How to care for orchids

Orchids are actually a whole family of plants, so varied that they have more than 25,000 species. The great diversity that they present in their morphology has made them one of the most popular flowering plants among fans of gardening and decoration because, despite their enormous variety, all orchids have large and showy flowers.

However, caring for these plants may not be so simple a priori. This great diversity also differentiates them in their needs and it is essential to have a good knowledge of them to be able to take good care of the orchids. If you want to learn how to care for orchids , join us in this article.

Types of orchids

Before telling you how to care for an orchid at home, we want to make it clear that this is the first point and also the most important: correctly identify the species of your orchid . The most popular orchids among amateurs and in stores are the Phalaenopsis orchids , among which are the so-called white orchids and pink or fuchsia are also very popular.

Phalaenopsis are epiphytic orchids , that is, in their natural habitat they grow by attaching themselves to the branches and trunks of trees, instead of burying their roots as terrestrial plants do. This characteristic greatly affects their needs and care, which differ in some points from those of most plants.

However, although most orchids are of this type, not all turn out to be epiphytic plants : there are also terrestrial orchids , such as Calanthe or Cymbidium , climbing or lithophytes, such as Laelia, which grow on rocks and not on trees.

If you have just been given or have bought an orchid, the first thing you need to do is identify its specific species in order to provide tailored care. In this article we are going to focus on the care that epiphytic orchids need, since they are by far the most common and popular and they all share very similar needs.

Light and location for orchids

As far as their light needs are concerned, you just have to look at the natural habitat of these plants to get an idea of ​​what they need. Given that in their original environment they develop on the branches and trunks of trees, but always below the arboreal dome, it is not difficult to deduce that orchids need abundant natural light , but always indirectly .

Thus, outdoors it will be convenient to locate the orchid in some illuminated area, but especially covered from the hours of greatest incidence of the sun, which are usually midday. If it is, on the other hand, how to care for a potted orchid at home , it is best to place it in a very bright room , near balconies or windows where the incidence is not direct or where curtains filter or filter the light.

In the same way, it is convenient to find an environment with adequate ventilation. Since epiphytic plants get a good part of their nutrients from the air, they need clean air that is as lightly charged as possible. Of course, this should not be confused with exposing it to drafts on a regular basis, which will dry out the plant, making it lose the flowers very easily.

How to care for orchids - Light and location for orchids

Orchid pots

This is one of the most particular points in the care of orchids, especially if we refer to the epiphytic type, and it is that these plants are capable of photosynthesis with their roots and not only with their leaves and stems, hence they are green when the plant is healthy.

Thus, when choosing a pot for orchids, it is convenient that it be made of a translucent material , which allows light to penetrate so that the roots also absorb it. In addition, in this way we can also easily check the state of the roots of the plant, a good indicator of its health.

As in the vast majority of cases, it will also be necessary for the pot to have drainage holes , since, as we will see later, when it comes to the issue of how to water an orchid, it must be done by immersion.

How to care for orchids - Pots for orchids

Temperature and climate for orchids

Since orchids are tropical plants and do well in tropical and temperate climates, they do not grow well in temperatures that are neither too high, as in desert climates, nor very cold. These plants should always be kept within a temperature range of between 10ºC and 30ºC , being necessary to protect them inside the house if temperatures fall or rise beyond these limits.

Taking into account that in places with very high or very low temperatures, air conditioners and radiators will be used, it must be borne in mind that when putting these plants inside the house because they cannot be outside, we cannot place them next to these appliances while they are they use, as this will harm them and they can dry out and die.

Irrigation for orchids

Traditional watering can tend not to be suitable for these plants, since it is likely that we end up giving the plant either too little water, or too much water. In their natural environment, orchids get their water mainly from ambient humidity and tropical storms, and the best way to replicate this is with immersion irrigation . Immerse your orchid pot in lime-free, room-temperature water. Tap water tends not to be suitable depending on the area, so you can use rainwater or, if that is not possible, let the tap water sit for 24 hours before using it for watering, so that the minerals are deposited.

How much to water an orchid

Leave the pot submerged in a basin with plenty of water for 10-20 minutes, then remove it and let the excess water drain completely through the holes in the container. After this, you can return it to its usual location.

How often is an orchid watered

In general, it will be enough to apply this process once a week during its most active months and every 15 days in its resting season , that is, in the cold months. In any case, and when in doubt, it is convenient to know that orchids handle drought better than excess water. If you think that you are watering it badly, try to space the waterings slightly and observe the changes.

How to care for orchids - Watering for orchids

Moisture for orchids

As tropical plants, orchids also need high humidity. This can normally be achieved by two methods: using a tray with stones and water or, if you have it hanging, spraying water on the leaves .

By cleaning the orchid leaves like this, we moisten them and also clean them of dust, improving their absorption of water and nutrients. In the case of the tray, it is enough to place a little water in a tray and cover it with stones, and then place the pot on top. This will keep the roots safe from waterlogging, but taking advantage of the moisture in the water as it evaporates.

Substrate and compost for orchids

These plants are not very demanding with their substrate, since their roots do not seek food in it. Thus, the most important thing is that the substrate is light and porous , so that it drains as well as possible and at the same time retains a certain level of humidity. There are many stores that have specialized substrate for orchids, although you can also prepare your own mixture using materials such as sphagnum moss or coconut fiber as a base . 

As for the compost, this is another of the key points in the maintenance of orchids . Since epiphytic plants get their mineral nutrients from rainwater and what it carries through the bark of the tree to which they are subjected, they have quite different needs from common land plants. Do not use organic fertilizers or universal chemicals, as they could burn and damage its roots. Instead, it is best to use fertilizers and specific fertilizers for orchids or epiphytes.

Orchid pruning

You also have to think about how to care for orchids after flowering . This is when orchid pruning becomes important , as it is the most important step in caring for them after flowering.

When the flowers have fallen , prepare pruning shears by sterilizing them and cut the stem just below the first bud or pseudobulb. You should also not be in a hurry to do this since, if you wonder how long orchid flowers last , we will tell you that we are facing one of the longest living plants with flowers: no less than 12 weeks!

It is important to do this so that the plant does not waste energy trying to feed stalks that are drying and are not going to serve anymore. In form, it will be stronger and will be able to bloom again in the following season. 

How to care for orchids - Orchid pruning

How to make orchids bloom

The first thing you should know is that orchids can take several years to bloom . If your plant is young, it is normal that it does not give flowers during the first years: some take up to 5 years to do so. After taking this into account, it is important to take into account the following care of orchids so that they flourish :

  • Pay attention to the adequate humidity levels by checking that both its leaves and roots show a healthy green.
  • Make sure the plant receives plenty of non-direct light.
  • Check that it is not exposed to sudden changes in temperature or drafts.
  • Fertilize it properly with specific fertilizer for this type of plants.
  • Keep in mind that the most important care for orchids when the flowers fall is proper pruning, if your orchid does not bloom this year it may be due to poor pruning, or not having been directly pruned last season.

If you complete all these steps, your orchid will soon produce those beautiful flowers that characterize it.

How to care for a dying orchid

Since these plants are somewhat demanding in their care, it is possible that an oversight or a few days away from home have cost you an unpleasant surprise when you return. When you need to know how to revive an orchid , it is important to distinguish if the plant is at the limit due to drought or excessive watering.

Caring for an orchid that is dying from drought

If it’s apparently dry, try soaking it for half an hour in room temperature water and then letting any excess water drain out, like a regular but longer immersion watering. If this is the first time it happens, your orchid will most likely recover.

Caring for an orchid that dies from excess water

If what happens is that you have drowned it by excessive watering, it will be necessary to transplant the plant to free it of all that substrate with excess moisture. Prepare a new substrate and a new container, and prune with disinfected scissors any leaves or roots that look rotten or darkened. You can also help the roots by covering them with powdered activated charcoal, in a strengthening solution, for a full day. After that, move her to her new transplant recipient.

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