Indigenous to every continent except Antarctica, orchids do no less than dazzle admirers worldwide with thousands of varieties, an array of vibrant colors, lush leaves, and uniquely striking forms. Orchids, unfortunately, have acquired an undeserved reputation for being difficult to grow because they require slightly different care from typical house plants. With the proper potting, lighting, watering, and feeding, orchids will flourish, blooming for months at a time.
In their natural environment, orchids do not grow with their roots buried in soil; they grow from the sides of trees, attached to bark. Using a fast-draining, but moisture-holding potting media will keep a potted orchid the healthiest. The most common orchid potting mixes are bark-based, peat-based, or composed of inorganic materials (hydroponic-based). Select a pot to fit the size of the orchid’s roots – not the stem and leaves. The smallest pot in which the roots will fit is the best option.
With such a diverse variety of orchid genera, orchids’ ideal light conditions vary slightly from plant to plant with some types thriving with more sunlight, others with slightly less. No orchid, however, will do well with direct full-sun or complete shade. A good rule of thumb is to place orchids in a south or east-facing window, where they will receive ample filtered sunlight throughout the day. If living in a cold climate, avoid placing an orchid directly against a window to prevent the plant from becoming too cold or freezing.
Perhaps the most difficult factor in caring for orchids, watering requires both routine and mindfulness. In an orchid’s natural environment, its roots would be exposed to humidity in the air and only brief soaking during rainstorms; both over-watering and under-watering can kill or seriously stress an orchid. Water an orchid when its soil is almost completely dry. The soil’s level of moisture can be detected by testing with a soil poke (a wooden dowel or pencil), by touch, or by the weight of the plant (the lighter, the drier). Completely saturate the orchid’s potting mix by running water through it in the sink. Then allow the water to drain to completely, ensuring a moist environment with no standing water. This will keep the orchid’s roots moist, while preventing root rot. To drain, orchids can be left in the sink or placed on homemade humidity trays (a tray covered with stones).
Orchid potting mixes typically do not hold much nutrition for the plant; orchids require regular feeding with fertilizer formulated specifically for orchids. The general rule for feeding orchids is “weakly, weekly.” Rather than feeding a full dose of fertilizer once a month, a diluted solution (1/4 dose) should be fed four times per month. This will prevent the fertilizer from burning the orchid’s roots.