How to Keep an Orchid Alive

Julia Millay Walsh

More orchids are killed by incorrect watering than by any other reason. Unfortunately, the proliferation of watering “tricks” on the Internet has fatally misled many an orchid owner. The key to watering any plant is to replicate its natural environment in your home. Orchids grow naturally in the tropics and subtropics, where the temperatures are warm to hot, as well as moist year-round, and where there are dry and wet seasons. So tips like putting ice cubes into orchid pots inevitably fail, because, well, there aren’t ice cubes falling from the sky in Central America. That said, orchids actually are easy to care for. Read on below to learn.

Caring for a Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis are the most common type of orchids, which typically bloom once per year. You probably own one if you picked yours up at the grocery store. We consulted an orchid expert, who told us that how you care for your orchid actually depends on what it was planted in.

  • “If it looks like chips of bark, then run the planting medium through a cool bath once a week,” she says. To do so, hold the plant under the sink faucet—without getting the leaves wet—and copiously wet the bark, and then it drain thoroughly.
  • “If it’s planted in a green/brown mossy mixture, you only need to water it with a half-cup of cool water once a week,” she says. Since moss retains water really well, you don’t want to soak it. The roots like the air, so barely damp is a good guideline.
  • Phalaenopsis orchids love sunlight, so any exposure to light is good except southern exposure. Be sure to give them lots of direct sun.

Caring for a Oncidium

Another common type of orchid is an oncidium. Their flowers are much smaller and don’t last as long, but they bloom three or more times per year. The watering of an oncidium is the same as a phalaenopsis, and they take full sunlight so find a bright home for them.

Rules to Live By

Above are guidelines for the most common orchids, but if you’ve planted them differently or if you own another type of orchid, just follow these guidelines from the American Orchid Society.

  • When to water: Orchids should be watered when they begin to dry out.
  • How to determine if your potted orchid is almost dry: when the surface of the moss potting mix appears dry; if the pot feels lighter when lifted; if a clay pot feels dry to touch; if a pencil or wooden skewer, when inserted, comes out almost dry; if the potting mix feels dry to the touch.
  • What time of day to water: Water in the morning to give moisture on the leaves (which can cause crown rot) time to dry.
  • How to water: Always water your potted orchid copiously (about 15 seconds) in the sink, and then allow it to drain completely (about 15 minutes) so the pots do not stand in water.
  • What type of water to use: Water your orchids with lukewarm water—tap water is fine. Don’t use salt-softened or distilled water.
  • Seasonal considerations: Water more frequently when temperatures are warm, and less frequently when temperatures are cool.

Any other tips to add? Tell us in the comments below.

Explore: Orchids, Plants

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