Take the Stress Out of Caring for Your Orchids


No flowering plant has a  more beautiful, graceful, and miraculous bloom than an orchid. The name comes from ancient Greek, and literally meaning ‘testicle’ because of the shape of the root.

The story behind the plant’s name comes from a strange Greek myth:  Orchis, the son of a nymph and a satyr, came upon a festival of Dionysus (Bacchus) in the forest. He drank too much, and attempted to rape a priestess of Dionysus. For his insult, he was torn apart by the Bacchanalians. His father prayed for him to be restored, but the gods instead changed him into a flower–An odd tale, but none-the-less an almost perfect plant.

The only thing that really confuses people is how to take care of an orchid. Minding the light, the amount of water, where to cut the stem once the flower has fallen, all often prove too challenging for owners. Many even resorting to tossing the entire plant once the last bloom falls.

In an effort to save the many orchids sure to be dumped by their frustrated owners, we’ve put together a list for basic orchid care. Good luck! And remember if all else fails, most Trader Joe’s carry great prices on orchids..shhhh…

1. Water–Less is more!

Many people make the mistake of assuming that since orchids are native to tropical rain forests, they must be watered several times a week. Unfortunately, watering this frequently will kill the roots of any orchid in short order. The general rule of thumb for orchids grown in the home is to water every 5 to 12 days, depending on the type of orchid, the temperature the plant is grown in, and the time of year. During the warm summer months when days are long, more frequent watering is required than in the cooler, shorter days of winter.

2. Fertilizer–Yes or no?

Over-fertilizing can kill orchids faster than using none at all.  If you decide to fertilize, be sure to use an orchid food that is formulated for orchids and follow the label instructions. In general, most orchid fertilizers recommend use once a month. Less frequent fertilizing may stunt growth and inhibit flowering, more frequent fertilizing may burn the roots and leaves and inhibit flowering.

3. Light–Direct or indirect?

One good indicator is leaf color. Generally speaking, the leaves should be bright green rather than dark green. Dark green indicates too little light while reddish green indicated too much light. Those orchids requiring higher light intensities, such as cattleyas, dendrobiums and oncidiums, should be placed in a south or west facing window, but be sure to protect the leaves from the hot mid-day sun with sheer curtains or move the plants back from the window on hot summer days. Miltonias, phalaenopsis and paphiopedilums prefer lower light intensities and should be located further away from the window or placed in a window facing east or north.

4. New plant on the stem! What do I do?

Congratulations! With proper care you will have a new plant, identical in every way to your original phalaenopsis. Wait until the new plant has developed a strong little root system of its own, with two or three roots at least one to two inches long. Then, carefully cut the plantlet, called a keiki, from the flower stem and put it in a very small pot of seedling bark for its first potting. After a year or two, move up to medium-sized bark in a four to five inch pot. Alternatively, you can pot the keiki in special orchid sphagnum moss. Be sure to go light with the fertilizer for the first few months. Once the plant has established itself, as evidenced by increased leaf growth, start with full-strength fertilizing.

5. Humidity 

Many beginners insist on misting their plants constantly to maintain a proper humidity and provide water.  If humidity is kept at the ideal for people, 50-60%, your orchids will lose water at an appropriate rate.  Consider the location of your orchid and if you would be uncomfortable there, so would your orchid.