How many times have you killed an orchid? I confess to committing this crime far too many times—leaving my favorite dendrobium in full sunlight until it parches and all the leaves fall off. I’m also bad about re-potting my orchids, virtually causing them to crush themselves to death for lack of space and oxygen. I’ve left an orchid sitting in a bowl of water, only to find its roots turned to sludge. And, of course, I’ve mistaken “orchid” to mean “cactus,” having forgotten to water it over long stretches.
Luckily, a friend and local professional orchid grower told me a few tips on how to keep orchids healthy (or at least alive). Here are some hints I found most helpful:
People tend to forget that most orchids are air plants, meaning they do not need their roots in soil to survive. What they do need is moving air—they do best with a steady, moist breeze. If grown indoors, make sure to keep your orchid away from heaters and air-conditioning vents. Orchids also love humidity (fifty percent or more!), which can be hard to live with in most air-conditioned homes. You can fix that problem by putting your orchid near a humidifier, leaving you orchid in a temperate place outside or grouping them together so they can create their own micro-climate. This humidity can increase your likelihood to receive more blooms.
Orchids do not need water as frequently as other plants—twice a week will do fine. They are equipped with thick stems, roots and leaves for storing water for a few days. Never let your orchid sit in a waterlogged pot. This leads to the roots essentially suffocating from the lack of oxygen, causing the root system to rot and die.
Light can be gauged by the color of the orchid’s leaves. Contrary to what you might think, a lush dark-green hue is actually a sign the plant needs more sun. A lighter, lawn-colored green is the aim, to boost the plant’s photosynthesis and ability to flower. Each variety of orchid requires a different amount of sunlight, but most indoor orchids appear happier when in southern- or eastern-facing natural light, being that midday-to-afternoon light from the west can be too harsh and hot. Your orchid can sunburn, so watch out for bleached leaves—these eventually die and fall off, leaving the plant without energy from photosynthesis.
This can very depending on the kind of orchid you have. Certain varieties, like cymbidiums, can survive fifty degree Fahrenheit winter nights, whereas other varieties such as phalaenopsis are hindered if the temperature drops much below sixty. When you buy an orchid, consult the grower, or research online to see what is best for your plant.
Fertilizer isn’t necessary for orchids. But to keep one healthy, a dose of 20-10-20 every other watering will keep your orchid happy and encourages blooms. Peak season for orchids occurs between December and April, though varieties vary.
If your orchid is thriving and seems to be outgrowing the pot it came in, a quick and easy fix is placing the original pot inside a larger one with wood chips or porous rocks. The roots will climb over into the next space. Or, simply transfer the orchid to a bigger pot.