Orchid-Care Tips

Find out how to care for orchids with these tips from HGTV gardening experts.

March 17, 2020
Pink Moth Orchid

Orchid Flower Stem

Moth orchids, also known as Phalaenopsis orchids, open flowers that resemble butterflies in flight.

Photo by: Bill Bishoff for Chicago Botanic Garden at ChicagoBotanic.org

Bill Bishoff for Chicago Botanic Garden at ChicagoBotanic.org

Pink Orchids

Pink Orchids

Orchids are native to every continent except Antarctica. That's good news because it means that for any given setting and environment, there's probably an orchid that will feel at home.

These beautiful plants may appear to be fragile and delicate, but they're actually quite durable. In fact, many orchids are even easy to care for. Before you bring one home, though, know what its light and care requirements are so you can give it exactly what it needs.

Selecting Orchids

Here's what to look for when shopping for an orchid:

  • Some roots should be visible at the top of the potting mix, and they should be whitish, firm and not moist. (Because they are epiphytes, orchids can draw moisture out of the air through their roots.) Roots coming out of the bottom of the pot is also not a bad sign; you don't even have to repot it when you get the plant home.
  • Some buds should be unopened — you'll get a longer display of first blooms.

Caring for Orchids at Home

The showiest orchids come from the humid equatorial regions of the planet, and once you get your plant home, much of your work will consist of approximating its natural environment. Here's what you need to do:

  • Mist frequently, but don't allow water to collect on the center area of the plant.
  • Place decorative pebbles in a tray and add water to the tray until it's just below the top of the pebbles; don't completely cover the pebbles. Sit the pot on the pebbles. The evaporating water will increase the humidity around the plant.
  • Avoid placing orchids near drying elements such as heaters and fireplaces.
  • Provide good air circulation to avoid heat buildup and bacterial infections.
  • Never leave plants sitting in water. All leaf surfaces should be dry at night to avoid spotting and bacterial growth.
  • Water plants with a weak solution of a high-nitrogen fertilizer.

Repotting Orchids

Although orchids enjoy being root-bound, they'll need to be repotted when the potting mix has broken down, usually every two years. Choose a time after the orchid has finished blooming; flowers could fall because of the stress of repotting.

How to repot your orchid:

  1. Remove the plant from the pot, using a kitchen knife to separate the outside of the rooting medium from the pot. (It's a good idea to first dip the knife into alcohol and water to make sure it's sterile.)
  2. Remove all the old potting medium from the roots and remove obviously dead roots (they feel soft or hollow). Dunk the root mass in a tub of water to finish cleaning.
  3. Select a pot that's only a little bigger than the one the orchid has been in. The pot should just accommodate the root mass. Plastic pots are usually used in nurseries, but terra-cotta pots are a good option because they dry out quickly. Ample drainage holes-preferably in both the bottom and the sides-are desirable.
  4. Use fir bark — never potting soil — to half-fill the pot, arrange the roots in the pot, and then add the rest of the bark. Tamp to settle.
  5. Water so that the water comes to the surface of the pot; let it drain through, and repeat two or three times.

Orchid Troubleshooting From an Expert

Becky Brinkman is a longtime manager of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Fuqua Orchid Center which is home to one of the country’s largest collections of species orchids. We asked Becky for her best orchid-care tips.

Avoid Overwatering

Let the plant dry out a little between waterings. Rather than adopting a rigid watering schedule that ignores the individual circumstance of your plant, do a check-in of your orchid daily, testing the soil to see if it is overly dry. Pay attention to the condition of your orchid's soil and water when it gets too dry.

Repot

The conventional peat moss-based houseplant soil orchids are grown and sold in retains moisture and breaks down quickly. In addition, after two years most orchids have outgrown their pot and will need a larger pot and fresh growing medium. When repotting your orchid Brinkman recommends you use a a coarse-textured potting mix that promotes air circulation, such as the combination of bark/charcoal/perlite.

Let the Sunshine in

Give your orchid intense sunlight. An east-facing windowsill is good.

Go Slow With the Fertilizer

Don’t overdo it with the fertilizer. Cut the dosage by half for these light feeders.

Next Up

Cattleya Orchids

Learn tips for growing the classic corsage orchid.

Repotting Orchids

Learn about transplanting orchids as you shift them from pots to garden.

Vegetable Container Gardening Tips

If you don't have room for a garden, or only want to grow a few vegetables, containers are the best way to go.

Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

Master gardener Chris Dawson shares these tips for growing fruit trees in pots.

How to Support and Water Hanging Baskets

If you've been shying away from hanging baskets, take a look at how to address some of the challenges.

The Best Flowers for Container Gardens

Seven outstanding annuals that adapt readily to pots and planters

18 Container Gardening Tips

Try these tricks of the trade to make your containers shine.

Make a Labor Day Garden Arrangement

Celebrate the holiday with flowers and foliage in patriotic red, white and blue.

Tips for Growing Container Tomatoes

Use this 12-step program for growing success.

Q&A: Cold-Climate Bulbs

Can bulbs survive the winter (and chinooks) in a pot?