Not a Christmas goes by when we don’t give receive at least one Orchid.
These exotic flowers are right up there with poinsettias as the most popular potted houseplants for the holiday season.
Many people’s first orchid marks the beginning of a life-long love affair with these elegant blooms. But it can also raise the question: How do I care for my indoor orchid?
Don’t worry. Orchids may look delicate, but they’re actually quite adaptable. With a little bit of know-how, you’ll find growing your indoor orchid can be a simple and rewarding experience.
Here’s what you need to know:
Know your orchid “species”
While there are about 30,000 species of wild orchids the most common orchid you can buy in southwestern Ontario is the Phalaenopsis Orchid – also called the Moth Orchid.
A native of southeast Asia, Moth Orchids are epiphytic, which is just a fancy way of saying that they grow on other plants, not in the soil. They are relatively easy to grow and have been bred and hybridized for flower size and colour. You’ll find them for sale in a variety of sizes in beautiful shades white, purple, or pink.
Optimal growing conditions for your orchid
The best way to keep orchids happy indoors is to try and duplicate their natural growing conditions. That means relatively high humidity and strong, indirect sunlight with temperatures between 12 and 27 C. What does this mean for your orchid houseplant?
It’s best to place your orchid on a window sill in a warm room, and to water it once a week when in bloom.
How to water your orchid
Some people might tell you to water your orchid by placing ice cubes on the growing surface – but don’t even think about it! This is a tropical plant, so ice is not a good idea.
The proper watering method is to take your orchid to your kitchen sink and let it sit in a bowl of warm water for about 10 to 15 minutes. (Ideally, you should let the bowl of water sit for an hour beforehand so it reaches room temperature.)
Then, let your orchid drip out for at least 30 minutes before returning it to the window sill.
Since Moth Orchids grow on other plants, they like to dry out moderately between waterings. Watering once a week should be plenty.
If you care for your orchid properly, you can expect it to stay in bloom for a month or two!
Understanding the re-blooming process
After your orchid has finished blooming it will go through a period of rest, or dormancy. Don’t worry – your orchid is not dying!
It’s true that an orchid looks much different with just a few strap-like leaves and no flowers. You may also notice the bare flower stock. Don’t cut it. Often the next flower stalk will grow from the same spot.
When your orchid is not in bloom, it’s time to start fertilizing the plant every few weeks, using house plant fertilizer at half the recommended strength. Continue to water your plant weekly.
Dormancy can last as long as six months, but sooner or later your patience and care will be rewarded with the emergence of a new flower stalk.
Re-potting your orchid
You’ve followed these simple instructions, your orchid is thriving, and you may be wondering when you need to repot your exotic houseplant. The short answer is: not very often.
Moth Orchids like to be root bound and will re-bloom more readily if they are. So, if you received your orchid as a gift in a 4 to 5-inch pot, don’t even think about re-potting it for the first year.
But, if you want to keep your orchid growing, there will come a time when you need to put it in a slightly larger pot. You will know this time has come when you see some aerial roots growing out of the soil and notice that once a week watering is not enough to keep the plant moist enough. It’s best to wait to late winter or early spring when light levels are increasing and plant growth is optimal.
It’s important to only increase the size of the pot by an inch. And remember, these are not terrestrial plants so don’t use regular potting soil. Instead, use a bark-based growing medium.
Re-potting is always a bit of a shock for a houseplant, so you may have to be patient for your orchid to re-bloom, even with your tender loving care.
Still have questions about caring for your orchids at home? The orchid experts at Van Dyk’s Greenhouse would be happy to help!