How to Care for your Orchid Plant by Flora
Orchid plants are often considered to be difficult plants to keep for the average house plant enthusiast, due to their fragile nature. What most people do not realize is that the more popular varieties of Orchids are actually fairly easy to care for if you have the right environment for an Orchid. No matter how much you pay attention to an Orchid plant, if the placement and temperature is incorrect, your Orchid will not do well.
Orchids do their best when the night-time temperature in the room is cooler than the day-time temperature. This does vary, depending on the type of Orchid it is, but the following is a good range to keep in mind. During the growing season (Summer), the ideal day-time temp is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the night-time temp between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. During the resting period for an Orchid (Winter), the day-time temp should be in the 68-70 degree range, and night-time between 50 and 65 degrees. The lower ends of these temperature ranges are minimum temps. Most people keep their homes closer to 70 during the day and 65 (or a bit higher) at night, in order to be comfortable. As long as the Orchid is not in a room that is excessively hot or cold, it should do fine. The success of an Orchid plant relies heavily on the temperature differential between day and night. This change in temp is the trigger needed to initiate flowering and for growth regulation. In the Orchid’s native habitat, these temperature differentials exist outdoors, and are critical to the plant’s survival.
Light Requirements and Placement
The sunlight that an Orchid plant needs is also different during the growing season (Summer) vs. the resting period (Winter). During the Summer, when the sun is lower and much hotter during the day, your Orchid needs to be protected from sunburn. If your Orchid is placed in front of a window, there needs to be blinds or a sheer curtain in between the glass and the plant to protect it from the hot sun. Additionally, it is ideal if the sunlight exposure is morning or late afternoon sun (East or West side of the house) if in Summer. If your windows do not have any covering, it is best to place your Orchid further away from the window, but close enough to receive the bright light of Summer. Both of these scenarios describe what is called “Indirect Light”. In Winter, when Orchids are at rest, more direct light is allowed, due to the position of the sun in the sky in Winter; however if there are no coverings on your windows, a close proximity to the window at night can damage your Orchid due to the draft in Winter from a bare window. It would be better to move the Orchid away from a bare window at night, or choose a different location altogether. In both seasons, it is recommended that the blooming side of the plant is always facing away from the light to further protect the flowers from getting burned. Take a look at these 2 examples of correct and incorrect placement of an Orchid and its proximity to the window:
The purple Orchid on the right is too close to the window, even though this picture was taken in the Winter season. There are no curtains in between the glass and the plant to protect from draft and direct sunlight in the morning. The white Orchid plant on the left, is a safe distance from this window. Since there is an overhang outside, the light isn’t as strong, even in Summer time. This allows a closer proximity to the window, than in a home for example where the sunlight would be able to reach the window more directly. In this case, the Orchid plant should be placed a bit further from the window in Summer time. It can be difficult sometimes to choose the perfect spot for an Orchid plant. If your optimal growing area is not a place where you can actually enjoy looking at your Orchid, you can always try moving your Orchid when it’s in flower to your “display” area, and then returning it to its optimal place once the flowering period has passed. While we are on the subject of recognizing the spot in your home or office where you would be able to see your Orchid plant, it is important to note that your Orchid has the best chance of doing well if your growing area is a place you frequent, so it is not forgotten. Additionally, when choosing a spot for your Orchid to grow, be sure to note the other surroundings. For example, if you have decided that your kitchen is the ideal spot due to the lighting and temperature, be sure it isn’t too close to appliances that get hot or cold. This includes placing your Orchid near a steam kettle. Orchid plants do not like excess steam. This is why a bathroom is also not an ideal spot for your Orchid plant. Lastly, the most common error we make with Orchid plants (and houseplants in general) is allowing a heat or A/C vent to be near the plant. Air vents in a home or office will dry out the plant, and adversely affect the temperature ranges and differentials so critically needed for an Orchid’s survival.
Like Temperature and Lighting, the growing and resting seasons have different water needs for your Orchid. As you probably have already guessed, your Orchid plant will need to be watered more often during the Summer months than in the Winter months. You should plan on watering your Orchid 1- 2 times a week in Summer and no more than once a week in Winter months. In both seasons, it is important to water in the early part of the day. Orchid plants need the time for the water to fully absorb before the lower temps of night-time. They do not like to be cool and wet. If you have forgotten to water on your scheduled day, it is best to wait until the next morning. The overall goal with watering, is to keep the soil evenly moist--not soaked--not dried out. At watering time, use a narrow-spouted watering can to control the speed of the water hitting the plant. Give enough water to flood the surface and stop. Wait for it to absorb, then repeat once more. You should see the water coming through the bottom of the plant--this is how you know the water has sufficiently reached the entire root system. Always use room-temperature water, as excessively cold or hot water will damage the plant. Tap water is usually fine, but if you believe your water may contain minerals or have a high PH (acidic), it is a good idea to use rain water, or water that is not acidic or contains minerals. Click here for a quick demo on watering your Orchid.
See, it’s surprisingly simple! Another simple watering task that will help your Orchid thrive is spritzing around the plant with a spritzer bottle of luke-warm water. This creates a little bit of humidity in the air around it (almost like a greenhouse effect). This is most beneficial in Summer time. After watering and draining is complete, feel free to place your Orchid back in its outer, support pot and replace any moss covering, and don’t forget to put the next watering on your calendar!
How to Tell When Your Orchid is in Trouble
Leaf Indicators: If your Orchid has very light green, yellow, brown, black (or burnt-looking) leaves, this could mean that it is getting too much light in Summer time. Yellow leaves can also indicate disease. If it is not a watering problem, check your plant for insects. If the leaves are very dark green, there is not enough light. Orchid leaves should be a medium green color, like the leaves in this photo:
Orchid leaves will also indicate a problem if they are not getting enough water or too much water. If your Orchid leaf growth is slowing, and leaves are yellow, it likely means the plant is being overwatered. If your Orchid leaves are shriveled or crunchy and brown, it is likely it is being underwatered. Depending on how long it has been since it has been watered, you might try soaking the bottom of the plant for about 10 minutes in luke-warm water to hydrate it again.
Flower and Root Indicators: Your orchid blooms will also tell you if it is not getting what it needs. If your Orchid is not flowering at all, it is highly likely it isn’t receiving enough light or the temperature is too cold, too hot, or too constant (not enough differential). These Orchid plants were grown in an incorrect environment with not enough light, too many drafts, and inadequate watering:
Shriveled flowers and failure to produce more flowers.
Wilted flowers and dried up stems
Dried up and limp roots
A healthy root sytem should be stiff and plump and look like this:
Pests and Disease Indicators: The most common pests that affect an Orchid plant are Aphids, Mealy Bugs, Spider Mites and Scale. There are many others that can affect an Orchid, but these are the most commonly-seen in the home; especially when there are other houseplants in the vicinity. These same pests are attracted to other common houseplants, and the treatments are the same. It is important to check all of your plants if one has been affected by a pest or disease, as these can spread from plant to plant if in the same area:
- Aphids: These are small whitefly or blackfly that attach themselves to buds, flowers and new growth and cause deformities in the flowers, and also cause the leaves to yellow. They should be washed off with water and insecticidal soap immediately;
- Mealy Bugs: This is a sticky, fuzzy coating at the base of the plant first, then on the flowers. This can be washed off with insecticidal soap;
- Spider Mites: These affect the leaves, and are extremely difficult to see without a magnifying glass. Once they are visible to the naked eye, they look like a silvery/white film. With a magnifying glass, you can see the very tiny red specks. These also can be washed off with insecticidal soap; however if left too long, you may have to discard your plant;
- Scale: These show up on the leaves as yellow spotty specks. It is difficult to remove, even with insecticidal soap.
The best way to protect your Orchid plant from pests and disease is to pay close attention to their environment, growth and performance. A stressed plant is more susceptible to disease than a healthy plant. It is also important to keep other diseased plants away from your Orchid plant. The upside is that since Orchid plants have very specific temperature and lighting requirements, they often stand alone, away from collections of other plants. Additionally, they are frequently used as specimen plants for display. Below are the most commonly-found Orchid plants that make beautiful specimens in any room:
The Cymbidium Orchid
The Dendrobium Orchid
The Phalaenopsis Orchid
We hope you have found this to be a helpful guide to caring for your Orchid plant. If you have a favorite houseplant, and would like to learn more, let us know and maybe we can write about it!! Click here to Ask The Florist. We would love to hear from you!
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