I am a relative newcomer to orchid fandom. For most of my life I felt that orchids fell into the category of “things that grandmas like” and that they were next to impossible to keep and care for. Then I was given an orchid or two, and I fell in love with the longevity of the blooms and the beauty of the plants as well as the flowers.
I, by no means, consider myself an orchid expert at this point – rather a novice with aspirations for orchid greatness at some point (probably when I am, in fact, a grandma). That being said, there are a few things that I have learned about orchids that I feel compelled to share. So here are eight tips for orchid care that I wish I had known years ago:
- Don’t be afraid!: For many people, myself included, orchids at first seem intimidating and overwhelming. I found myself wracked with anxiety about how to care for these plants that have a reputation for being finicky and difficult. How often and how much do I water? What kind of light do they need? What bedtime stories should i read them? In response to these and many other questions I turned, of course, to my mother, who over the years has managed to successfully care for dozens of orchids. In fact, she runs an orchid orphanage of sorts, growing and caring for orchids that she has been given, that she has bought, and even some that she has found on the streets of London, tossed in the rubbish bin by the bus stop. Her advice: “don’t be afraid. The very worst that can happen – you can enjoy the forced blooms that made you buy the orchids in the first place and then you kill it. Your anxiety about the plant isn’t helping you or the plant, so just stop it.” Point taken.
- Pick your orchid wisely: The choice that you make when you initially purchase an orchid is critical to your long-term success in having it flourish and re-bloom for you later on. A wonderful woman at my work who is the most amazing, self-taught flower arranger gave me this advice:
- Look for a plant with bright green leaves – they should be thick and full and a healthy bright color.
- Look for a plant with lots of bright green roots. take the orchid plant out of the decorative pot that it is in in the shop and look through the plastic inner pot. how do those roots look? do they look thick, firm and healthy? Avoid plants that have lots of brown or shriveled roots – these plants are not doing well.
- Choose a plant that has more than one stalk if you can, and one that has several unopened buds. In the right spot, all of these buds will open and you may have several months of beautiful blossoms to enjoy.
- Make sure you have a good containers for your orchid: Orchids do well if they are in a clear container. Not always the most beautiful option, but they photosynthesize through their roots and so any way that you can get more light to their roots the better. You can find special orchid pots online. I use sort of plain plastic ones because, let’s face it, we’re looking at the plant and not the pot.
- Water regularly but not too much: Orchids need to have well moistened orchid medium every ten days or so. After repotting my orchids recently, I have taken to giving the plants a really thorough soak, running cool water over the roots for a minute, then leaving the pot in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes so that the growing media can get really wet. After draining I put them back in their little spot. They seem pretty happy with this so I try not to overthink it.
- Put them in a good, not too sunny, sunny spot: Orchids like indirect, bright light. They do well placed near our south facing windows. They do well some distance from my mum’s west facing windows.
- Keep out of the way of clumsy people (including me): Obvious. But let me tell you, my otherwise charming husband has an amazing ability to knock over my somewhat top-heavy orchids. Disaster! One plant had leaves broken (I tried taping the pieces of the leaf back together – you will be shocked to learn that that didn’t work well!), and another had the stem with the blooms snapped right off. Suffice it to say, try and put your plants some place where they will not fall victim to such terrors. Almost as soon as I wrote this, I knocked my most lovely orchid over. No breaks, but isn’t that always the way?
- Don’t throw away the plant once the blooms are gone: A lot of people dispose of their orchids once the blooms have faded assuming that a forced orchid won’t re-bloom easily if at all. While it can be a challenge to get your orchids to re-bloom, with a little patience, many plants will reinvest in blossoms. My mum has had some orchids that have bloomed more than once a year, every year for 15 years! Don’t throw the plants away – learn to love the thick waxy leaves which are beautiful in their own right, and enjoy watching as the plant makes decisions about how to invest its energy – new leaves, new blooms, who knows? Either way, they are lovely!
- Be patient: Finally, patience is the key. It might take a little while for your orchids that were forced to bloom in green house to be ready to bloom again. Love them, care for them – they will probably reward you.