If you have an orchid in your house but don’t know the first thing about how to look after it, this article will help get you to the first level of basic care. I’m definitely not an expert but the advice here is derived from my awful-to-awesome successes and will set you up with some good foundations that you can modify.
If you want to try out this method, it’s probably best to select one plant for change and see how it goes. You’ll do better with patience, don’t change everything at once.
Which Type of Orchid?
This advice is targeted at the Phalaenopsis, the common type of orchid sold in garden centres with big fleshy leaves that do NOT have a bulb at the base of the stem.
Because the UK winters can be very cold, I have select orchids that can tolerate temperatures as low as 15°c (59°f). You have to be careful with the labelling in shops though, try cross-referencing between different suppliers (i.e. they will have a different label style and content). I have found contradictions for species even in the same shop. The safest thing to do is go with the highest minimum temperature.
Orchids do not like direct sunlight but do like a good ambient light. An orchid’s leaves will go purple if it is trying to reduce the amount of sunlight it is getting. It can get by with purple leaves, but it is a sign you are approaching a limit that you should be careful with.
Add some orchid feed to the water in summer when it is putting out new growth.
Bear in mind that this regime works for a house in the South UK climate, so you will probably want to use an adjusted frequency if the climate in your location is different.
The watering frequency will also change with the seasons depending on the amount of light and warmth that the plant is receiving. You will need to learn how to adapt the amount you give to you plants circumstances.
- In summer, soak the roots completely on average once every 14 days or more.
That’s a difficult one to decide correctly, but the quoted value will give you a sense of scale at least. It’s worth having a routine careful inspection of all plants every week until you get used to their responses. In my case, some orchids are in sunnier positions, some have better pots for water retention and they are all different sizes (the smaller ones may need watering more often).
- In winter soak the roots completely on average once every 21 days or more.
This depends more on their size and position, how you use central heating etc. and the winter sunlight.
I use a jug filter so the quickest way to water a sequence of orchids is to fill its container to the brim and let it soak for a minute or so, then move the water to the next pot. That way you don’t have to refill the filter jug and wait for it to drain.
If you keep the soak frequency and duration consistent as well as the heat and light, you will be in a good position to make sensible adjustments to steer toward healthy growth.
I sometimes spray the orchid roots as an alternate way of watering when a full root soak seems like it would do more harm than good.
I have never sprayed the orchid leaves or flowers, and they seem good with that, but let’s face it rains a lot here in the UK, and if anything my house has a tendency tends toward higher humidity anyway.
The type of water to use should be either
- Pond water
- Filtered water (eg: a filter jug)
In the UK, tap water has additives and hard water leaves behind a white, chalky limescale residue made mostly of calcium and magnesium. This builds up over time and will poison the plant in the medium to long-term.
I have a water filter jug and have been using that method for years and all the orchids are happy with that. For plants, you can keep using the same filter cartridge for two months and that makes the system cheaper to run.
- The water should be lukewarm, NOT cold. These plants are your friends :0)
If you are pulling water from a pond in winter, for example, carefully filter all the critters from the water and let it reach at least room temperature before you give it to your orchids.
- If you are overwatering you can tell by one or two leaves turning a soft yellow colour – but an orchid will sometimes discard its oldest leaf in favour of newer growth, in which case a leaf near the base will go yellow and die while the others are unaffected.
- If you are underwatering you will see yellow blotches or the leaves will be thin and papery instead of slightly chubby.
- If the air is dry the tips of the leaves will die and turn brown. You need to make the local air slightly more humid for them.
- Split leaves are normal.
- I have heard that orchids like to be tight in their containers, and are not happy with too much space so I haven’t repotted mine. Probably best to look this part up before you do anything.
- Spraying an orchid helps but doesn’t seem to be a good replacement for submerging the roots completely but make sure the water is at least room temperature.
Care has been taken to keep the information in this article as accurate as possible but errors are possible, so be aware of the full disclaimer here.