A surprising number of people suffer from orchidophobia: the fear of growing orchids. This is generally because they’ve heard that orchids are delicate, fickle plants that will die instantly unless you give them exactly the right kind of care.
But you’ve heard wrong. Orchids, or at least the ones most commonly sold, Phalaenopsis, are tough cookies, able to put up with almost anything and still look good. (Everything but freezing temperatures, that is: never leave an orchid in your car while you shop until you drop on a cold winter’s day.) Do you think orchid merchants would put their plants in supermarkets, hands down the worst place ever to put a living plant, if their plants weren’t capable of tolerating total neglect and abysmal growing conditions?
In fact, phalaenopsis orchids are practically legendary for their ability to put up with horrible conditions and keep on blooming… for months!
So, if your orchidophobia has gotten the best of you and you’ve never dared try growing an orchid, think again. You might be missing out on something really good.
No-Guilt Orchid Growing
One problem many orchidophobes have is the feeling they must not only keep their orchid in bloom for a while, but also get it to rebloom. Why? The latter point only puts extra pressure on you. What is wrong with growing an orchid for the beautiful effect it creates in your home, then tossing it in the compost when it stops blooming? Nobody is judging you… and phalaenopsis orchids are now inexpensive enough you could do that with no qualms. After all, when you buy a bouquet of cut flowers these days, it costs as much as an orchid and no one faults you if you toss it when it stops blooming. Why would an orchid be any different? Orchids aren’t puppies, after all.
So train yourself to think of orchids as a commodity. Enjoy them while they bloom, then into the compost they go. If you can convince yourself of that, the fear factor part of your orchidophobia will drop about 90%!
Of course, you can also start growing an orchid as a commodity, then decide to try and get it to rebloom… as an experiment, an extra, not something obligatory. Hey, no pressure on you: you’re just tryin’ it out! That’s much healthier than beating yourself up mentally when an orchid doesn’t reflower.
Not yet convinced?
Here are some tips guaranteed to help give you a green thumb with orchids.
- Buy Early
Don’t wait until an orchid has been sitting in the store for months before you buy it. At worst, it may have been mistreated and in bad shape. But even at best, it will be nearing the end of its blooming cycle, guaranteeing you’ll be disappointed. Look for fresh arrivals, straight from the supplier. Ideally, they’ll have an open flower or two, but also lots of unopened buds, ensuring months of bloom to come.
- Give’em Light
Yes, orchids need light. All plants do! But if all you want from your orchid is a few months of bloom, you can put it just about anywhere in your home that gets a modest amount of light.
Do you have enough? Try the “comfortable reading method” and see. Can you sit in the spot where you intend to put your orchid on a sunny day and read a newspaper without turning on a light? If you can, the spot is bright enough to keep a phalaenopsis alive and in bloom for 2 or 3 months or more. Yes, even at the back of the room. That means you can literally decorate your home with orchids instead of sticking them all in front of a window.
When your orchid stops blooming, if you decide not to toss it that is, then you might want to give it better light. And your home is probably darker than you think. Most homes are. So put your plant where will it will receive some direct sunlight daily and bright light the rest of the time, normally right in front of a window. An east window is perfect, but a south window or a west window will also do if you pull the plant back from the glass or put a sheer curtain between the sun and the plants during the summer months when it’s really hot.
- Learn How to Water
Orchids are notorious for hating to sit in soggy soil. That’s why they’re sold in “orchid mix”, often sphagnum moss or bits of bark with lots of space for air circulation.
Rule number one with orchid watering is to wait until the growing mix is dry to the touch before your water. No, there is no magical watering frequency, like “once a week” or “every 10 days”. How frequently an orchid needs water is affected by the conditions that surround it, notably the light it gets, how hot and dry the air is… and the season. So stick a finger in the mix: you should only water if it if feels dry. Or lift the pot: plants get lighter when they need moisture.
Orchids are often sold in transparent grow pots with
drainage holes designed to be set into a cache-pot that
has no drainage hole.
Most orchids sold today are set in cache-pots: decorative containers with no drainage hole into which the real pot (typically these days made of transparent plastic), with drainage holes, is set. Don’t just pour water in and walk away: that’s a recipe for disaster! One of these days they’ll end up soaking in water and their roots will rot.
The best way to water an orchid is to pour tepid water gradually over its roots (never its crown, i.e. the base of the plant) and let the plant sit in the water for 15 to 30 minutes. Then drain out the surplus. Always drain the surplus water.
- Don’t Water With Ice Cubes
Just don’t! Phalaenopsis are tropical plants. Why would they want freezing cold objects placed at their base and cold water dripping over their roots? Water them with tepid water… always.
- Don’t Sweat It
Indoor temperatures are fine for phalaenopsis orchids. If you’re happy in the room, they will be too. As mentioned above, just pull them back from hot windows in the summer. I mean, would you like to spend your day sitting on a south-facing window ledge in July?
- Keep the Air Humid
No, orchids don’t like dry air and yes, the air in most homes is dry, at least during the winter months. So simply put your orchid on a humidity tray. Always.
- Fertilize Lightly If At All
Don’t worry about fertilizer: it’s not a major factor in growing orchids. If you won’t be keeping your orchid after it blooms, applying fertilizer is just a waste of money.
If you intend to try and rebloom your orchid, you can fertilize very lightly (never more than ¼ of the recommended rate) with the soluble fertilizer of your choice during the growing season, that is, March through October.
- What About Those Aerial Roots?
Yes, phalaeopsis have thick gray aerial roots that stretch out of the pot like octopus tentacles, but it’s not their fault. Just ignore them.
A few final notes for recovering orchidophobes who are thinking of trying to get their orchids to bloom again.
Sometimes a phalaenopsis will rebloom from the same flower stalk if you cut it back to just above a healthy node (a little bump on the stem) below where the lowest flower was attached. Sometimes it won’t. But it may be worth trying…
When the flower stalk does die back and turn brown, cut it off. Ditto with any yellow leaves.
Finally, you’re probably years away from having to repot your orchid, but when the original potting mix does begin to become soft and soggy, here is some information on How to Repot an Orchid.
From Orchidophobia to Orchidomania
There you go: now that you realize there is no need to fear growing orchids, that they’re not only easy to keep going for months, but fairly simple to rebloom, maybe you’ll be able to change directions entirely and turn your orchidophobia into an orchidomania: a passion for orchids! Best of luck!