Orchidaceae, better known as Orchids, are some of the most beautiful flowers in the world. They have earned their reputation through their beautiful, crisp colors and long-lasting bloom. Unfortunately, many people believe that indoor orchid care is exceptionally challenging.
Fortunately, orchids are easy to care for if you stick to a few simple rules. Among these rules are to: avoid giving them too much water, provide them with indirect sunlight, and keep them away from dry air.
If you’re planning to grow orchids, you need to know about caring for them. Here, we’ve put together the ultimate guide on indoor orchid care, from watering tips to soil advice and more. Read on to get to know this beautiful flower and how you can successfully grow orchids inside your home.
Getting to Know Orchids
There are around 28,000 orchid species, with the most popular type being the phalaenopsis or moth orchid. These varieties bloom once or twice a year, lasting between two and three months. The Oncidium and the dendrobium are other popular varieties of orchids, which also bloom once or twice a year. Their flowers last just a little over a month.
Furthermore, most orchids can bloom again once they drop their flowers. All it takes is patience, good quality fertilizer, and a month of 10-degree temperature differences between day and night. Orchids come in a wide array of sizes, colors, and fragrances, giving you thousands of varieties from which to choose. Before we get into care, let’s go over some of the most loved orchids and how you can identify them.
Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum)
Care: A Lady’s Slipper orchid needs humid air, low light, and bark to thrive. Water it once a week or when the top inch of the soil feels dry to the touch. As long as you let the roots drain thoroughly, your Lady’s Slipper may stay healthy and bloom every winter.
Design: The Lady’s Slipper orchid takes its name from the slipper-shaped petal in its lower pouch. This design helps it attract pollinators that aid in reproduction. With many hybrids and varieties, the Lady’s Slipper comes in a wide array of color combinations. The Lady’s Slipper does not grow very large, fitting easily in smaller spaces of your home.
Care: This orchid needs to avoid bright, direct sunlight and prefers cooler temperatures at night. It’s also happy to sit next to a windowsill, but you’ll want to keep it away from heating vents. Monitor its stalks; if they no longer look firm and plump at the base, then the Oncidium needs more water.
Design: You can support its arching stalks of flowers with whip grass, which will easily blend with the flowering stems. The Oncidium typically has ruffled petals and will bloom in various red, pink, white, or yellow shades.
Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)
Care: The Moth orchid needs indirect, bright light — a window facing north may not provide enough sunlight. Cover it with a translucent curtain to filter out hot rays and avoid burning it. You can also expect your flowering Moth orchid to bloom for two months or longer.
Design: The Phalaenopsis is stunningly beautiful and will live for years while blooming for months. If kept within bright, diffused light, they will stay happy and produce flowers every year. While a single Moth orchid may be lovely, consider grouping three together for a dramatic and eye-catching floral arrangement.
Pansy Orchid (Miltonia)
Care: The Pansy orchid’s name comes from its flat-faced flowers and is also known as Goldilocks and Miltoniopsis. It loves to get misted daily to keep from drying out but be careful not to get it too wet. The orchid’s health will start to decline if it becomes too wet or too dry.
Design: Its vivid and velvety petals make it a showstopper, while a quiet background ensures it pops out in full color. It’s also known for its lovely scent, as the Miltonia orchid gives off a smell reminiscent of Hawaii. Take a sniff, close your eyes, and hear the gentle waves crash on the sand under your feet.
Sharry Baby Orchid (Oncidium)
Care: The Sharry Baby orchid needs to be kept in filtered light, as the harsh sunlight may burn its leaves. To encourage consistent, light growth, it’s best to fertilize your Sharry Baby orchid.
Design: Sharry Baby orchids have flowering stalks that tower up to four feet high. Because of this, it can give the same visual impact that a large-leafed houseplant would have.
Spirit Orchid (Doritaenopsis x Phalaenopsis Hybrid)
Care: This hybrid prefers to have high humidity, so it’s an excellent choice to place in a bathroom. Alternatively, you can purchase a humidifier. However, ensure that it gets good air circulation. Fertilize it with a half-strength dilute for every second time that you water it.
Design: When choosing a spirit orchid, get one with an arched flower stalk to create a graceful display. This hybrid comes from the Phalaenopsis family and will produce flowers for two months or more, depending on the care it receives.
How Orchids Grow
In general, orchids fall into two categories, based on their growth habits. A monopodial orchid will have one upright stem, with leaves that face each other, starting from the stem. In monopodial orchids, the flower stem will appear from the foot of its uppermost leaves. Some of the orchids that have this growth habit are the vandas and phalaenopsis.
On the other hand, sympodial orchids grow horizontally and send out new shoots from their old rhizome. Flower scapes and leaves develop from the top of the new nodes. Sympodial orchids will also form pseudobulbs to store nutrients and water to aid the plant during prolonged drought. Some examples of sympodial orchids are the Dendrobium, Oncidium, cattleya, and cymbidium.
Habitat for Orchids
Habitat also plays a role in orchids classification, including preferences for light, moisture, and temperature levels. Tropical orchids, such as paphiopedilum and phalaenopsis, prefer 80% to 90% humidity with temperatures of 73° to 85°F. They are also at their happiest when placed in a southeast or east window away from harsh light.
Dendrobiums, cymbidiums, and other warm-climate orchids prefer average temperatures of 55° to 70°F. They also like to have good air circulation and a steady supply of moisture. They’re happy to be near a south-facing window and may need some shade during peak summer temperatures.
Oncidiums and cattleyas grow in areas that are relatively cool and dry. They’re able to withstand dry seasons with temperatures between 80° or 90°F, followed by rain. However, they need plenty of light, so be sure to place them in a south-facing window.
Furthermore, high-altitude orchids, such as epidendrum and masdevallia, grow in high humidity forests. These orchids prefer filtered light that isn’t too harsh and average temperatures between 60° to 70°F.
Indoor Orchid Care Basics
With such a massive variety of orchid species, it isn’t easy to provide general cultivation and care instructions. However, you can get a broad idea of an orchid’s water, light, and growing requirements by the way it looks. For example, it likely needs a high-light environment if it has leathery or few leaves (such as oncidiums and cattleyas).
With paphiopedilum and phalaenopsis, the leaves are limp and soft, which indicates that it’s sensitive to light. If your orchid has pseudobulbs, don’t overwater it and grow it on lava rock or coarse bark chunks. If it lacks pseudobulbs, it may need more watering and can thrive on sphagnum moss or another moisture-retentive medium.
Best Watering Practices for Indoor Orchid Care
Many orchids can tolerate drought better than excess moisture. Unfortunately, nothing kills orchids faster than having them sit in a pot full of water. Without the right amount of air circulation, your orchid can die of suffocation. So, as a general rule, only water orchids once a week. Before watering the plant again, the growing medium needs to dry out completely.
Furthermore, excess water can’t come into contact with the growing medium or the roots. Once re-potted, many orchids won’t resume active growth for the next few months. During this time, it’s best to water sparingly to allow the plant to readjust. To ensure proper watering, look for specially designed orchid pots that make the job easier.
Light Requirements for Indoor Orchid Care
Generally, orchids love light and need 12 to 14 hours of sunlight every day, all year-round. For tropical environments, the natural light’s intensity and duration don’t vary as much as in temperate climates. If you live in a mild climate, move your orchids around during winter and consider using artificial grow lights.
- East and south-facing windows are typically the best areas to grow orchids.
- Northern windows usually don’t get enough sunlight.
- West windows tend to be too hot, making it hard for some orchids to grow.
If your home doesn’t have a suitable location to nurture your orchids, you can provide them with artificial lights. Keep in mind that orchids should be positioned 6 to 8 inches away from 4-foot fluorescent lights. You can choose from grow light, warm white, and cool white bulbs, which may have varying benefits. Cymbidiums and vandas may have high light requirements and might need high-intensity lighting before blooming.
Growing Mediums for Indoor Orchids
Cymbidiums, paphiopedilums, and other terrestrial orchids need to grow in soil. However, most tropical orchids are epiphytes, meaning that they grow in the air instead of soil. Orchids have fleshy roots covered in a layer of velamen (white cells), which act as a sponge to absorb water. This coating also defends the orchid from moisture loss and heat.
The growing medium you choose for growing your orchid needs to drain water quickly while providing proper air circulation. It also needs to provide your orchid’s roots with something secure on which to hold. Depending on the kind of orchid, it can happily grow in orchid bark, peat moss, and dried fern roots. Other mediums are rock wool, sphagnum moss, cork nuggets, perlite, coconut fiber, stones, or a blend of these materials.
You can wire some types of epiphytic orchids on a slab of cork or tree fern. Furthermore, bark nuggets are some of the most popular growing mediums for orchids.
Humidity Levels for Indoor Orchid Care
Many tropical orchids need humidity levels between 60%-80%. But because winter-time humidity levels in most homes are around 30%, most growers use a room humidifier. Others set their orchids on rubber grids in gravel-filled trays or waterproof trays with just enough water. Many orchids can also benefit from getting misted now and then.
Fertilizing Indoor Orchids
Because orchid-growing mediums provide limited nutrients, orchids need fertilizer to maintain their healthy growth. Use liquid orchid fertilizer and dilute it as the directions on the bottle indicate. However, keep in mind to only use fertilizer when the orchid is actively growing.
For best results, don’t fertilize orchids midwinter or when they’ve been re-potted. Some growers will use a fertilizer mix of 30-10-10, while others will use 10-10-30 or 10-10-10. Misting your orchid with seaweed extract or fish emulsion will also help to provide its needed micronutrients.
Indoor Orchid Potting and Repotting
Generally speaking, orchids are at their happiest inside a small pot. Plastic pots are the preferred choice for re-potting, as the roots are easier to detach. To make sure your orchid has efficient drainage, you can fill the pot’s bottom with foam peanuts. Suspend your orchid over the pot and gradually fill it with fir bank chunks or another growing medium.
The orchid’s crown should lay just below the top of your pot. Some orchids will need re-potting every year, while others can stay in one pot for more than seven years. In general, however, it’s best not to re-pot your plant unless necessary because orchids don’t like being disturbed.
Furthermore, you should re-pot your orchid if the growing medium breaks down to the point of reduced aeration. This change in aeration happens when new growth has unbalanced the plant or the roots are creeping out beyond the pot.
Propagating Indoor Orchids
Propagating orchids from seeds can be difficult. Unlike seeds from other plants, orchid seeds don’t have storage tissues for nutrition. For orchids to grow, the seed needs to land where it will find fungi to penetrate the root system. An orchid seed will typically distribute millions of microscopic seeds from the mother plant to overcome their unlikely odds.
It’s essential to work in sterile conditions if you want to propagate orchids from seeds. The seed will need to grow inside a gelatinous substance that provides it with growth hormones and nutrients. Furthermore, you’ll also need patience since it will take months for the first leaves to appear. The roots appear later, while it may be as long as three to eight years before flowers begin to bloom.
Thankfully, it’s much easier to propagate orchids through division. But keep in mind that dividing an orchid will sacrifice blooms for a year at the very least. Moreover, the bigger your orchid, the more flowers it will give you.
How Long Do Indoor Orchids Live?
Given proper care, an orchid can live for years and even decades. Their life cycle usually consists of the initial bloom, which usually happens in fall, followed by a dormant period and rebloom. If you’re caring for your orchid correctly, it will repeat its dormant and rebloom cycles every few months.
- Orchids can create hybrids between related genera and between species, unlike other animals and plants. This flexibility means an indefinite amount of combinations, and it’s why most orchids have highly complex names given to them.
- Many orchids will bloom once a year. However, they can bloom more often if kept happy. If you want an orchid that blooms during certain seasons, buy an orchid that produces flowers at that time.
- Once an orchid produces flowers, it will usually stay in bloom between six to ten weeks.
- Re-potted orchids usually won’t flower for a whole year after they’ve been disturbed. So, it’s best to buy your orchids with pots instead of barefoot.
- These gorgeous flowers are known to symbolize elegance, fertility, and love. It’s because of these characteristics that they are common gifts to new parents.
Indoor Orchid Care Is Easier Than You Think
Growing orchids inside your home doesn’t have to be complicated. If you follow the instructions outlined here, you’ll be able to see the vibrant colors that these flowers have to offer. Indoor orchid care may be intimidating, but with a little research, it’s worth the effort!
FAQs for Indoor Orchid Care
Given proper care, an orchid can live for decades. Their life cycle usually consists of the initial bloom followed by a dormant period and rebloom. Orchids can repeat their inactive and rebloom cycles every few months.
Indoor orchid propagation usually happens through division. Division is the easiest method available. Unlike seeds from other plants, orchid seeds don’t have storage tissues for nutrition. For orchids to grow, the seed needs to land where it will find fungi to penetrate the root system. To overcome their unlikely odds of survival, orchid seeds typically distribute millions of microscopic seeds from the mother plant.
Growing mediums — also referred to as potting soil or substrate — is the material in which indoor plants grow. Depending on the kind of orchid, it can happily grow in fir bark, peat moss, and dried fern roots. Other mediums are rock wool, sphagnum moss, cork nuggets, perlite, coconut fiber, stones, or a blend of these materials.
Generally, orchids love light. For the best results, they need 12 to 14 hours of light every day, all year-round. Avoid north- and west-facing windows and opt for east- or south-facing windows instead. If your orchid is sensitive to intense light, use a sheer curtain to shield it.
There are approximately 28,000 orchid species worldwide, with the most popular being the moth orchid. Orchids fall into two distinct groups. Monopodial orchids have one upright stem. In contrast, sympodial orchids will create new shoots from their old rhizome, and some may also have pseudobulbs.