Growing Orchids for BeginnersSo you want an introduction to growing orchids for beginners? You're in for an adventure, since growing orchids is addictive! I'll give you some "gateway" orchid care instructions below. Once you know how to grow orchids, they'll thrive for you, as most are easy to care for. They'll grow bigger, make more flowers each year, and you'll be far less likely to kill them and feel guilty about it.
LightingDifferent kinds of orchids have different lighting needs, which are generally divided into three rough categories:
- High lighting (about 3,000-5,000 footcandles, or 30,000-50,000lux) is typical for south-facing windows in the northern hemisphere. Direct sunlight should usually be avoided, particularly at hotter times of the day. Some common types of orchids that like high light are Cattleya and Vanda orchids.
- Medium lighting (about 2,000 footcandles, or 20,000lux)
- Low lighting (about 1,000 footcandles, or 10,000lux) is common for shaded windows, or east-facing windows. Low lighting is preferred by Phalaenopsis and Pahiopedilum orchids, among others.
TemperatureOrchids are often divided into three general temperature categories:
- Warm-growing orchids like day temperatures between 70°F (21C) and 85°F (29C). This includes most Phalaenopsis orchids.
- Intermediate orchids like day temperatures between 65°F and 75°. This is typical of Cattleya orchids.
- Cool-growing orchids like temperatures to stay below 70°F (21C), say from 60°F (15C)-70°F (21C) during the day. This includes most Masdevallia orchid species, for example. Because this temperature range is difficult for most people to provide, these plants are not very widely marketed, except at places that mostly cater to orchid hobbyists.
HumidityMost orchids like humidity to be about 70%. This is considerably more humid than most homes, so you'll want to make some effort to provide your plants with extra humidity. Orchids usually appreciate misting with a spray bottle. If the plant has aerial roots growing up out of the pot, those roots will especially appreciate getting some moisture. You can also set up a humidity tray: put water in the bottom of a tray, with enough gravel that a plant set on top does not sit in the water. As the water evaporates, it will provide some extra humidity for the plant. These are a great help to growing orchids for beginners, or anyone else keeping tropical plants on a windowsill.
WaterOverwatering kills far more orchids than underwatering; it's the most common cause of orchid disease. So when in doubt, don't water! The potting mix used has a lot to do with how often an orchid needs watering, but most orchids are sold in mixes that allow for roughly weekly watering. For most orchids, stick a finger a couple inches into its potting mix, and if the mix is dry, it's time to water. Don't water until it's at least approaching dryness. To water an orchid, take it to the sink and run water through the pot until it flows out the bottom, trying to get as much of the potting mix wet as possible. Alternatively, submerge the plant's pot in a bucket for a few seconds, then lift it out and let it drain off excess water. Symptoms of overwatering are similar to symptoms of underwatering: the plant appears to shrivel and dry out. In the case of overwatering, this is because most of the roots have died and rotted. If in doubt whether you're overwatering or underwatering, lift the plant out of the pot and see whether the roots are firm and white (healthy) or soft and mushy (dead). In the latter case, the plant should also be repotted. Orchids often grow aerial roots up and out of the pot; try to get these wet when you water.
RepottingIt's best to repot orchids every couple of years as the mix (usually bark) that they're potted in starts to break down. Most orchids are epiphytes (they grow on trees as air plants, rather than in the ground) so if the potting mix is starting to decompose, compress, and become denser, orchids get unhappy because their roots expect greater access to air.
PruningMany people growing orchids as beginners wonder about pruning orchids. Trimming old flower stems that have turned brown is a good idea. If it's still green, it may rebloom, either from the tip or by branching further back on the stem. So don't cut back green flower stems. Pruning orchids to keep them small is a bad idea, because it is very stressful to the plant. If you cut a leaf, often the whole leaf will die back. Cutting stems is also usually bad. The only stems to cut on orchids are rhizomes (when dividing a plant; leave at least three or four growths per division) and flower stems (when they're done blooming and have turned brown, or if you want to put cut flowers in a vase.) Trimming orchids should really only be done to remove leaves, roots, or flower stems that have already died and turned brown. Also, sterilize your cutting tools (or use disposable razors) so that you don't spread orchid diseases between your plants.
Common First OrchidsIf you already have an orchid, and are trying to figure out how to care for it, these pages give specific orchid care instructions for some of the most common first orchids, so they are useful additions to the general orchid care instructions above. There is also a page on the many other types of orchids, which indicates the ones that I think are good choices for beginners.
Ask Orchid Care Questions!
Beginners usually have lots of questions about how to grow orchids! Ask them in the form below; other readers will help out, and I'll try to answer as many questions as I can, too. Pictures are helpful in answering many orchid care questions, so include one if you can!
What Other Visitors Have Asked
Click the links below to see other visitors' questions and to help out by answering them...
soil to use for transplanting
My mom received 2 orchids last May and they are shooting new growth every where. Should they be transplanted? If so, what kind of soil do you use? Mom's …
Pruning 2 long, dried stems from my orchid.
The leaves on the plant still look healthy and strong. The long cascading bloom stems are dried and wood like. I was told by the plant store to trim …
Leaves growing on stem
I have leaves and outside roots growing on the stem half way down. Have never seen this before. This particular orchid has flowered three times on the …
How often do Orchids re-bloom?
I have several orchids and it seems that they only re-bloom about once a year. Is this right? Or should I be doing something more to get them to re-bloom …
Terrified of my dendrobium
Hi, there - I purchased a dendrobium about a week ago, and I'm totally terrified of it. I have a couple of phals which seem to be doing well, so decided …
what do you do with aerial roots that are growing outside the pot?
Footcandles are complicated
Are apps like https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mq-greenthumb/id719137092?mt=8 this good?
Best way to water
I have just constructed a 10 by 10 slat house for my orchids. I want an automated watering system. I can do an overhead sprinkler, a mist or a drip system. …
growing phalaenopsis orchid outdoors
I have a hollow tree stump. Would my orchid grow and thrive if I planted it in the hollow stump?
HI my orchid has 2stems with buds on and is starting a new leaf at the same time .Should I cut the flower stems to encourage healthier leaf growth . Thanks …
our orchid has started to grow shoots on the roots can you please tell what is happening
Will it hurt to cut the roots back that have sprawled outside the pot?
a new stem seems to come up, I am not sure it is good, it has a tiny leaf at the bottom and it looks different from the exterior roots that come up here …
why has my Dracula quasimodo closed up?
Hi, I have an orchid that has grown two lovely green leaves but two of it's older leaves are brown and withering. Can you please tell me whether and HOW …
Leaves Up or Leaves Down?
Greetings, and Thanks in Advance! I bought my first orchid, a Phalaenopsis , and its leaves were turned down: a nice, healthy, succulent green. I have …
Mounting an orchid
Can you instruct me on how to mount a Haraella retrocalla orchid? Thanks Richard Cozby Lincoln City, Oregon
long roots on the outside of pot
I know I need to tranplant what about the roots that are on the outside of the pot. Do I cut them off or put them in a big pot.
New plant shoots on old flower stems
My Phalaenopsis grew a very thick flower stem. The flowers bloomed and dropped off in the usual manner. I did not cut the stem because it appeared still …
Hong Kong Orchid Tree
We moved just recently and a large bush in the yard was identified by the previous owners as a Hong Kong Orchid Tree. It has really grown taller and wider …
a few questions
Hi, I have a few questions! I have this orchid which I 'inherited' from a family member who gave up on it as it flowered once and then she wasn't sure …
Is it dead?
I have a Paphiopedlium orchid, I believe. I got it as a gift and I am sure it was purchased at a grocery store. It was doing just fine until recently. …
The six blooms on my orchid are suddenly wilted. What happened? The plant main leaf of the orchid is beautiful and green.
What do I do for/to the wilted blooms (six blooms) on my orchid? I have had the plant 3 weeks. It had open blooms when I got it and today the blooms are …
I have a Phalaenopsis Ever Spring King 'Sun Jye' Phal (Chih Shang Stripes x Golden Peoker') orchid and would like to know what the best, and easiest, fertilizer …
Where can i grow them?
I saw a video of a Caribbean Orchid preserve (?) taken by an orchid society member. One picture intrigued me so much, to me it was awesome. They were …
Color in white orchids
I have a couple of your orchids that say they were a white orchid but with "a little bit of magic" they are a different color. When they rebloom will they …
Sap From orchid
My orchid is dripping sticky sap. Is this normal?
phal leaves are shriveling or drying ??? i don't know the problem
i am not sure why the leaves are looking shrivelled and dry?????
Just purchased two orchids, I watered them by placing 3 ice cubes on the soil, one is already starting to lose it's flowers. Is the ice cube method a bad …
Stem or Root
I have a beautiful Phalaenopsis as do a couple of others in the office and as the resident green thumb I have been asked to look after them. I have done …
Phalaenopsis Growing Season (southern hemisphere)
When is the phalaenopsis growing season (southern hemisphere)?
I have a Phalaenopsis orchid I keep indoors. I have watered it twice in the last 5 days however, this morning I found on one of the leaves a discoloured …
What is damaging my orchid
There are holes in my new orchid leaf, any idea what is doing this and how to treat it.
Watering and Misting
Is it safe to mist an orchid daily and when misting can you mist the petals also?
how to cut back
where do I cut on the long stem