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Though not for the novice, orchids are very popular houseplants due to their unique look and the challenge of growing them.
Unlike many plants that can give you a lovely green cascade of leaves, orchids are all about the flowers. In fact, many of them are quite sparse in terms of leaves, creating a more bold display of color.
Orchids come in a whole rainbow of possible colors, including many striking variegated varieties. Even though orchids are famous for their visual beauty, they are usually very fragrant as well.
Basic Orchid Care
Orchids aren’t actually all that difficult to care for (see my full care guide), you just need to have a very precise environment for them to thrive. You have to pay close attention to light, moisture levels and room temperature.
Let’s start off with light. Orchids aren’t that different from other houseplants in terms of their lighting needs. Bright light is good as long as you don’t allow the plants to get too hot. A south-facing window may suit if you don’t keep the orchids right up by the glass where the heat is highest. East-facing can be perfect.
When it comes to water, orchids need to be kept moist without getting soggy, which can be one of the biggest challenges with these plants. The trick is getting the right mix of well-draining materials for your specific type of orchid.
A blend of shredded bark, sphagnum moss and some perlite is the usual place to start. In case you were curious, perlite is a natural mineral that looks like little white balls of styrofoam, often mixed into various types of potting mixes for drainage.
Once you have the right growing medium, you should water your orchids to give them a thorough soaking but then leave them alone until the soil is dry for about an inch down from the surface. That can mean you only water your plants once a week or even less.
Watering isn’t the only moisture issue with orchids. These plants need high humidity in the air as well, between 50 and 70%. An average house has humidity in this range so it may not be something you need to deal with.
If your house is on the dry side, you have to dampen things up. A nearby humidifier can help, as can a shallow dish of water with pebbles. Giving your orchids a daily misting is another option.
The last element to good orchid care is the temperature. Generally, they are fine in rooms that are between 50 and 70F (or between 10 and 21C), which is a little cooler than usual room temperatures. Though they have a reputation for being tropical plants, they don’t really like the high heat all the time.
Keeping a closer eye on the temperature is important when you are trying to get your orchids to bloom, which will will address more closely in a moment.
How Often Do Orchids Bloom?
Now that you’re taking great care of your orchid, when can you expect to start seeing new flowers? Chances are, you’ve purchased an orchid that already has blossoms on it so you won’t have to wait for new flowers until the current bloom has died.
After that, you may have to wait another year as most orchids only bloom annually. Some newer hybrids may produce flowers twice a year if the conditions are excellent.
How to Encourage Blooming
Keeping an orchid alive is one thing, it’s another to have it healthy enough to produce blooms for you. Even an orchid that is doing fine may not put out any flowers unless the right environmental conditions are in place.
They’re not all the same, but generally an orchid needs just the right light and some temperature changes before it will flower.
Orchids need lots of light to blossom, so if you can get bright or indirect light for your plants 8 to 12 hours a day, you’re a lot more likely to see new flowers. If nature doesn’t oblige, you’ll need to install an artificial light or two.
After light, the next issue is the temperature, and more specifically how the temperature changes from day to night. There has to be warmer daytime temperatures than usual, and a significant cooling off during the night.
Generally speaking, you need to have your plants at 70-85F (21-29C) during the day and let it drop down to around 60F (16C) at night to trigger a flowering cycle. If you are growing Oncidium orchids, they definitely need it to be at the hotter end of that range.
This is the area where most people have trouble getting their orchids to bloom. Your average home doesn’t keep rooms that hot since it would be pretty uncomfortable for everyone but the flowers.
Normally orchids do not need fertilizer, though a little nutrient boost while you are trying to get them to flower doesn’t hurt. You’ll need a particular formula intended for orchids, and not your usual general-purpose houseplant mix.
Though these changes can be enough to get some flowers going on their own, doing these adjustments during the right time of year is another good idea. The natural blooming period for orchids is between May and October, so when you start raising (and dropping) the temperatures, this is when you should plan to do it.
After the flowers have died back, it’s best to snip off the now-dead flower spike. While you are at it, remove any dead leaves to clean up your plant. At this point, your orchid is going to go dormant until the next year’s blooming period. It’s the best time to repot your plant.
This step is often misunderstood, and doing it correctly will make a big difference in whether or not your flowers bloom next year. Gardeners tend to leave their orchids in the same pot year after year, waiting for it to outgrow the container.
The problem is that orchids do not grow very large and may never outgrow their pot. In fact, the reason you repot an orchid has nothing to do with size at all. Using a growing medium like coconut fiber, moss or bark means more decomposition and rotting than regular soil.
After a year, you need to provide fresh rooting material as the old breaks down and changes the chemistry within the pot. So gently loosed the roots from the old media, and replant with fresh. You don’t necessarily need to find a new container, just new bark or moss.
How Long Do the Blooms Last?
Once your plants come into flower, how long can you expect them to last? That depends on what species of orchid you are growing.
For all the work you put into keeping the plants happy, it’s nice to know that their lovely flowers should last several weeks at the minimum. Some varieties will keep their blossoms for a few months.
Best Orchids for Indoor Gardening
If you are thinking about getting into orchids, you are almost certainly to be overwhelmed when you start looking for the right varieties. This is one of the largest groups of flowering plants with more than 25,000 different species. With that kind of choice, how do you decide?
Not all are well-suited for indoor gardening, especially not for the novice orchid grower. If you are just getting started, you should choose one of these varieties, know for being easiest to grow:
- Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis sp.)
- Dendrobium orchids (Dendrobium sp.)
- Lady of the Night (Brassavola sp.)
- Dancing lady orchids (Oncidium sp.)
- Lady slipper orchids (Paphiopedilium sp.)
- Cattleya orchids (Cattleya sp.)
This isn’t a comprehensive list of options, and many others are great for growing indoors (or even outside). Still can’t choose? Go with a moth orchid if its your first.
Hopefully, this has dispelled some of your fears about raising orchids and given you the right tools to make sure yours provide you with colorful flowers year after year.