What's the Deal with Orchids?
So, you bought an orchid, or you got one as a gift. Then, the flowers fell off or the leaves burned. You're not alone. And it's not too late. Here's everything you need to know to keep your new delicate flower flourishing.
Let’s start with the fundamental facts of orchids, which will help explain how and why orchids can be the easiest plants to care for and why they are in fact wonderful gifts to keep giving.
Most commercially-sold orchids are epiphytic plants, which means they grow on the surface of a plant/rock/tree, so they catch the optimal amount of sun and moisture they need to grow and bloom. This is different than a terrestrial plant, which roots itself into the ground to take nutrients from the ground.
Check out the roots of your orchid — they are thick tendrils that are succulent-like. This is how they attach onto other surfaces. Now check out the medium they are planted in, which should be moss or a mix of moss and bark. Orchids are planted in moss/bark because this medium is airy, light and will not suffocate the succulent-like roots that the orchid lives from. If an epiphytic orchid is planted in a regular potting mix, chances are the orchid roots will rot because the soil mix is too heavy and does not allow enough oxygen to circulate into the roots. Similarly, roots will rot if an epiphytic orchid is planted in a pot without drainage and no means of removing the orchid to water outside of the planter.
Now imagine an orchid in its native tropical rainforest environment. It is hot and humid, you spot an orchid which is growing from the crevice of two tree branches. Upon closer inspection, you see its roots have wrapped around the trunk and leaf debris has fallen into the branch crevice creating a small nest of moisture retention for the orchid roots (aka your moss/bark mix). The sun beams break through the tree canopy above, basking the orchid for brief moments with light. When it rains, the rain trickles down the tree trunk running over the orchid roots that absorb bits of each drop as they pass. At the same time, water catches in the orchid leaves and are directed down into the roots. The orchid roots never stay too wet, they are usually put through a dry spell between rain showers. They do however have the luxury of absorbing moisture through the humid air and the leftover moisture that the tree bark has absorbed during the last rainfall.
This scenario — rather, this environment — is what you will replicate at home. And it’s not all that complicated. There is a magic formula to orchid care at home and it goes like this:
Your orchid should have arrived in a hole punched plastic sleeve planted in a moss/bark medium. Its not pretty, so most people will simply slip the orchid root ball (plastic sleeve and all) into a nicer looking pot. Never let your orchid sit in a puddle of water.
Sunlight & Temperature
Place your orchid where it will receive at least 2-3 hours of direct light a day and the rest of the day the light is bright and indirect. Remember the light beams streaming through the tree canopy.
Keep your home temp between 60-80 degrees. Don’t let it get cold, hot is totally fine.
Watering & Misting
If you’ve followed steps 1-3, then once a week bring your orchid to the sink and fill it with water until the orchid roots are submerged underneath. Let the orchid sit in the water for at least 5 minutes. This is so the moss, bark and roots absorb as much moisture as they can hold. After this time, drain the sink and let your orchid drain any access water.
During the grow season, you’ll add a few tablespoons of liquid fertilizer to the water (organic only, please!) so the roots get the extra nutrients they need.
If you want to give some extra love, mist your orchid leaves and roots a few times during the week, between waterings.