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Orchids can be a challenge to keep though they are not quite as difficult as their reputation might imply. For all the care that does go into keeping orchids, are you going to get a decent return on your time and effort investment?
In other words, how long are your plants going to live? It’s a very good question.
What is the Lifespan of an Orchid?
Like with any plant, there is no single time frame that is guaranteed. Long-lived plants can die sooner than expected, and short-lived plants might surprise you and keep growing for decades. So only a rough estimate can be given.
Within the orchid family, you can generally expect your plants to live for several years, but this all depends on how well you care for them (more on this below). A pampered orchid might even last more than a decade, providing you with repeated flowering periods over the years.
As an extreme example, an orchid in a Singapore botanical garden is over 150 years old and still flowering.
How to Increase the Lifespan of an Orchid
If you want your orchids to live as long as possible, the most effective approach is to give them the best care you can. So getting to know the ins and outs of your orchid is the first step in extending that lifespan.
First of all, you have to find a place for your orchid that gets indirect light for most of the day. They like a lot of light yet aren’t very tolerant of the high heat that comes with bright southern exposure.
And speaking of heat, you do need to watch the temperature in the room with your orchids as well as the light. There is some variation from one type of orchid to another but a general safe range is between 50 and 70F (or 10 and 21C).
Orchids of all types like a lot of water, but they also need their roots to have plenty of access to air. Water-logged roots can be the biggest killer of orchids. The best balance of water and air is to give your plants a deep drink when you water them, and have very loose potting mix so that it drains away quickly.
Most orchids are kept in a specialized non-soil potting mix. The specifics can vary depending on the type of orchid, and will contain some combination of sphagnum moss, shredded bark, perlite, coconut fiber and even fine gravel. It should hold water long enough to provide water to the roots, and no longer.
When growing outside naturally, most orchids are epiphytes, meaning they actually grow with their roots exposed to the air and do not need the nutrients you expect from the usual houseplant potting mixes.
You will likely only need to water your orchid about once a week, or once the top inch of the potting medium is dry. Simple enough, except that is not the end of your water tasks. Orchids may like dry roots but they also need a very humid environment to make up for the lack of water in their pots.
It is pretty typical for a house to be humid enough to suit an orchid’s needs (between 50 and 70% humidity) without any added effort on your part. If you are not sure, you can get a small hygrometer to measure humidity.
Winter seasons can be the driest indoors, so watch closely once the colder weather hits. When it’s dry, you’ll need to add more moisture to the air to keep your plants happy.
You can try any of the usual methods to up the humidity, like daily mistings or keeping a dish of water nearby with small stones to speed up the evaporation. For a more serious orchid enthusiast, a humidifier in the room can also do the trick.
How Long Do Orchid Blooms Last?
You may just be curious about how long the orchid blooms last, rather than the lifespan of the entire plant. Most orchids will come into flower once a year, and their colorful blossoms can easily last for weeks, or even months. Some newer hybrids have repeated bloom cycles in a year, and some will even flower continuously.
While we are on the subject of flowering, you should know that you have to do a little environmental tweaking to get your plants to bloom because they need seasonal changes to start the cycle. You have to let the temperature drop considerably overnight to get orchids to flower, sometimes as much as 10 to 15 degrees.
This is where most people fail with their orchids, either because they aren’t aware of it or are just unable to manage the temperatures in their home like this. They don’t die without it but they won’t flower until triggered.
Long-Lived Orchid Varieties
Unfortunately, there aren’t any particular types of orchids that are known to have a longer lifespan than the others. If you want to have an orchid that lives for a long time, it would be best to choose one that is fairly easy to grow. And in that case, you do have a few good choices available.
The most common and easiest to grow type of orchid is the moth orchid, also known as Phalaenopsis. Their care is typical of the guidelines we’ve already outlined, though they do prefer their humidity levels to be at the high end of the range.
Definitely go with indirect light rather than bright sun, though they are fine with more heat than some other types of orchids.
Another option for a relatively easy orchid is the Lady of the Night orchid (Brassavola), which is a hybrid known to flower more than once each year. It’s also highly fragrant when it does.
You can follow the general suggestions for care, though if your orchid is flowering a lot, you can add a little weak fertilizer to your routine to keep it healthy and living longer (find a formula for orchids). Overall, this is a very tolerant choice if you are not used to the specialized care.
How to Propagate Orchids
Another way to extend the “life” of your orchid is to let it reproduce into new plants. It’s not quite as simple as splitting a perennial or repotting a succulent pup, so don’t necessarily rely on this at first for growing your orchid collection.
As you gain a bit more experience, you can give it a try. To add to the challenge, not all orchids reproduce exactly the same way and you may need to learn more than one technique depending on what you are growing.
To use the popular moth orchid as an example, you can start new plants by potting the small offshoots that can develop along the stems. In the orchid world, they are called keikies.
You can’t just pluck them off and let them root in their own pot though. It’s a bit more complicated than that. When your original orchid starts to produce these buds, you’ll need some keiki rooting hormone (available at good garden stores or florists) to get started.
Use a sharp knife to very carefully cut through the bract, or leafy covering to the bud. Don’t cut the keiki off! Gently pull a bit of the leaf back and get some rooting hormone in there. The package will tell you how much to use.
Cover back up with the bit of bract, and leave it to develop some roots. Once those roots are a few inches long, you can now remove the keiki and get it started in its own pot of moss or shredded bark.
If it sounds daunting, you can find several good tutorials online where you can see the process more clearly than a written description.
Hopefully, your skill will keep your orchids healthy and blooming for many years to come, adding a lot of interest to your indoor gardening.