Orchid: Ultimate Flower Guide
Facts, Types, Meaning and Care Tips
Orchids are a wonderful plant to gift to your loved ones but let's be honest, they have a reputation for being difficult to keep alive. In fact, with a little know how, you'll find that orchids are surprisingly easy to care for and it is entirely possible to keep an orchid living for years.
Follow our step-by-step orchid care guide to help keep orchids thriving.
How to water
Although orchids are commonly found growing wild in tropical rainforests, they do not need heavy watering.
In fact, the most common way people harm an orchid is by over watering. When it comes to watering an orchid, the golden rule is to ensure the plant is not constantly sitting in water so that it causes the roots to rot.
Here are three ways you can water an orchid plant...
Depending on where the orchid is placed and the time of year, submerge it once a week
Most orchids will live in a clear container with a potting medium such as soil and bark, which will then sit inside a holding pot. Using distilled or recently boiled and cooled tap water, fill the clear orchid pot and holding pot so that the orchid roots are fully submerged.
Do not fill above this point - fill just under the crown of the orchid and leave the orchid to soak. After 10-15 minutes remove the orchid from the water and allow it to drain for 5 minutes. Pour the remaining water out of your holding pot.
Once the orchid has drained away the excess water, pop it back inside the holding pot and return it to its home.
Yes, that's right. Ice cubes straight from a small/medium sized ice cube tray are a great way to water orchids. 'Why would you use ice cubes?' we hear you ask. Well using ice cubes will...
- Improve absorption
- Prevent root rot
- Avoid overwatering
- Make life easier!
How often should you water with ice cubes?
- Depending on the season and where the orchid is kept, pop one cube twice a week on top of the potting medium underneath the leaves.
- Be mindful to ensure no water is left standing in the pot and if possible, remove any excess water if you notice any water pooling on the orchid. You can also tell that there is too much water if the pot has become very heavy and sloshes when you tilt it.
Depending on seasonality and where your plant is situated, adding ¼ glass of distilled or boiled and cooled tap water every week is suitable
Simple pouring is still fine to water orchids. If the orchid cannot be removed from its larger pot, be mindful that it may not have any drainage holes. In this case, water sparingly as orchids will suffer when they are standing in pooled water. Also, make sure the water is not poured directly onto the plant and is poured into the roots underneath the leaves at the base.
Avoid getting water into the crevices of the leaves. If this happens, grab a towel and dab any excess moisture away to prevent rot.
How to tell when to water orchids
Watering can be a little bit of trial and error. Keep in mind that long summer days may require you to water the orchid more and short winter days will require less watering.
Here's how to tell if the orchid needs water:
- Roots that are green are getting just the right amount of water
- Roots that are soggy and brown are getting too much water
- Roots that are grey or white are not getting enough water
Another easy way to judge if the orchid needs watering is to use your finger to poke deep into the pot:
- If the mix is wet or damp - don't water it
- If the mix is dry - water it
Here's some of the most popular varieties available to buy in the UK:
Vanda orchids require a great deal of water. Keep them moist at all times but avoid over-watering.
Phalaenopsis orchids generally require brief dry periods between every watering.
Cymbidium orchids need their soil to be evenly moist at all times. Be careful to ensure the soil is not soggy or wet.
Dendrobium orchids require evenly moist soil during growth but also need a brief dry period between watering when it is not growing.
Humidity is important as it recreates the conditions of an orchid's natural habitat, which of course helps them thrive.
There are multiple ways of creating ideal humidity for your plant but by far the easiest method for indoor orchids is to mist them regularly.
What is Misting?
- Misting is simply spraying an orchid regularly with a fine mist spray bottle.
- Spray the orchid leaves and any aerial roots up to two times a day depending on the plant's location in your home. This may sound like a lot but water very quickly evaporates. Do a finger test if you're worried about overwatering.
Avoid plain tap water
If possible, use distilled or water boiled in the kettle and cooled for your mist bottle. Standard tap water is laden with impurities, which can cause the orchids leaves to become covered in white crust. This can be unsightly and can also block moisture from entering the leaf.
How to tell when to mist
Insufficient misting and lack of humidity can lead to a few problems. If you notice any of the following, increase your misting:
- Stunted growth
- Falling flower buds
- Brown-tipped leaves
- Twisted flowers
Ideal light for orchids
Like most plants, optimal light is the absolute key to keeping orchids happy.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
Under no circumstances, place the orchid in direct sunlight, as they will get sunburnt - yes, really!
It can happen in a matter of hours, so keep your eyes on the light the orchid is receiving.
An ideal place for the orchid to live is in a room that stays at a consistent temperature through the day, away from drafts, fruit and where it can receive indirect sunlight.
What's indirect sunlight?
Indirect sunlight is simply sunlight that has been filtered by bouncing off a wall or through an object before hitting the orchid. If you're unsure if your location is suitable, the simplest way of measuring light intensity is to use your hand. It sounds strange but, at the height of the day, when the sun is pointing through the window at its brightest (a bright day is best to try this rather than overcast), put your hand a few inches above the plant’s leaves so that you cast a shadow over the plant.
Little to no shadow = not enough light
Soft grey shadow = perfect light
Dark grey shadow = too much light
How to prune orchids
How Often Do Orchids Need Pruning?
When the orchid peaks its blooming period, its new flowers will last up to 12 weeks. After this time, they may fade, droop or fall off their stems (spikes) when they are spent.
Once they do this, you will need to determine how to prune the orchid. First, check if the stem is healthy or in poor condition:
Healthy stems are green and firm to the touch
Unhealthy stems are brown/yellow in colour and hard to the touch
Orchid Pruning Tips
Cutting back an orchid for the first time can seem daunting. Nevertheless, by following the next few tips, you should expect the orchid to produce their beautiful flowers for its next blooming cycle (providing all other care instructions are followed of course!).
- Bear in mind when pruning that orchids are very fragile plants and canÂ’t be handled like you would a shrub. For example, if you partially cut an orchid leaf, the rest of the leaf may die as a result
- With sterilised and sharp shears or a knife, trim away any dead leaves, tissue or roots as well as your stem
- As a rule, if something is still green, it is living
- When you make the cut, be sure to cut diagonally as shown
If your stem is healthy and this is the first prune. Trim the stem just above the stem notch/node where the first flower had bloomed. This will allow a new shoot to emerge.
If your stem is unhealthy or you have already rebloomed your orchid pruning once already, it is best to cut an inch above the base of the stem. This allows the orchid to focus its energy into producing new strong leaves and roots.
Orchid care FAQ's
My orchid isn’t flowering, is it a lost cause?
Often people think because there are no flowers that an orchid is past its best. DonÂ’t worry, if the leaves are healthy then keep going. Often insufficient light causes orchids to concentrate their energy elsewhere. If the orchid has already bloomed, try pruning them.
My orchid is losing lots of leaves, is this right?
Some loss of leaves for an orchid is natural, providing they donÂ’t all fall at once. Excessive leaf loss usually indicates that the plant is either kept too cold or is overwatered. Allow the plant to dry and remove the dead foliage.
What is the sticky stuff on the leaves beneath the orchid flower?
This is orchid nectar which is created to attract insects to pollenate it. If you notice this in excess on the leaves, wipe it away with a damp cloth.
My orchid leaves are crinkly, is this ok?
When new leaves grow from an orchid they tend to stick to one another if the atmosphere is too dry and crinkle. If you spot this, increase the humidity by misting.
My orchid has lots of aerial roots, is this normal?
Orchids commonly grow on trees with their roots exposed to a moist rainforest atmosphere so this is normal. Lots of aerial roots is a great sign that the orchid is happy in its environment. Spray these roots regularly with the misting technique to keep them green and healthy and not grey and dry.
My orchid leaves are turning yellow, what am I doing wrong?
Yellow leaves are either a sign of too much water or too little light. Check that your roots are not brown and waterlogged. If they are, hold off the water and allow the plant to dry. If your roots are healthy then try the plant in another spot to get more light. Also use the light measuring technique.