Orchid care – how to stop feeling guilty and love your orchid

April 23rd, 2017
Posted In: Container gardening

Do you feel guilty about orchid care?

Have you been given a potted orchid which did look beautiful for weeks?

And do you now have a sad little transparent pot full of dried-up roots, with a stick poking out of it? Outside your back door or on your kitchen windowsill?

Not exactly thrown away, but not going anywhere either?

I thought so. Me too.

A phalaenopsis orchid flowers for weeks

Phalaenopsis orchid ‘Vieux Rose’ from Vacherot & Lecoufle, France.

Orchids are the number one house plant purchased world wide. Many of those purchases are gifts.

So when Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist suggested…

Baby Bio are sponsoring this post on orchids. They’ve asked me to compare their new Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist with two competitor mists. I’m testing how fine the three sprays are in comparison to each other.

Most orchids don’t need much watering, but you should mist their leaves and any aerial roots regularly. The fineness of the mist is important because the plant can rot if large drops of water get lodged in the crown.

Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist

Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist is a fine spray containing the nutrients and moisture your orchid needs to survive. Using a spray means you won’t over-feed your orchid. And it helps mimic the humid conditions that orchids grow in.

The reason why you need to use specialist orchid feed solutions (and also special orchid compost) is that ordinary plant feeds and composts will be too rich for orchids. A specially-formulated orchid feed, such as Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist, has the right amount of nutrients to help your orchid flower for as long as possible.

Most importantly, orchids often grow in humid environments. Many are tropical or semi-tropical, so our homes aren’t humid enough for them. You don’t need to water your orchid as often as you water other house plants. But you will make them last longer if you spray their leaves and aerial roots regularly.

So I decided that this was an ideal opportunity to stop feeling guilty about orchids. They are too beautiful.

I set off to the RHS Spring Plant and Orchid show to hear a talk from Sarah Rittershausen of Burnham Nurseries about Easy Growing Orchids in the Home

Why orchid care makes us feel guilty

We’ve all probably been given at least one phalaenopsis orchid at some point.

Phalaenopsis orchids come in hundreds of beautiful colours

Phalaenopsis ‘Luxor’ – from Burnham Nurseries – almost outrageously beautiful.

The flowers last for weeks. And orchids thrive on neglect. You don’t need to water your orchids more than once a week, if that. I’ve often wondered if orchids I’ve been given were really alive because they stayed looking immaculate for so long.

Phalaenopsis orchids are long-lived

This phalaenopsis orchid has been looking gorgeous for four months on a friend’s mantelpiece.

But how do you look after it? It’s not like an ordinary house plant, is it? Or is it?

Fill a bowl with lots of white orchids

I love the way Vacherot & Lecoufle have filled a big bowl with white orchids at the RHS Spring Plant and Orchid Show. It would be an easy trick to copy with orchids from the supermarket.

For some of us, our only contact with orchids is getting or giving white phalaenopsis orchids from the supermarket as gifts. Our definition of ‘orchid care’ is giving it the odd nervous watering.

At the other end of the spectrum are orchid-lovers who travel the world to see orchids in the wild. Orchids grow everywhere except Antartica, so they can justify going absolutely anywhere. Orchid fanatics often have greenhouses packed with orchids and know all about orchid care.

And there are 25,000-30,000 different varieties of orchid, so this isn’t a hobby where you ever get to the point where you’ve seen it all..

An introduction to orchids

The RHS Spring Plant & Orchid Show in London

Where to put your orchid

Orchids are easy to look after, but you do have to put them in the right place in your home.

Don’t panic. Yes, those 25,000+ varieties each come from a different climate. So, in theory, 25,000 different places in your home, according to each orchid’s nature.

But Sarah simplified it very clearly.

If cymbidium orchids are too warm, they'll think it's always summer and won't flower again.

Cymbidium orchids live in the Himalayas, so they think year-round central heating is permanent summer. This stops their flowering cycle and encourages them to produce more leafy growth.

There are five or six types of orchid that we might buy or be given as a beginner. Two will do well in relatively cool houses. They won’t like being in a centrally heated room all year round. Three are ideal for centrally heated homes (although avoid placing an orchid on a sunny windowsill in summer).

The two orchids that like cool winters and moderate summers are ‘cool’ dendrobiums and cymbidium orchids.

Dendrobium orchids need cool conditions in winter (8-10 degrees C)

A ‘cool’ dendrobium orchid from Burnham Nurseries. It has a thick cane stem with clusters of flowers coming directly off it. It needs to be cool-ish in the winter. That’s around 8-10 degrees C – for example, an unheated conservatory.

Words like ‘dendrobium’ and ‘cymbidium’ aren’t easy to remember (I find!). However, if you buy from a nursery, then you should be able to discuss your home and say where you want to put the orchid. The grower will then recommend suitable orchids. (Or pin this post if you use Pinterest, then you’ll be able to find it again when you need it.)

How to care for cymbidium orchids

Cymbidium lowianum – an orchid that likes a cool room in winter, but can live on your terrace in moderate climates in summer.

Orchids for centrally heated homes

Phalaenopsis orchids are perfect for centrally heated homes, which is why we get given them as gifts. If you’re new to orchids, this is probably what you think of as ‘an orchid.’

Phalaenopsis orchids are perfect for centrally heated homes

Phalaenopsis orchid ‘Baldan’s Kaleidoscope’ from Vacherot & Lecoufle

Phaleonopsis orchids don’t like their environment to get any cooler than 15-18 degrees centigrade at night. That’s just about right for most homes.

You can find out more about how to choose and look after phalaenopsis orchids on the website LoveOrchids.co.uk. There is style inspiration, too and other info.


Phalaenopsis orchids from DoubleH Orchids who support LoveOrchids.co.uk

It has lots of fascinating facts and tips, including the warning that you shouldn’t place your orchid too near a bowl of ripening fruit.

Ripening fruit gives off ehtylene gas, which may cause your orchid to drop its flowers. So if your orchid died, maybe that’s the reason.

On the whole, though orchid flowers seem incredibly long-lived.

Other ‘beginner’ orchids include Slipper Orchids (Paphilopedilum) and ‘warm’ Dendrobiums.

Slipper orchids work well in centrally heated homes

Paphilopedilum or Slipper orchids Pinocchio (left) and St Swithin (right).

There is so much variety just within these three orchid types, so you have a lot of choice. They like being in light, warm rooms, but avoid strong sunlight in the summer. So you can put an orchid on a south-facing windowsill in winter, but not in summer.

Orchid care – feeding and watering

Orchids don’t need much food and water, said Sarah. Which makes orchid care really quite easy.

But they will flower better if you feed them. Many of them cling to trees in the wild, or grow in rocky places. They learn to survive on very little.

This is a short video on orchid care:

Sarah says that you should spray the leaves of your orchid 2-3 times a week, or even every day. Avoid spraying the flowers. And don’t let water collect in the crown of the plant.

Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist

Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist ready for action on my mantelpiece.

You can just spray water. However, if your water is hard, Sarah said it’s better either to buy a special mister, or buy spring water.

Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist comparative test

Baby Bio asked me to test their Orchid Feed & Mist against two competitor orchid mist sprays.

I added an equal amount of blue food colouring to all three sprays. Then I sprayed three pieces of plain white paper with Spray A, Spray B and Spray C.

Baby Bio asked me to make sure that I sprayed each piece of paper for just one second. I also needed to make sure that I sprayed from 50cms away each time.

Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist

The Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist is on the left. The spray was so fine you can barely see it on the paper – although it’s obvious from the way the paper is crumpled that something wet has been sprayed there.

The mist from Spray A was so fine, it barely marked the paper. There were a quite large spots with Spray B. Spray C was more even, but had several bigger spots.

Spray A was the Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist. I re-did the test several times, mainly because the Baby Bio spray was so fine, it was hard to see it on the paper. The results were always the same.

Baby Bio didn’t ask me to comment on the spray mechanism itself. However, it’s worth saying that I found the Baby Bio spray significantly easier to use.  It was just a quick squirt. I had to fiddle around with the other two, and they felt clunkier to use.

How to water your orchid

Sarah emphasises that ‘less is more’ when it comes to watering most orchids.

Many orchids are now sold in transparent plastic pots. This isn’t because orchid roots need light. It’s to help you see when the orchid need watering.

Green roots mean the orchids have enough water. Silvery-grey roots mean they’re probably about ready to be watered again. Brown roots mean that you’ve over-watered and the roots are rotting.

She also suggests you get used to the weight of your orchid pot. If it’s relatively heavy, it’s well watered. Once it feels light, you need to water again.

You should never water your orchid more than once a week, says Sarah. Once a fortnight might be better. She has even left some orchids for 3-4 weeks before watering them again.

Orchids in pots - make sure you can lift the orchid out when watering so that it can drain properly

You can use attractive containers for orchids. But make sure they’re still in their original pots with drainage holes so you can lift them out of their ceramic pots to water and drain properly.

Orchid pots must have drainage. Stand your orchid in the sink and give it a good soaking for a few minutes. Then let it drain thoroughly before returning it to its outer pot or trough.

Stand your orchids in the sink after watering

Stand your orchids in the sink to drain after watering. Orchids from DoubleH orchid growers.

How to feed your orchid

Orchid care means giving it some extra nutrition, but not much. Use a specialist orchid food and follow the instructions. Don’t over-do it or you’ll get lots of leaves and no flowers.

Use a specialist orchid compost when re-potting. Ordinary garden compost will be too rich, and won’t drain well enough.

I’ll be using the Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist on my orchids, as it seems the easiest way to give them a balanced amount of nutrients.

When should you re-pot your orchid?

One of the audience at the RHS Orchid show asked Sarah of Burnham Nurseries how often she should re-port her orchid. ‘It hasn’t flowered for three years.’

Sarah asked how long it had been in the pot. ‘Fifteen years’ was the answer.

‘I think it might be due for re-potting,’ she said, with admirable restraint.

The fact that an orchid can flower for 12 years without being re-potted is an extreme example of how hardy orchids are about somewhat bleak growing conditions.

LoveOrchids recommends re-potting phalaenopsis orchids every 4-5 years ‘or when the orchid is practically jumping out of the pot.’

Use bark or specialist orchid compost because ordinary potting compost doesn’t drain well enough for orchids.

Orchid care when flowering is over

Cut off any brown roots or stems. If your orchid is a ‘cool’ dendrobium it will have a thick cane stem where it stores nutrition so don’t cut this down unless it’s obviously dead.

Loveorchids.co.uk warns against cutting the whole stem down on phalaenopsis orchids. You’ll get bigger flowers  if you do, but they’ll take longer to come. ‘Cut just above a node that is below any previous branch or bloom.’

Move the orchid to somewhere cooler (no lower than 17 degrees for phalaenopsis, says Loveorchids.co.uk).

However, don’t put it in a dark corner – it will still want light.

Carry on with watering every week or so, and spraying the leaves and aerial roots 2-3 times every week. And the flowers should be back again.

I feel I understand orchids and orchid care much better now. They really do seem to offer so much, and ask for so little in return.

And there’s more about orchids on the excellent Doddington Place Gardens blog.

Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist

I’m really glad Baby Bio asked me to write about orchids by sponsoring this post on Baby Bio Orchid Feed & Mist. I’ve been using it on my three orchids for over a month now. It really seems to fulfill its claims – it provides a fine spray with the nutrients the orchids need to keep their leaves and flowers looking brilliantly healthy, creating the humidity that orchids need to thrive. My orchids look very happy, anyway.

Pin this post to refer to it later

Easy tips for orchid care, orchid care for beginners, how to make your orchid rebloom, and orchid planting ideas.


6 comments on "Orchid care – how to stop feeling guilty and love your orchid"

  1. Lovely post.. I love reading your stuff, and I am from Serbia. I recently bought a few orchids myself, and I adore them.

  2. Jenny says:

    What a wonderfully thorough yet totally accessible article! Thank you! Pinned for future reference. — Jenny

    1. Thank you. I too find Pinterest such a useful ‘filing cabinet’ for articles I might want to refer back to.

  3. Oh my goodness – seems there’s more to do with orchids that with having sextuplets! I avoid all houseplants for this very reason but when I visited the RHS London Orchid Show I was astounded at how beautiful and exotic orchids can be.

    1. It was stunning, wasn’t it? I think we’ve all got a bit bored of the standard white phalaenopsis in supermarkets and have forgotten how extraordinary these plants can be.

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