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Hints & Tips

How to Look after an Orchid

Orchids might just well be the most gifted plant at house-warmings with the ability to fill the new plant parent with dread. We all know someone who had an orchid in bloom, time passed and the plant lost its flowers to never flower again. So, is it our fault? Or are orchids just a hard plant to keep?

If you have been gifted an orchid, or have popped one into the shopping trolley during your weekly shop, it is most likely that you have a Phalaenopsis; more commonly known as a moth orchid. However, it’s worth checking your label to make sure you provide the right care to your plant. Sara Rittershausen, Secretary of The British Orchid Growers Association observes that orchids have traditionally been difficult plants to grow, reserved for the well off with large tropical greenhouses, “but nowadays they are more widely available and the varieties have been bred to be easier to grow, especially as houseplants.” She adds that the reason the moth orchid has become so popular is because they are “known to be the easiest to keep as they are well-suited to the modern home, where it is warmer and they will flower happily for months at a time, in any season.”

yellow moth orchid

Not that easy to kill

One of the common misconceptions people have about orchids is that flowers dropping off and having a bare stem automatically means they have killed the plant. That is not the case at all! Over a period of weeks, the flowers will dry up and drop off, leaving the bare stem. You can try cutting back the stem to a nodule and see if will produce another shoot. Most of the time, however, experts recommend cutting the stem down to the base.

We asked Sara how often should we expect an orchid to flower, assuming we have taken all the relevant steps to keep it healthy. She quite logically pointed out that most orchids will flower once a year, in their season; “they generally need to gave a growing period when they make new leaves and bulbs before they can produce their next lot of flowers, just like plants in the garden. Daffodils only flower once a year, orchids are no different.” Moth orchids, however, are the exception: they will flower any time of the year as they aren’t dictated by seasons. “When the flowers die, as long as the leaves are still healthy and it continues to grow happily, given the right treatment, there is no reason why it shouldn’t re-flower again easily. Phalaenopsis will take a break between flowering times but are usually back in bloom within 6 months.”

Warmth and humidity

Orchids love homes with central heating, and need natural light to be healthy. This does not mean, however, you should keep them next to a window with direct sunlight. They will thrive in high air humidity, so they will happily live in the conservatory, greenhouse or, even, in the bathroom! As long as it has a window, of course. I recounted Sara my experience with keeping my orchid in the bathroom,  and it seemed quite contempt as it re-flowers quite regularly. I asked her whether its location was appropriate. “Orchids come from the rain forest, so they definitely like humidity and as the bathroom tends to be the most humid part of the house it is generally a good place for them to grow.” So, as long as it has a window with plenty of light (but no direct sunlight, remember!) She also recommends an occasional orchid feed in the water, which will help boost its growth and flowering.

You must not over-water orchids. They only need water every 7 to 10 days, and not that much water. Pick up the plant; if it feels heavy it doesn’t need water. The RHS also suggests submerging the plant in tepid water for about a minute and then let it drain. You must not cut the aerial roots – which are those roots sticking out of the pots. In fact, a good way to gauge if your plant needs water or not is to check for the colour of the roots. If they are green, no need to water; if they are silvery, go ahead and give the plant a drink.

white orchid

Orchids are not fussy

They are easy to maintain, in that they do not need regular potting on; in fact, they thrive when they are root bound. Generally, repotting every 2 to 3 years is often enough. After that period, it is also good to throw away the compost and replace it with fresh bark based compost. Remember, do not use regular compost with orchids. And you can use the same pot unless you cannot fit the plant back in. Again, the RHS suggests that a “failure to flower may suggest the need of a rest period and/or a lower temperature period to initiate flowering.”

So, in a nutshell:

  1. Do not over-water orchid; give it some water every week or so.
  2. Keep in indirect sunlight; direct sunlight can cause scorching.
  3. Mist the leaves every three days or keep in a room with humidity.
  4. Only cut back stems, and only once they have finished flowering.
  5. Do not worry if it doesn’t reflower straight away. Let it be, and be patient!

Are there any houseplants that you always end up killing? Let us know in the comments and we’ll put together care guides for you!

Zoe Allison

Zoe Allison

Writer and expert