We purchased some orchids from Costco and have had them for about three weeks, indoors. They are beautiful plants, with magnificent purple blooms. I noticed that one of the flowers is now wilting, so I fired up the search engine and tried to gather all the tips for taking good care of these gorgeous indoor plants.
Linda Matchan from BostonGlobe says that "Orchids are more like Cacti". They are robust to neglect, can be left uncared for, unwatered for about 2 months. Orchids have a fairly long history, with Confucious, the well-known chinese philopher having written a poem about them. Orchid USA has a great page about many facts and trivia about orchids.
Although this is a general list, there is nothing general about the over 3000 kinds of orchids.
Nikki Phipps of GardeningKnowHow recommends that orchids be grown in moist and well-draining growing medium. Most commonly recommended media are a mixture of sphagnum peat moss, coarse perlite, fir bark, charcoal, sand and potting soil. Since most people purchase pre-potted orchids, we do not have to worry about this, until the next re-potting, which happens every other year.
Do not ever let orchids sit in water. Its a sure shot way of letting an orchid die. Water just enough, every 20-25 days. Its actually better if you let the orchid dry out between waterings. Put your index finger into the medium about an inch deep to check for moisture. Add water if it feels dry. Another trick is to check the leaves - if they are turning yellowish or are shriveling, then the plant is not getting enough water.
Orchids like medium to bright indirect light. Never put is on the window sill that receives direct sunlight. The leaves tend to dry out. Instead put it slightly indoors where it can receive some light from the east or south facing windows. Some orchids, such as the Dendrobrium, do best in bright light, but not direct sunlight. If the leaves are turning yellower, it means the orchid is getting too much light.
We have reported earlier that overwatering is one of the main causes of houseplant deaths. Instead of directly pouring a can of water, put a large ice-cube, or several small ones into the container every time the plant almost dries out. The slow melting ice will give enough time for the roots to absorb the water. It will also avoid the watery mess. Just Add Ice Orchids, a seller of Phalaenopsis Orchids, recommends how much ice to add every week -- 3 ice-cubes per week.
Interesting to note however is that Orchids are exotic plants and ice-cold water can actually be harmful for them, or so says OrchidGirl in her video (bottom of this post).
If the plant is only producing foliage but no flowers, move it to a slightly brighter spot, but never in direct sunlight.
Orchids bloom when the difference in day and night temperatures is about 10 degrees.
When all the previous blooms have died out, count the nodes along the stem and prune just above the fourth node. This is the recommended method by Roger Cook of This old house.
You need to repot the plant every other year. Since you will be water infrequently, it is better to use a plastic pot, since that retains moisture well. Most importantly, you want to constrain the orchid to the smallest pot possible, never overpot them.
Orchids need a low-phosporus fertilizer, that is applied very rarely. Maybe once every nine months. Yellowing leaves are also indicative of need for fertilizer, especially nitrogen.
OrchidUsa reports that orchids need a humidity of 60-80%, to retain their blooms for longer and to maintain optimal growth. While these are conditions that typically humans find comfortable (about 40-70%), if in doubt, you can always invest in a accurate hygrometer or humidity monitor and place it near the orchids to actually measure the humidity. This could be needed in winter when the forced hot air might mean dry interiors. For regions with consistently low humidity, you can get a simple mist humidifier to remedy the situation. Alternatively, you can use the easy trick of setting the pot on a tray filled with pebbles, with just enough water to cover the pebbles.
Clear or watery spots are the result of bacterial infections that can be remedied by repotting, treating with a fungicide, keeping letting the plant dry out. If the leaves are turning yellow, then brown and dying, that would indicate a fungal infection. Fungal infections are typically the result of excessive humidity, cold temperatures, and over-watering. Black streaks on leaves could be a viral infection. Viral infections also lead to brown streaks on the flowers. This is time to say goodbye to the orchid plant as plants cannot be recovered from viruses. Be sure you do this quick, as the viral infection might spread to other plants in the vicinity.
Leaves of the orchid are quite indicative of what the plant is going through. I have already written about lighting, watering, and bacterial infection issues. The tips of leaves getting burnt or turning black is the result of a fertilizer burn due to overfertilizing. Rapid, soft growth is indicative of overfertilizing.
Finally, it helps to understand what the experts would do for various issues in growing orchids.
And then there is this video about the top 10 don'ts when growing orchids.
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