchids and those not planted in bark grow well with even
formula fertilizer ratios, such as 20-20-20. A "bloom-booster" type formulation can be
used in the autumn that has a higher phosphorus formulation (the middle number), such
as 10-30-20.

 In general, when orchids are actively growing, water once per week and allow them to
dry slightly before the next watering. At each watering, apply enough water so that
some drains from the bottom of the pot.

 Put 3-4 ice cubes in once a week. Do not exceed dropping in more than one ice cube
for a plant measuring smaller than 6 inches over a period of one week.

 Diseases that are commonly a problem on orchids include leaf spots, petal blight, and
different fungi such as black rot. Another common problem is the failure to flower, which
is typically due to poor growing conditions, especially inadequate light and/or fertilizer.

 Common insect pests include mealybugs, spider mites, scales and thrips. Scales are
usually attached to the underside of the leaves, and heavily infested plants should be

 Physically removing the scales and then controlling the immature stages with chemical
sprays may help lightly infested plants. Snails and slugs can feed on buds, blossoms,
leaves and tender stems.

 Viruses are currently an incurable problem and can be hard to differentiate from fungal
infections. Getting a second opinion from a professional is always a good idea if you are
unsure. If your orchid has a virus, dispose of it immediately and disinfect your pot
thoroughly if you plan to reuse it.
 Orchids are susceptible to a number of insect and disease problems.

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Sources and Citations

 Kerry's Orchids – original source of information, used with
 – original source of
information, used with permission
 – source information provided in part and used
with permission by
 Beautiful – research source
 Orchid Care Tips – research source
 David Squire, The Little Book of Orchids, (1993), ISBN 1-85833-100-5 – research
source and source of the indoor orchids list

Article Info
Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Indoor and Patio Plants

Recent edits by: KommaH, Chris, Harmonpress

In other languages:

Italiano: Come Prendersi Cura delle Orchidee, Deutsch: Pflegeanleitung für

Orchideen, Español: Cómo cuidar de las orquídeas, Nederlands: voor orchideeën
zorgen, Русский: ухаживать за орхидеями, 中文: 照料兰花, Français: Comment
prendre soin des orchidées, Português: Como Cuidar de Orquídeas, 日本語: 蘭を育て
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