How To Care For Orchids: Complete Guide Updated 100% Practice

To most people who buy orchids, they end up dying within a few weeks. If this is your case, you have come to the right place.

The basis of success consists in the correct care of the orchids. Following my advice, you will get “finally”, have orchids that flourish every year and do not lose them within a few weeks of having purchased them.

The first thing we have to take into account, is that we are facing plants that in most cases come from tropical climates, where they grow as epiphytic plants.

So that the plants do not suffer and end up dying, we must be able to reproduce the living conditions of their place of origin, with the adequate lighting, its temperature, irrigation, and nutrients.

Content

  • 1 What type of orchid do I have?
  • 2 How are orchids cared for?
  • 3 Location of orchids
  • 4 Lighting
  • 5 Care: irrigation
    • 5.1 Useful tips for irrigation
    • 5.2 Special risks. Irrigation by immersion
    • 5.3 Irrigation of orchids on branches or baskets
  • 6 Temperature
    • 6.1 Orchids originating in warm temperature zones
    • 6.2 Orchids with origin in temperate zones
    • 6.3 Orchids with origin in colder zones
  • 7 Humidity
  • 8 Ventilation
  • 9 Substrate
  • 10 Feeding the orchids
    • 10.1 More on the fertilization of orchids
  • 11 Prevent pests and diseases
    • 11.1 Fungi
    • 11.2 Bacteria
    • 11.3 Virus
    • 11.4 Parasites
    • 11.5 Hygiene
  • 12 Transplant, change of pot
    • 12.1 Change pot step by step
  • 13 Pots and containers for orchids
  • 14 Reproduction
    • 14.1 Cuttings of rooted orchids, keikis
    • 14.2 Heads cuttings
    • 14.3 Divide the rhizome
  • 15 Cutting of floral rods
  • 16 More on care for orchids
    • 16.1 Fertilizers Orchids
    • 16.2 Orchid with Yellow Leaves
    • 16.3 How to Reproduce Orchids
    • 16.4 Orchid Diseases
    • 16.5 Orchid Substrate
    • 16.6 How to transplant an orchid
    • 16.7 Orchid Flowering
    • 16.8 How to Prune an Orchid
    • 16.9 How to Water an Orchid
    • 16.10 Pots for Orchids

Troubleshooting At A Glance

Abnormal condition:Effects:Solutions:
Lack of lightFlowering does not occur. Flimsy stems, the plant loses vigor. Very dark green leaves.Search for a better location. If this is not possible, supplement with artificial lights (low pressure sodium lamps or similar lamps).
Lack of humidityThe lack of moisture can occur in the substrate and also in the air. If this happens, the leaves will wrinkle and lose vitality. The plant appears withered and the flowers stop its development. Roots of white color. It is possible that after a prolonged period of lack of water, some leaves turn yellow and fall.Vaporize, water more often. Install a humidifier that we can control, according to needs.
Temperatures out of rangeExcess or defect of heat produces fall of the flowers and arrest in the development of the floral wands.Correct by means of the appropriate elements the temperature mismatches. Change of location.
Excess irrigationWhen there is excessive watering or water retention by poorly drained substrate, the roots often decay acquiring a dark color and a weak texture. The leaves of the plant will progressively acquire a yellow coloration and, finally, the plant will die.Wait until the substrate is a little dry between waterings. If the roots have begun to decompose, the best thing is a transplant with a new substrate, eliminating (cutting) the diseased parts previously. It is also advisable to disinfect the pot or container of the plant.
Burns by the sunThe leaves burned by the sun usually take a yellow or dark brown color.Remove them from the current location. Cover the windows with a net that filters something from the sun.
Excess of fertilizersIt can produce yellow and dry tips on the leaves.Stop paying temporarily. Water only with soft water.
Exposure to organic gasesOrchids are especially sensitive to organic gases (released by decaying fruits, animals or others). The effects on the plant result in wilting and premature fall of the flowers.Orchids should be in a well ventilated environment and in which organic gases of any kind are not concentrated.
Presence of pollinating insectsThe pollinating insects are not in themselves a danger for the plant, nevertheless the pollination of the flower supposes its enclosure (once fertilized) and later fall. Therefore shortens the life of the flower.To keep the open flower as long as possible, we must avoid the presence of pollinating insects. To do this, take the necessary measures to prevent access. Conventional insecticides are not recommended as they can damage the plant.
Air currentsThey produce the premature fall of the flowers.While the orchid needs good ventilation, most species (except Vanda) do not like drafts. Therefore, it must be avoided that they reach the plants directly.

What kind of orchid do I have?

This is a guide that deals with the basic care of orchids, but that can change depending on the species you have in your home.
The most common of the orchids, being the most sold and in theory simple to care for, is the genus Phalaenopsis.
This genus occupies about fifty different species, all of which have a tropical origin in exotic countries such as Taiwan, the Philippines and Australia.
However, and so that you have no doubt about what kind of orchid we are facing, these are the most popular orchid types. Discover them in our article about orchid types.

How are orchids cared for?

There is a myth (that from this blog I intend to eliminate) that orchids are difficult plants to care for, nothing is further from reality. The problem that most people have with orchids is that they do not understand that a plant like Phalaenopsis lives without its roots being buried in the ground.
They also do not understand your lighting and humidity needs very well. Once the concepts and basic requirements of orchids are clear, they end up flourishing several times a year.

Location of orchids

At home we usually buy orchids to grow them as indoor plants, and it is not a bad idea, because we will have good control over the humidity and temperature conditions, to which the plants will be subjected.

Most orchids are native to tropical areas, and we have the false idea that they come from warm and humid climates, when in reality tropical climates are also varied in terms of temperature and humidity.

The family of orchids is so extensive that we must know the climatic conditions of each variety, to reproduce the optimal temperature and humidity conditions for each variety.

illumination

All plants need light to thrive, but not all can withstand direct sunlight or lack of light.

The basic rule of orchids is that they need a lot of light to thrive, but nevertheless they cannot stand the direct sun. As an exception I can mention the species Vanda and Cymbidium, which tolerate the direct sun, avoiding the central hours of the day.

A suitable location would be near a window, where it will receive a lot of light, which will foreseeably be quite sifted. For those windows oriented to the south or in the summer, which can enter direct sunlight, it is necessary to sift the light through curtains, blinds or canopies.

orchid care

Another great idea is to put them in the shade of other larger indoor plants that support or prefer direct sunlight.
Just as the direct sun is harmful,the lack of lighting is another big problem,which will limit the growth and flowering of the plant.
If it does not have the necessary light, we can see how the leaves grow long and thin, yellow, fragile, fall or the plant does not bloom.
In these cases it is recommended toresort to artificial lighting.
As a curiosity, I remember a clothing store inside a mall, which had a white Phalaenopsis on the counter, which bloomed every year and showed an enviable aspect. I did not receive any kind of natural light, but nevertheless I had strong lighting throughout the day.

Care: irrigation

Irrigationis probably one of the most delicate aspects of orchid care.
To begin with,the irrigation water must be poor in salt and rather soft(the one most similar to the water in its natural environment), which almost completely eliminates tap water, which usually contains diluted salts.
These diluted salts are concentrated in the substrate and in the roots, excessively damaging the growth and flowering.
It would be advisable to use rainwater,but this is quite complicated, we will not store the water every time it rains. As a substitutewe can use bottled water low in mineral salts, sodium, calcium …One of the lowest in sodium is Fuente Liviana, although among the best known are Font Vella or Lanjarón.
The one that should not be used under any circumstances is the distilled one,and that of the tap could be improved if we boil it and then pass it through a carbon filter, to eliminate any kind of impurity.

Useful tips for irrigation

As I have told you, water is very important for watering orchids, but it is no less important“how to water”.
To water properly, follow these tips:

  • Do not water too many times. Orchids prefer a moderately moist substrate, because if it is too wet the roots can not breathe and rot.
  • It is better to let the substrate be dry, watering a day later, than one before. Thus the frequency of irrigation will depend on the ambient temperature, and the time of year.
    We can verify that they need water, if we observe the substrate dry to the touch or if the roots are whitish. If they are green, they do not need watering.
  • The waterings must be abundant, but avoiding that the roots remain puddled. That of the plate below can be aesthetic, so that the excess water does not leave stains, but it is not a good idea.
  • A good way to carry out the irrigation is to soak the substrate in the sink, then let the plant drain, to return to its usual location.
  • The water must be at room temperature.
  • We must be  careful not to wet the flowers with irrigation or sprays to avoid leaving stains. It is also necessary to avoid leaving water on the surface of the leaves, to prevent any attack by fungi.
  • Orchids need environmental humidity. When it is very hot, because we are in summer or because the heating is very strong, you can put a small dish with water under the pot, with the precaution that the roots are not in contact with the water, putting some pebbles or balls of clay.
  • I insist, they do not always need to have the dish underneath, only when there is no environmental humidity.

Special risks. Irrigation by immersion

It is a good idea todip the orchids from time to time in a bucket of water,so that the roots absorb all the water they need.
This way of watering must be done from time to time.In the growth period, we can take advantage of the risks by immersion to add liquid fertilizer in the water(always it is usually liquid), according to the indications of the manufacturer.
Thenlet the plant drain all the excess water, before placing it in its usual place.

Irrigation of orchids on branches or baskets

Some orchids are not kept in a pot, theyare placed in hanging baskets or on branches.
The orchids in the basketare vaporized on the roots in a regular way,allowing the roots to dry between irrigation and watering, avoiding watering the flowers (for the spots) and the leaves.

Temperature

The orchidscan be classified according to their climatic needs in three groups,depending on the thermal temperature from which they come:

Orchids originating in warm temperature zones

These orchidsprefer warm weather. They should not be placed in spaces that fall below a temperature of 16ºC.
For a better development, there should be a thermal difference between day and night of 4ºC.

Orchids with origin in temperate zones

They form the largest group. For these species,the temperature should not drop below 12ºCeven in winter, with temperature differences between day and night of 6ºC.

Orchids with origin in colder zones

The orchids belonging to this grouptolerate temperatures of up to 8ºC.They must have differences between day and night of at least 6ºC.
You will wonder why I put different temperatures for day and night. The reason is simple, in the tropical climates where they come from, these temperature changes are common.
If the temperature were constant, the plant would try to grow without stopping, expending many energies in the attempt, without actually flourishing.
Therefore, changes in temperature are necessary for good growth and to stimulate flowering.

Humidity

Along with the temperature,the humidity plays a very important role in the life of the orchids.
The potted orchidsare perfect with an ambient humidity of between 50% and 60%,which more or less corresponds to the humidity in which people feel comfortable.
This humidity does not represent much problem during the spring, autumn and a large part of summer, however itcan be a problem during the winter, so an extra supply of moisture is needed,using humidifiers or using the “trick” of the dish. with water under the plant, taking care thatthe roots are not in direct contact with the water.The humidity can be measured with a hygrometer.

and we must ensure that each species has the humidity that corresponds to it according to its origin. I think it is not very necessary and itis enough to let ourselves be led by common sense,unless we want to have at home some varieties that need high humidity percentages, such as the Vanda and Miltonia species, which require an environmental humidity between 70% and 80%.
It can be concluded that orchidsneed medium, warm temperatures and high humidity.However, every time there are more hybrids in the market, raised in nurseries and designed to withstand more extreme conditions, with the intention that it is easier to grow at home.

Ventilation

Orchidsneed fresh air, we must ensure that the room where we have them, has a minimum of daily ventilation, but with the care thatthey should not be exposed to cold winter air.
The renewal of air is necessary to avoid the appearance of all kinds of diseases, but especially those caused by fungi. A high concentration of humidity, together with a high temperature and a stale air, are the ideal breeding ground for fungi, bacteria and viruses.
As a curiosity and warning,you should not have orchids near a container with apples, fruits, nuts or tomatoes, because these vegetables emit a hormone for growth in the form of ethylene gas, which causes the buds to mature and their premature fall, even without opening.

Substrate

For orchids that grow in a pot,we should never use normal gardening land.
Although there are different types of substrates, depending on whether the orchids are epiphytic or terrestrial, theyall share common characteristics:

  • They facilitate the drainage of the plants, since the roots require a lot of air, so that they can dry easily.
    The thicker this substrate is, the closer the crop will be to recreating the natural habitat of the plants.
  • Another common feature is that the nutrients are degraded, preventing them from releasing too many mineral salts at the same time, which, as I mentioned before, seriously harm orchids.

In nurseries and garden centers we can buyalready prepared substrates, which are usually made from Mediterranean pine bark(which does not contain resin), cork, white peat, charcoal, rice husk, vermiculite, polystyrene, coconut fiber …etc.All these materials have in common that they are spongy, light and resistant,capable of storing water and nutrients, maintaining optimal conditions for the roots.

We must be vigilant to the moisture level of the substrate. In general it is advisable to let it dry slightly between waterings but without reaching a total drying. The color of the roots will give us clues about the humidity level. Remember that the whitish roots are indicative of lack of water. 
In any case we must avoid the stagnation of water and the drainage must be perfect. We must also avoid that irrigation water or spray is retained between the leaves in the part that join the stem.

Fertilize the orchids

The orchidsmust be paid in the growing season,so that when the plant reaches the time of less light, it has the necessary nutrients.
As with irrigation, it isbetter to pay less than more.They are epiphytic plants, which in their natural habitat are kept with very few nutrients.
The fertilizer can be provided in two ways, eitherthrough irrigation, with specific fertilizers for that purpose or through foliar fertilizers,which are absorbed by the orchids through the leaves.
Plants that are in baskets or with roots on tree trunks, have to be paid in this way. Do not worry,orchids absorb nutrients through the roots and leaves.
There are specific preparations on the market based on vitamin complexes, amino acids and other nutrients, which are excellent for stimulating flowering. These preparations are foliar, the plant absorbs them through the leaves.

More about the fertilization of orchids

In the nurseries, florists and specialized stores, theymarket specific fertilizers for orchids.
They are the ones that we must use, avoiding the use of fertilizers typical of other plants.
These fertilizerscontain three main nutrients: Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
If we are curious, we can read the composition of the fertilizers that we buy, these elements must always appear, to a greater or lesser extent, either alone or accompanied by other minerals: iron, boron, manganese, zinc, copper … these last fertilizers ( with several components), are calledcomplete fertilizers.
As a rule, thehigher the nitrogen content, the more the fertilizer gets is to stimulate the growth of the leaves.
Whilea fertilizer with a lower nitrogen content, more phosphorus and above all potassium, what we achieve is to stimulate flowering.
So, if we want to establish a fertilizer calendar, we would first look for a high nitrogen fertilizer, to later pass (when flowering begins) to a high potassium fertilizer.

Prevent pests and diseases

The weakest plants are the most likely to be attacked by fungi or parasites, so it is convenient to maintain optimal lighting conditions, fertilization and ventilation.
If we suspect that a plant has been attacked by some type of fungus, bacteria or virus, we must isolate it as soon as possible, to prevent the spread of the disease or plague.
The most likely pests and diseases are:

Fungi

Fungi can appear in greenhouses and in poorly ventilated rooms,where humidity is high, as well as temperature.
We must suspect thatour orchids have been attacked by fungi, if we observe flowers with spots, leaves or pseudobulbs with brown parts.
To solve the problem you have to eliminate the attacked parts, and apply a treatment with fungicides.

Bacteria

Although it is not normal for orchids to be attacked by bacteria, there is always the possibility.
We will detect it if we observe thatthe leaves appear with the softest tissue and with spots with a kind of fat.
There are no effective remedies against bacteria. The damaged parts must be eliminated, waiting for them to recover and if they do not, we will have to eliminate the plant completely.

Virus

We will detect that our plant has been infected by a virus, ifstripesare discovered in the colors of the flowers or sharp cuts in the leaves of the flowers.
After a virus attack, the orchids no longer grow or bloom well.
The only remedy that exists is to take care of the plants, but if it is very serious or we do not see proper evolution, we must eliminate the affected plant.

Parasites

The most common insects in orchids are:woodlice, wool lice, aphids, red spider and thrips.
The appearance of each one of them has a different origin. However, the solution is quite similar:cleaning the affected parts with soapy water.
We will repeat the operation after a few days, and only if the plague is persistent, we should resort to the use of specific insecticides that attack the plague in question.

Hygiene

Instead of making a different section, I wanted to include hygiene within the section on pests and diseases, becauseobserving good hygiene is essential to prevent the appearance of pests, and also to prevent their spread.
The most basic hygiene measures are the following:

  • Any plant affected by a pest or disease must be isolated from the rest of the plants in order to submit it to the treatment it needs.
  • While the plant is affected, we must maximize the precautions so that the pest does not spread, avoiding any contact with the rest.
  • If you discover a plant infected by a virus, bacteria or fungi and you must cut part of it, you must first disinfect the tool that we are going to use (scissors, sharp blades, etc.).
  • After its use, we will also have to disinfect it, to avoid contagion to other plants.
  • A good idea to not transmit diseases accidentally is to use disposable gloves, or to wash our hands well after each contact.
  • Any organic remains, such as fallen leaves or flowers, should be removed as soon as possible to prevent spoilage. 
    If the remains correspond to affected plants, we must remove it immediately.
  • Large cuts or wounds must heal. To close the wound, you have to pulverize the cuts with charcoal powder, or in its absence, cinnamon powder.
  • The used pots should be thoroughly cleaned with a solution of hot soap and bleach.

Transplant, change of pot

Orchids that grow as epiphytes,rarely need a larger pot,however, if it is important to renew the substrate from time to time, so that the roots breathe well and can dry evenly.
You have to change the substrate once a year, or at least every two years as usual.
We will also be forced to change the substrate, if we observe deterioration in roots, fungi or rot.
It is necessary to change to a larger pot, when the roots literally come out of the pot, both above and below. In this case we will look for a larger pot, respecting its original characteristics, that is, if the pot is transparent, the next one must also be transparent.
The change of substrate should be made between late summer and early fall,avoiding doing so in winter, during flowering or in times of high heat and dryness.

Change pot step by step

Before starting to change the pot plant,we have to have everything we need at hand: adequate substrate, a little drainage for the bottom of the pot (pebbles, polystyrene, clay balls …), as well as the new pot very clean and disinfected
We will proceed as follows:

  • To remove the plant from the pot, press the surface of the pot with your hand , to loosen the roots. Then we hit the base.
  • We completely eliminate the old substrate.
  • We cut all the dead roots, with disinfected scissors. We also remove all the old and dead bulbs.
    We will disinfect the wounds with charcoal powder or, failing that, with cinnamon.
  • If we have cut roots and open wounds are left, it is best to let go 1 or 2 days before starting to water. A good idea is to boil the water, to avoid introducing any type of germ in the pot.
  • In the bottom of the pot we place the drainage material, up to a quarter of its height.
  • We will place the plant in the container, making sure that all the roots are inside the pot.
  • Then, we add the substrate in the pot little by little, distributing evenly and giving light blows so that there is no free space between the roots.

Pots and containers for orchids

The ideal flowerpot for orchids has to do with the species to which they belong.
We can usually see manyPhalaenopsis orchids in transparent pots.The explanation is simple, they are plants that perform part of the photosynthesis through their roots, for these plants youhave to use pots of methacrylate, plastic or glass.
As we are going to make frequent changes (as I have mentioned before), the ideal is that the pots do not narrow much in the lower part, have several holes in the lower part and that are on their supports a few millimeters. If you go to look for pots for orchids, most meet these requirements.

There are other orchids,

the terrestrial ones, that can be in opaque pots without no problem,since their photosynthesis is equal to any other plant, they make it through their leaves.
For these plants, it is still advisable to use plastic pots, sincethe pots of mud and porous materials retain dissolved salts in the water, affecting the roots over time.
They are also a problem when transplant, because they are more difficult to remove.
If we want to have a decorative pot, we can put the orchids in a plastic pot, and place it inside the other.
In addition to the orchids that can be grown in pots, we haveorchids that have a growth not suitable for pots, such as Vandas.
In this case you have to look for a very humid location, such as a heated window, a suitable showcase or a greenhouse.
The plants are usually tied to bark or trunks of hard wood,which do not contain resins or toxic substances.
Another way to place these plants is to use baskets.The baskets are very useful for the cultivation of large orchids, such as the Stanhopea,where the panicles grow hanging and need a basket so that their flowers can unfold freely.

Reproduction

Orchidscan be reproduced in two ways: asexually with cuttings or sexual, with seeds.
The reproduction through cuttings, ensures plants with the same genetic characteristics as their parents.
However, through seeds the specimens are not identical, it is slow and quite difficult in artificial environments.
At home,the best way to have new orchid plants is through cuttings. I’ll show you the different options that exist, which in some cases depends on the species of the orchid.

Cuttings of rooted orchids, keikis

Somespecies of the genus Dendrobium and Phalaenopsis, generate by themselves small new plants (keiki).
Aerial roots appear from the stem, usually below a knot in the middle part.
The appearance of keikis can be stimulated by cutting the floral stick above the knot.
In this case, wefrequently vaporize these roots, so that they take strength.
When the roots have taken an adequate size of about 3 to 4 centimeters, we cut underneath and separate the new plant, which we will place in a new pot, and we will proceed to heal the wounds with coal dust.

Head cuttings

An orchid that is multiplied by head cuttings is the Vanda.
They are monopodial orchids whose nodes in the shoots,have a great distance between them.
You have to cut the bud at a medium height, with a knife disinfected and put the new cuttings in a pot. Once done, we disinfect with coal dust.
This methodis only recommended in fast growing species,in others it takes years for new plants to flourish.

Divide the rhizome

Some orchids that grow sympodially and have a rhizome (Cambrias, Oncidiums …) can be reproduced by dividing it.
To do so,the plant must be large enough and we must cut at least three pseudobulbs.
The best time is spring, when a new period of growth begins, for which we willremove the plant from the pot and carefully separate the roots,and proceed to cut the rhizome with a sharp and disinfected knife.

Cutting of floral rods

The gardeners are not unanimous as to whether or not it is necessary to cut the floral stick,once the orchid has lost all its flowers.
We can choose to remove the floral stick, if we do not have any knots and there is no option of a keiki, that will provide us with a new orchid.
If on the contrary we have a knot, we would cut above, favoring the appearance of a new floral rod and the development of a keiki. The flowers that come from an old floral stick, tend to be larger and more quality, than those that appear from a new floral rod. In the event that the floral stick has dried, it is best to choose to eliminate it, here there is no doubt that it does not serve any of our purposes.

Well, we have reached the end.I can not think of any more advice to offer about the care of orchids,I think this mini-tutorial is quite complete, but if you have any questions about your orchids, do not hesitate to contact me and we will try to solve it.

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