How to Grow Orchids Successfully

orchid flowers in pots

By Jennifer Poindexter

There are some flowers which seem naturally intimidating to grow. Orchids are one of these flowers to many gardeners.

I’ll be the first to admit, orchids may not be the flower for a beginner gardener to start with because they can be complicated to grow.

However, I’m going to provide the necessary information for you to try your hand at growing this gorgeous (yet intimidating) flower.

It might take some practice, but with the basic information being provided, you should be able to figure out how to grow this exotic flower in your home. Here’s what you should know to grow an orchid:

Growing Conditions for Orchids

Orchids might seem intimidating because they’re such a unique flower. There are over 30,000 different genuine varieties and 200,000 hybrid varieties making them the largest flowering plant family in the world.

It is vital to try to recreate their natural environment in your home when growing orchids. They’re native to tropical climates.

To make things even more interesting, orchids normally don’t grow on the forest floor. Instead, they attach themselves to trees and other plants.

Orchids are, in fact, an air plant variety. They have thick, pale roots which are designed to take in moisture.

These plants don’t just grow on the lower portions of trees. Some varieties grow higher up. This is what makes growing orchids, and the many varieties, interesting. You’ll need to know your chosen variety’s growing conditions.

If the variety grows higher up in trees, it should prefer indirect sunlight and cooler temperatures. If the chosen variety grows lower down the tree, it will need direct sunlight and warmer temperatures.

As a general rule of thumb, orchids require good air flow and approximately 12 hours of sunlight per day, year-round. They desire temperatures anywhere from 50- to 85- degrees Fahrenheit.

Orchids can be placed in a south or east facing window to obtain adequate lighting during the warmer parts of the year.

During the winter months, prepare to use artificial lighting. Ensure the plants are no more than a ½ foot away from the lights.

Since orchids are mainly air plants, they need special grow material that will allow water to drain quickly while still providing adequate air flow. Items such as moss, bark, cork, or dried fern roots are good choices for growing orchids.

You’ll know your orchid variety’s water and lighting needs by observing the plant. Fewer leaves or those which feel tough require more direct sunlight. Daintier leaves require indirect sunlight.

Orchid varieties with a pseudobulb, especially large pseudobulbs, won’t need as much water as those which don’t have them.

A pseudobulb is a bulb which sits at the soil level of the plant. It will also inform you of the growing material the orchid needs. If it has a pseudobulb it will need a well-draining grow material such as bark.

If it doesn’t have a pseudobulb, the orchid will need a grow material that retains more moisture. Most orchids require approximately 80% humidity as well.

By observing your orchid variety, you should be able to meet its basic lighting, moisture, and humidity needs to provide proper growing conditions.

How to Plant Orchids

Unless you’re a highly skilled botanist, you most likely won’t be starting orchids from seed or even caring for them in an immature state. The reason being, young plants are difficult to keep alive.

Orchids are nearly impossible to start from seed because in nature, orchids produce miniscule seeds that the wind carries far away from the main plant.

From there, the seeds that are dropped in an ideal climate, will survive. Those which aren’t, will not. Scientists have learned if you wish to start orchids from seed you must do this in a completely sterilized grow space, and the seeds must be grown in a gelatin casing.

Even if you’re able to do this, it would take many months for leaves to form on the plant. They’re so tiny you’d need a magnifying glass to view them.

It would take upwards of eight years for the orchid to bloom. In most cases, you’ll go to the store, purchase an orchid that someone else has harvested and raised to the point you can take it home, and you’ll enjoy its gorgeous blooms.

When shopping for your orchid, choose a lower-maintenance variety and be realistic about what grow conditions you can supply.

You may be able to handle the orchid varieties requiring full sun, if you have a greenhouse or large south facing windows with room to supply grow lights during the winter.

However, if you can’t provide these things, you may want to go with a variety which prefers filtered light. You might still need grow-lights during certain parts of the year.

Once you get the orchid home, it’s possible to care for it and even create more orchids. Let’s take it from this stage of the orchid life cycle.

When you get your newly purchased, adult orchid home, you’ll notice the plant is most likely in bloom. You might feel the urge to transplant the orchid into a larger pot because it seems root bound, and the grow material is compacted.

In most cases, this would seem logical. Orchids require adequate drainage and air flow. Hold off on transplanting until the bloom dies. After blooming has ceased, remove the dead bloom, and move to a bigger pot.

This is where the orchid becomes specific. Orchids are grouped into two groups. One group grows vertically, and the other group grows horizontally. Figure out which variety you have and what group it falls into as this might impact the type of pot you choose.

Plant your orchid in a plastic pot. This material is easier to detach the orchid roots when it’s time to transplant into a different pot again.

When putting the orchid in a new pot, place foam packing material in the bottom. This will help ensure the pot drains better. If you don’t have foam packing material, try placing small pebbles in the bottom.

Next, you’ll hold the orchid over the pot. The idea is to elevate the crown to where it’s about one inch below the top of the planter.

Fill in the space between the drainage material and where the crown should be with grow material. After the orchid is in the container it’s good to go until the next time you must transplant it.

If you would like to form more orchids, during transplant, divide the root system into multiple plants. Use the same steps as provided above to plant the new orchids into proper planters.

Caring for Orchids

Providing adequate growing conditions is the hardest part about growing orchids. Once you get past that hurdle, the rest of their care is minimal.

You must provide water, humidity, fertilizer, and know when to transplant. When watering orchids, it’s better to underwater than to overwater. Overwatering will smother your plant and kill it.

Water the plant one time per week during the summer months and once per month during the winter. This is why it’s important to use the proper grow material to ensure water drains away from the plant quickly.

If you’re concerned about choosing the right material, many big box stores carry orchid potting mix which takes a lot of the guesswork out of it for the gardener.

The grow material should dry completely between watering sessions. When you must transplant an orchid, cut back on watering after the transplant is complete. 

The plant will take months to start growing again. It should be treated as it is during the winter due to its lack of growth during this time.

Orchids do require humidity. You can keep the proper humidity levels around your plant by placing them in naturally humid rooms in your home, frequently misting them with water, or by placing the planter inside a larger planter with rocks in the bottom.

Add enough water to cover the rocks but not enough to where it meets the planter holding the orchid. This will increase the humidity level around the orchid.

You should fertilize your orchid regularly when growing. It’s important to provide necessary nutrients because the grow material, orchids must be planted in, have little to no nutritional value for the plant.

Use a liquid fertilizer that is heavily diluted. Don’t fertilize after the plant has been repotted or over the winter when it’s not growing.

Finally, understand when an orchid should be transplanted. The idea is to transplant as few times as possible because it doesn’t like being bothered.

However, when the roots are completely bound or the grow material has broken down to the point it’s hindering air flow, the orchid must be moved to a new pot.

Simply, trim any dead or damaged roots away from the plant and follow the planting instructions listed in the earlier segment of this article.

Meet these few care-requirements for orchids, and you should have little trouble keeping them healthy.

Garden Pests and Diseases for Orchids

Orchids do have a few basic pests and diseases you should be made aware of. When it comes to pests, orchids attract all the typical bugs which bother houseplants.

Aphids, mealybugs, scales, snails, slugs, thrips, whiteflies, and pill bugs can all cause damage to your orchids. Treat your plants with an insecticide, and it should take care of most pests your plants encounter.

The diseases which commonly impact orchids are blight, leaf spot, and a variety of rots (black rot, root rot, pseudobulb rot). In most cases, they’re fungal diseases brought on by too much water and a lack of airflow.

They can be treated with a fungicide and avoided by ensuring the orchids aren’t overwatered and planted in grow material which encourages air flow.

Staying aware of these potential problems can help you stay in front of any issues before they become too large to handle.

Orchids can seem intimidating at first glance, but once you figure out their basic needs and how you can supply them, you’ve made it over the largest obstacles.

Give appropriate care and stay alert to the potential threats your orchid plant might encounter, and you’re well on your way to becoming a gardener who has mastered the difficult task of raising orchids.

Learn More About Growing Orchids

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