If you’ve just bought an orchid, or have been gifted one, you may be wondering how to look after it. Caring for an orchid isn’t difficult, but there are a few things you need to know in order to keep your plant healthy and happy.
In this guide, we will discuss the basics of orchid care, including where to place your orchid, how often to water it and what to feed it. We’ll also cover some common problems that occur when caring for orchids and how to solve them. So, whether you’re a first-time orchid owner or just need a refresher course, read on for all the information you need!
Basic Phalaenopsis Facts
Phalaenopsis orchids are the most popular type of orchid, and their flowers come in a variety of colors including white, pink, purple and yellow. Their leaves are always green, although depending on the color of its flowers, they can have a blue- or purple-tinge to their leaves which is quite beautiful.
These orchids are native to tropical areas and typically bloom once a year, although with the right care they can sometimes bloom twice a year. Each bloom lasts around six weeks, which is quite long compared to other flowers. With excellent care, however, their blooms can last even longer.
Phalaenopsis orchids are also one of the easiest types of orchids to care for. Contrary to their reputation, they are not fussy plants and as long as you provide them with the basic requirements, they will thrive. These basic requirements include plenty of indirect light, just the right amount of water, and just the right amount of food.
Do You Need to Repot a New Orchid?
So, you’ve bought an orchid or been given one, and brought it home. The first thing you’ll probably need to do is repot it.
That’s because when you buy an orchid, it’s often in a small pot with very little potting mix; it may be in the wrong kind of potting mix, or it may be in a pot without any drainage.
When people learn this for the first time, they typically ask: well, why? Why wouldn’t the people who grew the orchid sell it with the right pot and potting mix?
The answer is that they know people normally only buy orchids for their blooms. So, they package them with the cheapest pots, cheapest mix, and as little mix as possible for it to bloom for a few weeks.
There are normally a few different problems with the mix they’re sold with. It can be the wrong kind, e.g. normal potting soil, or not quite optimal, e.g. bark mix. The potting mix in the pot is also often very dense, so when orchids are repotted into a new pot with looser mix, it allows oxygen to reach the roots and helps prevent root rot and water to evaporate more easily from the pot.
The typical problem with the pots orchids are bought in is that they don’t have drainage. This means that when you water the orchid, all of the water stays in the pot and can’t evaporate. This leads to two main problems. The first is that the roots can’t get enough oxygen; the second is that too much water sits around the roots, leading to root rot.
The upshot of all of this is that you might have to repot your orchid when you bring it home. Don’t worry, it’s a very easy process and we’ll walk you through it step-by-step below.
How to Repot a New Orchid
The first thing you need is a new plastic pot for your orchid. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom so that water can escape. If your orchid’s current inner pot is plastic and has draining holes, it should be fit for purpose.
As well, you’ll need an outer pot. This can either be ceramic or plastic; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s a little deeper than the inner pot. You line the bottom of the outer pot with gravel; when you water your orchid, now the water won’t sit around its roots, but instead drain into the gravel.
Next, you’ll need some potting mix. The best mix by far is sphagnum moss. This can be a little difficult to find, but it’s worth it. When you get your hands on some, you have to soak it in water to use it.
Take the orchid in its current pot and gently squeeze the plastic. This loosens the roots and mix. Then, hold the orchid horizontally and slowly pull the orchid by its base out of the pot (the part of the orchid where the leaves meet the roots). Do this over a towel or a table so that you can easily clean up afterwards. Gently poke away any mix from the orchid’s roots. If there are any rotten roots (brown, mushy and black) then trim them away with clean scissors.
Then, line the bottom of your orchid’s inner pot with new mix. Take the orchid as it is and place it into the new inner pot. Fill the spaces between its roots with wet sphagnum moss. Don’t fill every bit of space with moss, because it’s good for your orchid’s roots to have breathing room.
Where to Put Your Orchid
Orchids need plenty of indirect light in order to bloom well. A spot near a window, but not in direct sunlight, is ideal. If you don’t have a spot near a window, you can also put your orchid under a fluorescent light. If the only spot you have is in a window, put the orchid behind a net curtain.
Just be sure that your orchid gets at least four hours of indirect light each day. If it doesn’t get enough light, it will not bloom and its leaves may start to turn yellow.
How to Water Your Orchid
Watering your orchid is one of the most important aspects of care. It’s admittedly a little bit of a balancing act; but watering in the right way will help.
The best way to water an orchid is by soaking it. This means that you place the orchid in a sink and fill its outer pot with water until it reaches just below the pot’s rim. You let your orchid soak for about 15 minutes. Then, take the inner pot from the outer pot and allow it to drain until it stops dripping. This method of watering allows all of the mix to become evenly wet. It also prevents watering from getting on the leaves, which can cause spotting.
People suggest lots of other ways of watering orchids, and most of them are fine, if not quite as effective. Perhaps the most popular is to water with ice, because this supposedly offers slow-release water. However, slow-release water isn’t what an orchid needs, and ice can damage your plant’s roots.
How Often to Water Your Orchid
You should water your orchid once a week in this way, although you may have to water more often if the potting mix dries out before the next watering. Keep an eye on your orchid and determine for yourself how often it should be watered, because it depends on the temperature and humidity of where you live. There should be periods in which the potting mix dries out, because if it never dries out, it will cause root rot; this applies to all forms of potting mix.
A good rule of thumb is that it’s far better to underwater an orchid than overwater it. Even a severely underwatered orchid can be brought back from the dead with a few good soakings, but an overwatered orchid develops root rot, which is a far more insidious and difficult problem.
What to Feed Your Orchid
Fertilizing your orchid is important, but it’s also something that you have to be careful with. Overfertilizing is just as bad as overwatering and can cause all sorts of problems.
The best way to fertilize an orchid is by using a fertilizer designed specifically for orchids. You can find these at most garden stores.
Orchid fertilizer usually comes in two forms: granules and spikes. Granules are solid and are mixed into the potting mix and dissolve over time. They’re a little easier to use, but some people worry about them washing away before they have a chance to be absorbed by the plant, or alternatively, providing too much fertilizer over time. Spikes are plastic doodads that you turn upside down and spike into the potting mix, and release liquid. You can also get liquid fertilizer that you mix in with an orchid’s water before you water it.
Whichever kind you pick, follow the instructions that come with it and you can’t go too far wrong. Fertilise in spring and summer.
Common Problems with Orchids and How to Solve Them
Now that you know the basics of orchid care, you’re well on your way to keeping your orchid healthy and happy. However, even with the best care, problems can arise. Here are some of the most common problems and how to solve them.
Overwatering and root rot
One of the most common orchid problems is overwatering. This can be caused by a number of things, such as giving your orchid too much water, having a potting mix that doesn’t drain well or keeping your orchid in a humid environment that doesn’t allow for enough water to evaporate.
The basic signs of overwatering are yellow leaves, wilting and softening of the leaves and stems and, in extreme cases, root rot. That’s where the roots turn brown, soft and mushy (and eventually black).
If overwatering gets bad enough and all the roots rot away, symptoms of underwatering start to appear; this might seem confusing, but it makes sense, because with rotten and dead roots the orchid can’t absorb any water.
If you think your orchid is overwatered, the best thing to do is to stop watering it for a while and see if that makes a difference. If not, you may need to repot your orchid into a pot with better drainage or into a different potting mix.
Underwatering is the opposite problem and is just as common. An underwatered orchid will have dry, crispy leaves that may turn brown and drop off. The stems will also be dry and the flowers will wilt.
The solution to underwatering is, of course, to water your orchid. How much and how often depends on the potting mix you’re using, the temperature and humidity of your environment and the type of orchid you have.
If in doubt, it’s always better to underwater an orchid than overwater it.
Not enough light
Orchids need a lot of light to grow and bloom well. If your orchid isn’t getting enough light, it will start to stretch towards the light source and the leaves will turn pale green or yellow.
The best place to put an orchid is in a spot where it will get bright, indirect sunlight for most of the day. If you can’t provide a spot like that, you can supplement with artificial light.
Sun damage (leaf scorch)
On the other hand, if your orchid is getting too much light, the leaves will turn a reddish brown and may even burn. When an orchid leaf burns, it will develop a brown, stringy-looking patch outlined in black. The worse the burn, the bigger the brown patch. Typically the problem is that the orchid has been in direct light.
If you think your orchid is getting too much light, the best thing to do is move it to a spot with less light. If that’s not possible, you can try shading it with a sheer curtain or placing it somewhere further inside the room away from the window.
Orchids are susceptible to a number of pests, including aphids, mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites. Some pests can cause a variety of problems, such as leaf damage, and stunted growth.
The best way to deal with pests is to catch them early and get rid of them before they have a chance to do too much damage. If you see any pests on your orchid, use a soft brush to remove them and then spray the plant with a horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
One kind of pest you’ll almost definitely see are springtails. These are tiny white specks you’ll see at the bottom of the orchid’s inner pot, or in the bottom of its outer pot. They float around in water and spring quickly instead of swimming (hence the name). These guys won’t hurt your orchids, so don’t spend too long worrying about getting rid of them.
Diseases e.g. fungal infection
Orchids can also get diseases, such as fungal infections (which usually occur when the plant is overwatered) and bacterial infections.
Fungal infections typically appear as brown or black spots on the leaves, which may eventually spread to the stems. It can be difficult as a novice to tell the difference between fungal spots and burnt spots; but for now, all you need to know is that obvious dark spots are a bad thing on an orchid leaf!
The best way to deal with a fungal infection is to catch it early and treat it with a fungicide. Fungus can be exceptionally difficult to get rid of, so even with prompt and heavy treatment, it can take a long time to fix. You’ll also have to quarantine the infected orchid until the infection goes away.
The Orchid Secrets Shop
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Orchid Secrets is a site dedicated to helping people learn more about orchids, and get everything they need to care for them. If you want to learn more about orchids, make sure to check out our blog for articles on everything from the basics of orchid care to more advanced topics.
Orchid Care FAQs
Beyond the basics, there’s still a lot to learn. Access our knowledge base below if you still have any questions.