To determine how to care for your new orchid – watering, light and temperature and feeding requirements – you have to know what type of plant you have. There are three (3) common types most often found at local stores. Once you know what type you have, go to the specific care sections below.
1) Phalaenopsis (often called “the moth orchid”)
This is the most common of the orchid plants. It has a singular crown of dark green leaves and a long arching flower stem with several large blooms. It also has thick roots, which can often be seen growing up out of the pot. The moth orchids can be found in nearly every color you would normally find in flowers.
This is the second most common type of orchid. It has a different growth pattern than the Phalaenopsis. It has multiple growths of leaves towards the top of the “psuedobulb” or stem. The growth ends in a flower stem with several smaller, almost butterfly shaped flowers. Flowers in white are most common but shades of pink and purple are available.
3) . Oncidium Alliance
This family of plants includes oncidiums, spider orchids (brassia), pansy orchids (miltonia), and various hybrids such as odontocidiums, colmonares, miltassia and wilsonara. Plants are characterized by having what look like smooth, egg-shaped or oblong pseudobulbs that form underneath where the light green leaves grow. The flower stems emerge from the base of the bulbs and have multiple flowers. The flowers are usually yellow, red, white or purple and usually have darker spots.
The health of your orchid, no matter what the type, is mainly influenced by lighting and watering. Below are the needs of each type of orchid, plus some general tips on feeding and reblooming.
If you have a Phalaenopsis, it is important that the media it is planted in dries between watering. This is what allows the roots to breathe. Allow 7-14 days between waterings for orchids planted in moss, and 5-7 days between waterings for orchids planted in bark chips. NEVER leave your orchid standing in water for more than an hour. The watering timeline will need to be adjusted depending upon how much sun the plant is getting.
A Phalaenopsis likes shadier conditions than most orchids. It needs bright but indirect light as the fleshy leaves can sunburn quite easily. An east window is ideal, but a west window with protection from direct afternoon sun works well too. For a south window, place the plant a ways back from the window or off to the side. If leaves go from the natural dark green color to light green or yellow, the plant is getting too much light. If the leaves “freckle” with purple spots or have a dark purple tinge, they are probably getting too much light.
If you have a Dendrobium, it will want to be moist while actively growing. During non-active growth periods, it should be allowed to dry out well between waterings. Do not let the plant be soggy. Do not leave the plant standing in water for more than an hour.
Dendrobiums like bright light and will do well in a full east or west exposure. A south exposure is fine if adapted to shelter the plant from the hot sun of midday.
If you have a plant from the Oncidium Alliance, keep it consistently moist, especially when actively growing. Do not allow the plant to dry out between waterings as this can damage the fine root system. The plants like bright light. Use a full east or full west exposure. Avoid a south exposure unless you can provide a diffuse curtain to prevent the delicate leaves from drying out. If the orchid “overheats”, flops, or feels warm to the touch, it is getting too much light. If the leaves are not a light shade of green, the plant needs more light.
Orchids are not heavy feeders. All three orchid types discussed here are epiphytes, meaning they grow without soil in a nutrient poor environment. The key to feeding is to apply a very weak fertilizer with an equal balance of nutrients (all three numbers are the same i.e. 10-10-10). Many nurseries and hardware stores sell a 10-10-10 strength. Fertilize every other week when your orchid is actively growing (normally no fertilizer for most of the winter months). Weaker fertilizers can be used more often.
Humidity and Temperature
Most commonly sold orchids, as well as the ones discussed here, come from tropical, humid places. Provide a good amount of humidity to keep your plant happy. Have other plants nearby. Place the potted plant atop a tray of stones or marbles that you can fill with water to add moisture to the air. You might also try misting your plant every couple of days. Avoid cold drafts. Avoid old windows that get chilly in the winter. Ideal temperature is around 20-30C or 68-85F. Too hot or too cold will affect plant health and could cause the developing flower buds to drop.
Reblooming Your Orchid
Enough light and consistent waterings are the keys to reblooming. Dendrobium and Oncidium Alliance types have higher light requirements. Without a consistent watering pattern, new growth and flower spikes may form but will likely drop off. You will then have to wait until the next growth cycle for a reblooming. If your orchid hasn’t been growing properly or hasn’t bloomed in a long time, it is time for you to change up your care pattern. Hopefully, the information included here will bring you success.