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Orchid Care 101: Pruning, Watering, & Growing the Perfect Indoor Plant

Orchid Care 101: Pruning, Watering, & Growing the Perfect Indoor Plant

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Don’t be fooled into believing that taking care of orchids is difficult. In this indoor orchid care guide, you’ll learn the right techniques to keep your orchids growing healthy and watered sufficiently.

You’ll also learn about the best watering techniques to use (and when) as well as the temperature, humidity, and the amount of sunlight needed for different types of orchids.

In fact, if you have tried and failed in the past to take care of orchids indoors, there’s a good chance you’ve followed the right advice, but for the wrong type of orchid.

Indoor Orchid Care

Picking the Right Type of Orchid to Suit the Growing Conditions

Oncidium Orchids Are Easy To Grow Indoors

Taking care of orchids indoors is much easier when you pick the type of orchid to grow based on the conditions you have.

Trying to take care of an orchid that isn’t getting the right light intensity levels is going to be a battle you won’t win. Make things easier from the get-go by picking your orchids based on the conditions you have available.

Here are some of your better options:

For low light conditions such as having orchids placed on the sill of a north or east facing window (or nearby those locations), the preferred types to grow include the Oncidium (Dancing-lady Orchid), Paphiopedilum (Venus slipper) and Phalaenopsis (Moth orchids).

For brighter light levels of south or west facing window light, alternative orchids include Cattleya, Dendrobium, and Vanda (Singapore orchid).

However, while these varieties do prefer a warmer climate with plenty of light, leaf burn can become an issue if the sunlight gets too strong for the plant. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get sunburn.  

If you’re lucky enough to have a high amount of sunlight for 6 to 8 hours daily, you could try growing Angraecum orchids (more commonly referred to as the Christmas orchid, Darwin’s orchid and also – because of its shape – the Star of Bethlehem orchid).

However, these are more suited to greenhouse growing conditions so unless you have a grow room or grow tower with greenhouse conditions, opt for one of the easier types of orchids to grow indoors.

How to Tell if Your Orchids Are Getting Sufficient Sunlight

Too Much Sunlight Can Turn Orchid Leaves Yellow

One of the ways to tell if your orchids are getting enough sunlight, or at least adequate amounts is by keeping an eye on the leaf color. They should be bright green with no yellowing or reddening.

If the shade of green goes darker, that’s an indication of the plant lacking sunlight, in which case move it to a south or west facing window.

If the leaves take on a yellowing effect or begin to redden, it’s getting too much light, in which case you should move the plant to a north or east facing window where the sunlight isn’t as intense.

An alternative is to apply UV blocking window screens to prevent overexposure to sunlight, which causes leaf burn. If you are using window screens, as many do in hotter climates, then if the screen makes a huge reduction to the direct sunlight the plant receives, it can have a detrimental effect on plant growth.

Something to keep an eye on if you do (or have) installed a window screen.

Choosing the Right Potting Mix for Your Orchids

Orchids Grow On Trees Not In Soil

Orchids do not grow in soil. That’s the most common mistake those new to growing orchids have. The potting mix an orchid needs are those that mimic their natural habitat.

Orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow on trees. Not soil. Ingredients that best mimic those conditions are Fir bark, peat moss and perlite.

How and Why You Need to Repot New Orchids

The majority of orchids sold in nurseries and grocery stores are potted in sphagnum moss because that holds water well, meaning it doesn’t need to be watered as much.

That’s a problem for longevity because sphagnum moss holds water longer, which is what you don’t want to be happening in your pot. Commercial growers use it for packing, preventing root damage during transit and to reduce the amount of water they need to feed it while in storage.

When you get your orchid home, take it out of the pot and check the roots and the mix. If it’s packed tightly together, it’s likely sphagnum moss. Get rid of all of it.

Just pick it away with your fingers until all the roots are exposed, then repot in the same container but with an orchid potting mix instead.

The Temperature Variations for Different Types of Orchids

You can’t settle on a type of orchid to grow based on light alone. Temperature also plays a vital part in taking care of orchids indoors.

Different orchids need different temperatures to grow the best and each type needs a variation of temperature during the daytime and nighttime. Most require only a 10oF to 20oF drop in temperature overnight for blooming.

For indoor growers, that’s usually going to mean having your plant near a window during the daytime and moving it to somewhere warmer indoors, perhaps a coffee table or side table away from the colder window overnight, then put it back in the morning.

The American Orchid Society classifies three groups of temperatures for orchids as being Cool, Intermediate or Warm.

The Temperature Ranges for Each Group Are:

1 – Cool Temperatures are: 60-70oF (Roughly 150C to 21oC) days and 50-55oF (around 10oC to 12oC) at night.

  • Cool-growing orchids include: Brassia, Dendrobium and Cymbidium.

2 – Intermediate Temperatures are: 70-80oF F days (21 to 26oC) and 55-65oF F (12oC to 180oC) overnight.

  • Orchids suited to these climates include: Cattleya, and Miltoniopsis.

3 – Warm Temperatures: 80-90oF days (26oC to 32oC) and 65oF -70oF (18oC to 21oC) at night.

  • Warm temperature growing orchids include the Phalaenopsis, Catasetum discolor, and the Brassavola cucullata.

The Royal Horticultural Society has a list of Orchid profiles with the temperatures required for each. You can check that out at the link below:

Ideal Humidity Levels for Orchids Indoors

All orchids, as well as well as any other plant species need humidity and air circulation. Orchids more than most other plants because the majority need humidity levels above 50%, sometimes to extreme ranges of 80% humidity.

This is where plants and humans have a difference in opinion when it comes to comfortable humidity levels.

High humidity indoors means there’s moisture in the air. This is why you don’t need to be watering plants every day or every other day.

Once or twice a week is fine, provided the humidity is at least over 40%. For us, anything higher than 50% relative humidity tends to be too warm to feel comfortable.

The difference between relative humidity and absolute humidity is that absolute is a measure of the water content in the air, whereas relative humidity is measuring the same water vapor but in terms of its temperature.

That’s why weather forecasts can tell you the humidity, the temperature and a second reading listing what it will feel like, which can be different from the actual temperature.

Controlling Indoor Humidity Levels

No matter the type of orchid you’re growing, you’ll need a way to measure the humidity to make sure the conditions are right. Especially in the colder months when you’re using supplemental heating to keep your home warm.

That’s going to dry the air, reducing the amount of moisture available to your plants. When this happens, you need to be misting your plants as a way to counteract the dry air from additional heat indoors.

An inexpensive humidity gauge will give you a humidity reading. Other meters have humidity sensors with an alarm to alert you when the humidity levels are too high or too low.

A habit to get into is checking your humidity gauge last thing at night before you put the lights out, because that’s when humidity is the highest. It tends to drop during the day at peak sunlight hours.

There are a few ways that you can increase the humidity in your grow area.

1 – Misting

The simplest method to raise humidity is to mist your plants. The problem with that is it’s not going to last all day. If you’re relying on misting your plants, you may be misting it several times a day just to replace lost moisture when you’re heating is running.

It’s best to mist with filtered or distilled water. Obviously, it’ll be cheaper to buy a water filter once for your plant water than it will be to use distilled water.

2 – Use a Humidity Tray with Pebbles

With a humidity tray, it’s possible to decrease the amount of times you need to mist your plants while simultaneously increasing the moisture around your plant.

What’s more is you can make it look more like a decorative plant stand rather than a tool.

Check out this video to see how simple this is:

Something to consider is the weight of your pot. The idea of using pebbles is partly to prevent the plant pot from sitting in the water, which will cause root rot. The other reason is that gravel absorbs the water and releases it gradually.

A slick way to increase the strength of a humidity tray to support the weight of heavier plant pots is to use egg crate louvres. They’re only plastic with tiny grids cut out, however, by attaching them over your humidity tray, your tray will support heavier weight plant pots.

These prevent pots sinking into the gravel. If you do use this method, you can skip the pebbles or gravel if you like. Without them, the water will evaporate quicker though as it’s exposed more to the air.

3 – Use a Humidifier

Humidifiers are ideal for the winter months and they can save on your heating too because it costs less to humidify the air than it does to heat your home.

If you aren’t concerned about humidity in all your rooms, a compact dehumidifier should do the trick by placing it near your grow area.

Compact units are ideal for taking care of orchids indoors as you’re able to place them near your grow area without a big bulky appliance ruining the view.  

Air Movement Contributes to Humidity

It’d be wrong to discuss indoor orchid care without discussing air circulation as this is a secondary component to humidity. Both need to work together in harmony for orchids to grow healthily indoors.

You don’t need much air movement. Just enough for a slight breeze. Any small fan, such as oscillating fans for desks will provide enough air circulation for orchids.

It doesn’t need to be directed at the plant, so long as it causes air movement around it. You’ll notice the leaves sway gently when the fan is on at the lowest setting. That’s all you need. Enough of a breeze to move air around the plant.

This is done to control the humidity in the air directly surrounding the plant because all the water absorbed needs to come out of the plant.

Think of the plant leaves as your skin. Just like we sweat, plants transpire. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and put out oxygen consistently. The only way they can do that is with the right humidity and air circulation to maintain stable conditions.

More importantly, air circulation is what prevents your orchid from getting bacterial infections. Without it, the higher levels of dry air can contribute to mold and fungi growth.

The most common bacterial infection orchids are infected by is brown spot and that’s caused by “cool and moist” air. Take care of your humidity and air circulation and you have to worry about viruses or infections.

The Only Two Watering Techniques for Orchids (And the One to Never Use)

Whenever you get a new plant, you need to get to know its preference for watering. There are guidelines, but how much a plant drinks has a lot to do with the growing conditions.

All too often plants can be overwatered or underwatered. Knowing which one is tricky because the signs of both watering mistakes are similar.

So, expect in your early days for a little trial and error until you find the sweet spot for the watering frequency of your orchid.

Orchids can be watered using one of two techniques. You can bathe them once a week, or just use a watering can. What never to do is put an ice cube on top of the soil. You’ll find out why in a bit…

Here’s the techniques you can use to water your orchids.

1 – The Bathing Method

This is just a weekly bath for 15 minutes to a half hour at most. It’s best to do this in the morning so the plant isn’t drenching wet at night.

Always use filtered water as tap water often contains different chemicals that can harm plants. Another option, if you live in an area that gets decent rainfall, is to collect rainwater and use that for bathing your orchids.

Bathing your orchids is much easier to do when you use clear orchid pots placed inside decorative pots. These Truedays pots are ideal as they have drainage holes at the bottom and the sides.

By using clear orchid pots you’ll be see the roots of the plant and the holes let plenty of water in too. All you need to do to bathe your orchid inside one of these is place it inside either a basin, another plastic tub without holes that’s slightly larger, or you can just use your kitchen sink or bath tub.

Fill the water up until it covers the top soil then leave the roots soaking for 15 minutes to a half hour. Then, take it out of the water and set it somewhere to drain for another half hour before putting it back in its pot.

Always let it air dry. Don’t put it in the pot with water still dripping from the bottom.

Most orchids only need a bath every 7 to 11 days, however, there are some that may need a good soaking twice weekly.

When you start growing a new orchid, pay attention to the potting mix over the first month. You only need to bathe the plant when the mixture is dry. If it’s even the slightest bit damp, leave it be until it’s dry.

2 – The Standard Pouring Method

Standard Pouring Method Is One Way To Water Orchids

This is the easiest and fastest way to water your orchids. Using a regular watering can with tepid filtered water, pour it onto the soil until it starts to cover the top of the soil.

You only need to water your plants when the soil is dry. Do not stick to a watering schedule such as every Saturday morning. Dip your finger in the soil. If it feels moist, it won’t need to be watered. Let it completely dry out before adding water.

Never Use Ice Cubes

You may have read or heard the tip about watering orchids with an ice cube. It’s claimed that it’s ideal because it gently drips water into the plant, preventing you from over watering it. Which does make sense. What doesn’t is that it’s freezing cold water.

Orchids are supposed to be watered with tepid water (room temperature) because the natural habitat they’re used to is in the wild in high humidity and warm weather. Ice cubes are too cold for orchids.

Taking Care of Your Orchids with Fertilizer

Fertilizer helps plant bloom and you definitely want to fertilize your orchids. It’s the only way you’re going to get gorgeous blooms from them.

They don’t need much though and you can’t go full strength with them. Much like lilies with regards to fertilizer, they prefer half strength, and it needs to be water soluble. Not the stick type you put in soil. Those won’t work.

When your orchid is in bloom, feed it a balanced strength of 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer mixed at equal amounts. Use a mixture that’s half filtered water and half fertilizer once every second week but no less than once monthly.

When fertilizing, you want to be pouring it directly into the soil slowly so it isn’t coming into contact with the plant leaves. Good practice is to give the roots a little moisture so they aren’t completely dry when the fertilizer is added.

A little watering with filtered water first just to moisten the soil around the roots helps prevent the fertilizer from burning the roots and shocking the plant.

You only need to fertilize orchids during bloom season. When the days get shorter as winter approaches, the plants will slow down blooming, or stop completely.

Fertilizer won’t make them flower all year. They need rest, so give them two to three months of rest from the fertilizer over winter so they can come back fully rested next season.

See more on How To Properly Care for an Orchid After Flowering.

Pruning Orchids the Right Way

Pruning is essential for your orchids to continue blooming. Better yet, these plants tell you when to trim them. The ideal time to trim the spikes on an orchid plant is when the flowers start to fade, or sooner is better – when they begin yellowing.

You can leave the flowers until they’re completely dead and it won’t do any harm. What it will do is take longer for blooms to grow back as dying flowers are still taking some energy through the stalks.

To divert as much of the plant’s energy towards future spikes and even more blooms, as soon you see the flowers fade in color or yellow, trim them.

When you do, cut it diagonally with a pair of sharp pruning shears just above the node of the stem. This will be about one-inch from the base.

The only type of orchid not to cut all the way to an inch above the base is on Dendrobium orchids. With these, only trim the flowers and leave the stems as new flowers bloom on the same stems each year and they grow back bigger.

For most orchids, you’ll only need to give them a major trim at the end of their flowering season, by which time they won’t be blooming anyway. But, if you notice the flowers fading, snip it off.

There are other times you should prune the spikes of an orchid plant, even if the flowers aren’t fading in color. That’s if the spikes aren’t their usual green color, but instead, they’re yellowing or turning brown. These are unhealthy and won’t contribute to good blooms.

Pruning Yellowing or Brown Spikes

If the spikes are brown, you want to cut the entire spike back right to the base of the plant to let a new and healthy one start growing.

For yellowing plants, you can cut these an inch above the base, just above the first node as the base will still be healthy. Only if it’s yellow though, which is a sign the stalk weakening.

Trimming a yellowing spike catches it early, allowing the same stalk to regrow healthily. If it’s brown though, just get rid of that by cutting the whole thing off from the base and a new one will start growing again.

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