“Orchids don’t make good houseplants; don’t buy an Orchid”. That was Grandma’s advice. And since I considered Grandma a gardening expert, I believed her. Yet, I couldn’t resist those tall exotic blooms and one day found myself leaving the grocery store with a beautiful white Orchid in hand. “Oh well I thought, I don’t know how to take care of orchids, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts”
Well, Grandma was wrong! That Orchid flourished. It bloomed and bloomed and bloomed again! I even repotted it and that orchid rebloomed again!
And, you can have this success too!
Are orchids easy to care for?
Yes! Read on for practical non-expert orchid tips. Learn how to care for orchids, water orchids, how to repot an orchid, which orchids to buy, and get tips for helping your orchid to rebloom again and again and again.
How to take care of orchids in 5 easy steps:
- Place your orchid in a bright window away from cold drafts and hot south-facing sun
- Water your orchid every 7-10 days by submerging the roots for 15 minutes or giving it a few ice cubes
- Cut off any dry leaves, shrivelled flower stalks, and dead roots growing out of the pot
- Repot your orchid only after a few years using orchid potting mix
- Fertilize your orchid by following the orchid fertilizer instructions
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Which orchid flower should you buy?
My advice: Just buy the prettiest one.
More specifically, go to the grocery store (or whatever large department store that also happens to sell houseplants) and just buy the one you think is prettiest! Picking a plant with some un-opened buds means the flowering will last longer. Avoid plants with dry or yellowing leaves. ‘Orchid care tip’ instructions sheets and a lovely pot are a bonus.
Tips for picking out an orchid:
- Choose an orchid with fat, unopened flower buds – this way you’ll have a longer bloom period to enjoy their beautiful colours
- Try to find an orchid that isn’t potted in moss, but has pieces of bark as the rooting substrate instead
- Avoid plants with discoloured spots on their leaves or rotting leaves
- Some orchids will have more than one flower stalk – I’d suggest grabbing one if you see it, because you’re getting bonus blooms on that one!
- Take a peek for tiny tiny insects under the leaves, inside the flowers… if you see bugs, I’d suggest avoiding that whole group of orchids… because where there’s one bug, there are usually more!
Here’s the truth of my orchid success: I’ve only ever bought the cheap department store orchids (two from the grocery store, one from Ikea). I have never even tried to figure out which orchids are recommended as houseplants. In fact, I have no idea what variety my orchids actually are!
I just assume that the grocery store doesn’t want lots of people complaining that their plants have died so they probably figured out which ones would do best and are only selling those. (Of course I could be totally wrong on this, but so far, I’ve been lucky).
If you really want to know, it seems many sites recommend the moth orchid or the Phalaenopsis orchid. Did you know you can actually buy orchids online? (But, is it really a good idea to get an orchid shipped in the mail? With the availability of orchids in shops, I am very hesitant to order one online!)
Indoor Orchid Care: What’s the best temperature for growing orchids?
Most orchids prefer an average home temperature and love when the temperatures fluctuate naturally. Because I have horribly-insulated windows, my orchids get a good dip in the temperature each night.
My advice: If you’re comfortable in your home, chances are orchids will be too.
But, that being said, don’t leave them where they’ll be in a draft or too close to a vent.
Updated to add: Recently our furnace quite when we were away for a few days… we returned to a house that was 4 degrees Celsius (39 Fahrenheit)! So, I can tell you, from experience, that is too cold for an orchid! It’s also too cold for African Violets!
If you happen to live somewhere quite hot without much of a nighttime temperature drop, you might have more difficulties getting your orchids to rebloom. Apparently, it’s the cooler night temperatures which help trigger blooming.
How to water Orchids?
According to the experts, most orchids like some humidity and don’t want to dry out too often. If you dig around in that stuff your orchid is planted in, you’ll likely find big chunks of bark and maybe some mosses. This stuff doesn’t absorb water very well. So, you’ll need to make sure you’re soaking or watering your orchid every 7-14 days.
My advice: Give your plant a little water once each week and soak it when you remember.
How often should you water an orchid?
Orchids should be watered once a week, allowing the potting mix to dry out between waterings. It’s important to not overwater, or let your orchid’s roots sit in water as this can lead to root rot.
Should you water orchids with ice cubes?
Yes, you can water orchids with ice cubes. Watering with ice cubes can help to keep the roots cool and reduce the risk of root rot because it limits how much water the plant is given.
I have read that there is some concern that the cold water will shock the plant. However, I have been doing this off and on for years now and my orchids are growing just the same as they were before I started using ice cubes.
I think the ‘ice cube water system’ works because the slow melt encourages the bark to absorb some water, giving the roots a chance to drink it up at their pace. Otherwise, if you just pour regular water into your pot, you’ll notice the water very quickly just runs through and out the bottom.
How many ice cubes do indoor orchids need?
Well, I’m just guessing here, but I’d probably try the following. If you live in a very humid climate, perhaps decrease the ice cubes by one for each size.
- 2 ice cubes per week for a tiny 2-3 inch pot
- 3 ice cubes per week for a 4-6 inch pot
- 4-6 ice cubes per week for a 6-10 inch pot.
How to soak orchids for watering
Sit your orchid in a larger container of water for about 15 minutes and let the water soak up through the drainage holes. Doing this every few weeks will allow for the planting materials to absorb water and slowly release that back to the roots.
Getting yourself a soil moisture reader could be fun if you like monitoring these types of things.
This is how I water my orchids with the soaking method:
See how I take care of orchids in this video below, I prefer to use the soaking method. I try to do this about once a week. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I just give them a splash of water or a few ice cubes.
You can also see what I mean by double-potting (which I mention below) in this video. You’ll see I also cut off a dead flower stalk and a dried out root while I was watering.
Keeping humidity levels up
As for keeping the humidity up, there are a few things you can do. Keeping your orchid in the bathroom or kitchen means it will enjoy an increased humidity level. You could also double pot your plant or keep it on a pebble tray. Grouping plants together also increases their humidity levels.
What is a pebble tray?
A pebble tray is simply a tray or dish with pebbles and water that you sit your plants on. This point is to increase humidity levels around your plants. So when you water your plants, you should also add water to your trays. You can use regular stones from your yard in any sort of container, or make a very pretty display using small glass decorative stones in a beautiful shallow dish… both work just as well!
What does double potting mean?
Ready for my planting secret? It’s double potting! I put my orchids into slightly larger pots or bowls. Then, I put some rocks or some plastic bottle caps on the bottom of the larger vessel to hold my orchid up off the bottom. When I water my orchid with a splash of water (or by using ice cubes) any excess water runs into the bottom and I leave it there to slowly evaporate, providing humidity.
The important piece is that the orchid is raised up. Don’t let the orchid’s roots sit in that water! If there’s too much water in the bottom (or it’s scuzzy and yucky) dump it out and cut off any rotten roots that had been sitting in that water!
How to fertilize orchids?
As plants grow and bloom and thrive they’ll slowly use up the nutrients present in their growing medium. You can replenish these important nutrients in a variety of ways. A quick Google search will give you all sorts of DIY orchid fertilizer formulas or you can skip the research and just buy yourself an easy to apply quality orchid fertilizer.
Our Picks for Orchid Fertilizers:
No fuss, easy to apply, top-rated, orchid fertilizers.
Do Orchids need sunlight?
Orchids do best with medium to high light like east and west-facing sun. Most guides recommend against northern exposure; although, my mom’s orchid (below) has had many reblooms. And her orchid sits in the middle of a huge north facing window. And, we’re in Canada… that north window doesn’t get any sun at all!)
My advice: Don’t put orchids in the direct hot summer sun. Sit them where you’ll enjoy them and where they’ll enjoy a few hours of bright light each day.
My orchids have gotten ugly white sunburn spots on their leaves when they get too much direct hot summer sun… whoops!
Can orchids grow in a north-facing window?
Yes, orchids can survive in a north-facing window as long as that window is big with lots of bright light and you are watering it properly.
Here’s proof! This particular orchid below was purchased from a grocery store about 3 years ago. Plus, my mom cares for her orchids in a very non-professional way: no fertilizers, a splash of water when she remembers, no re-potting, and a north facing window. Beautiful! (But my photography skills could use some work!)
Tips on re-potting an Orchid
When should you repot an orchid?
Eventually, if you have success with your orchid, it will outgrow its original pot. You’ll know it’s time to repot when the orchid is top heavy, or the roots at the bottom have exploded out of the container like a giant sea monster’s tentacles trying to drown a ship!
If your roots are potted in moss and you worry that perhaps your roots are rotting or are too wet too much of the time you should consider changing out that potting mix for something that drains quickly and will allow some air to get down into the roots. (Check out the video below.)
My advice: wait a few years… unless your orchid’s roots are potted in moss… if that’s the case, repot them now!
How to repot an orchid:
- Buy a small bag of orchid potting mix
- Choose a plant pot a few inches larger than your current plant pot (make sure it’s clean).
- Gently remove your orchid from its original pot. You may need to cut some roots to free it.
- Remove any rotten-looking roots or potting mix. Dig between the roots if needed.
- Place your orchid root ball into the new container, try to push bark pieces gently in between the roots, and fill around with smaller pieces of the orchid potting mix.
- Make sure you remember to include your stem support stick or add a higher one if needed.
- Soak for about 20-30 minutes, drain, and place in a bright spot to enjoy.
Cost-saving & eco-conscious tip: If you have a nice fancy pot to put your double-potted orchid into, go ahead and re-use a yogurt container (or whatever fits) for the inside pot. Just make sure to cut out some water drainage holes in the bottoms and air holes in the sides if you’re feeling ambitious.
My Favourite Must-Haves for Orchid Repotting:
What if your orchid is potted in moss?
“Help, my orchid is potted in moss and it is dying!“
I hope this isn’t your situation, but the more I learn about orchids, the more I see people’s orchids arriving home with their roots packed into moss… and that can cause a lot of root rotting damage if those roots stay too wet!
This video demonstrates very clearly how to repot an orchid that has been packed in moss.
How to encourage an Orchid to rebloom?
How to rebloom orchids:
- Pluck off any dead flowers. You can also cut the flower stalk if it appears to have dried out.
- Leave the orchid to sit in a bright spot close to a window. Often times there is a night-time temperature fluctuation closer to windows and this daily fluctuating temperature may help with triggering reblooming.
- Continue to water as usual and wait.
- If after 6 months you don’t see any new flower buds or a flower stalk growing, you can try to cut the old flower stalk down (cut just before a little bump on the stem).
- Decrease watering and provide lower light levels to encourage a dormant period.
- Wait some more.
- If you still haven’t seen any new flower stem growth, try moving the plant to a different spot. At this point, you just need to experiment a little – maybe a bit of fertilizer? maybe change up your watering routine or find a spot with a cooler or warmer temperature?
My advice: Give it time.
It is possible to rebloom orchids! Both my mom and I have had tremendous success with our orchids and neither one of us has really done anything special. According to the plant experts, an orchid will be best encouraged to rebloom if it receives nightly temperature fluctuations and I think this is probably why we’ve had success… we tend to keep our homes cooler at night, especially during the winter season.
Troubleshooting orchid reblooming:
Should you cut dead flower stalks?
Whether you cut the dead flower stalks is a personal preference. Mom and I have differing opinions on whether or not we should cut those flower stalks. I tend to cut them. She doesn’t. Both of us have had our orchids rebloom.
I have seen youtubers have success with getting their orchids to rebloom from the same flower stalk if they keep that flower stalk (and the little nodes on it) moist. I think they’ve used aloe vera gel for this (but I can’t seem to find that video to share with you here). But, this one is also very informative.
What if your orchid still isn’t reblooming?
Try moving your orchid to a less-bright and slightly cooler location. Give your orchid a bit less water than you would normally. Then, after a few months, move it back to the brighter location, give it some fertilizer, and start watering more regularly. Hopefully this little forced dormancy will reset your orchid and encourage it to bloom.
Can I really take care of orchids?
I get asked this a lot… and you can see above, that really, once you get into the routine of watering them regularly, they’re sure to reward you with plenty of years of beautiful flowers.
Growing houseplants is one of the easiest ways to bring nature indoors and into your family’s life. Plants make thoughtful gifts for almost any occasion. They help clean the air and elevate one’s mood. They help a home feel cozy and alive. And, they’re just nice to look at!
So, if you’re looking for an easy way to start with houseplants, I would suggest trying an orchid. Hopefully this ‘how to take care of orchids’ article showed you that they don’t need much special treatment and has encouraged you to even try reblooming your orchid after its initial flowers have faded.
If you already have orchids in your home, and have any orchid growing tips that work really well for you, I’d love if you shared them. What works for me in my location will not necessarily work for everyone. Happy growing!
P.S. Bringing nature into your home and family life doesn’t just mean turning your family into avid hikers or going bird watching every Sunday morning. There are myriad of ways to be more environmentally aware and appreciative of the natural world.
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