Rachel’s Guide to Taking Care of Orchids

Orchids, with their vibrant colors and unique blooms, are among the most captivating plants one can have in their collection. However, they have a reputation for being finicky and difficult to care for. This guide will demystify orchid care, ensuring your plant thrives.

1. Types of Orchids

There are over 25,000 species of orchids, but the most commonly cultivated varieties include:

– Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchids)

– Cattleya

– Dendrobium

– Oncidium

– Paphiopedilum (Slipper Orchids)

2. Lighting

Phalaenopsis: Bright, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight which can scorch leaves. An east-facing windowsill is ideal.

Cattleya, Oncidium & Dendrobium: Bright light, but protect from direct afternoon sun.

Paphiopedilum: Moderate, diffused light.

3. Watering

Many orchids are epiphytic and grow in trees and are naturally watered by the rains in nature. We do not have these conditions usually in our homes so watering needs are different in the home environment. Orchids do not fare well in soggy conditions. It’s generally better to under-water than over-water. The frequency will depend on the environment and time of year. I live in the high desert where the summer is hot and dry and winters are very cold.

– Watering Techniques: In a water holding vessel, pour just enough water to cover the medium and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes then drain thoroughly. Or you can pour water through the potting mix, letting excess drain away. Be careful about getting water on the leaves. Allowing water to get into the folds of the leaves will cause stem rot. If you accidentally get water on the leaves and in the crown, use a paper towel to soak up the water till it is thoroughly dry. Then replace plant in its spot.

– Frequency: Once a week is a general rule, but adjust based on season and orchid type. Summer is the growing season for many orchid varieties and need to be watered more frequently. There are some varieties of orchids like oncidiums, zygopedilums, and miltoniopsis that are thirstier in generally. A grocery store Phalaenopsis can tolerate dryer conditions along with cattleya and vandas, the later requires very little water.

– Indicator: A light green root signifies a hydrated orchid; silver or white roots need water.

Quality: Use rainwater or distilled water if possible, as orchids can be sensitive to the chemicals in tap water. You can use a pH adjust liquid but often the medium and/or the fertilizer already contain it and will adjust already. They like a pH around 6.

4. Temperature

Orchids prefer:

– Daytime temperatures: 65-75°F (18-24°C)

– Nighttime temperatures: 55-65°F (13-18°C)

– Note: A 10°F drop at night is beneficial for blooming.

5. Humidity

– Ideal humidity: 50-70%. Use humidity trays or room humidifiers to maintain levels.

– Mist the air around orchids, not the plant directly, to avoid fungal issues.

6. Potting & Soil

– Use orchid-specific potting mix, typically a blend of bark, moss, and other materials. Avoid potting mix with peat moss like the miracle grow brand. It is too suffocating for epiphetics, can use for soil growing orchids such as slippers.

– Repot every 2-3 years as the media breaks down or the orchid outgrows its pot.

– Clear pots which ventilation holes are good for beginners so see the roots to gauge if it needs watering. Ventilation holes are the most important.

7. Fertilizing

– Use a balanced, water-soluble orchid fertilizer. has my preferred MSU fertilizer

– Use during growing season, according to directions on package. I use it every other week along with orchid probiotics that encourages root grow and healthy pH.

– Flush the potting mix with pure water monthly to prevent salt buildup.

8. Blooming

– After a bloom cycle, cut back the flower spike above a node to potentially encourage a secondary bloom.

– If the spike turns brown or yellow, cut it near the base. Once it is finished blooming, the plant will bloom again the next year with proper care.

9. Common Issues

– Yellow leaves: Overwatering, too much direct sunlight or aging foliage.

– Wrinkled leaves: Under-watering or root rot.

– No blooms: Not enough light, too much nitrogen, or not enough temperature variation. Young plants will take time to mature and then will begin to bloom. Orchids require much patience.

If the plant seems to be struggling with wrinkled leaves, check roots. Trim dead, mushy roots and repot. Cut any flower spikes. Allow the plant to recover and focus on vegetative growth not flowers at that time. A healthy plant is the most important.

10. Orchid Care Myths

– Ice Cube Watering: Not recommended as cold ice can shock the roots. Even those orchids whose tags says “just add ice”, PLEASE DON’T ever use ice. This will kill your orchid.

– Orchids are Parasites: They are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants but do not take nutrients from them.


Orchids may require a different care routine than other household plants, but with the right knowledge, they can flourish. By understanding your specific orchid type and adjusting care accordingly, you can enjoy their mesmerizing beauty for years to come.

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Orchids and supplies

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