How to keep orchids alive and growing in your home or office

Orchids are stunning, unique-looking, and have the unfortunate reputation of being hard to care for. If you find yourself craving an orchid, or suddenly in possession of an orchid that you aren’t sure you know how to take care of, here are some recommendations for keeping your orchids alive indoors.

Get to know your orchid

What kind of orchid do you have? An orchid is any flowering plant that has the male and female reproductive parts fused into a single structure, called a column. The flowers are symmetrical, with three petals and three sepals. Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the world, with more than 25,000 species growing in such diverse habitats as bogs, temperate woodlands, tropical rainforests, and more. 

They are divided into two groups based on where they grow. Terrestrial orchids grow in soil. Epiphytic orchids grow in the canopies of trees. The most popular orchids come from the epiphytic group, including Cattleya, Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Oncidium, and Phalaenopsis. Terrestrial orchids such as Ludisia, Paphiopedilum, Phaius, Phragmipedium, and Zygopetalum are steadily increasing in availability and popularity. Getting to know your orchid’s family will give greater insight into its native growing conditions, which you can replicate at home.

How do you keep an orchid alive indoors?

There are a lot of things to consider when caring for your orchid, starting with what you plant them in. Orchids are very sensitive to root rot, so it’s crucial to have a pot with drainage holes on the bottom and a potting soil that drains well.

Potting soil that uses moss or bark is excellent for this, but be aware that you’ll have to water your orchid a little more frequently if you use a bark base, as that drains much quicker than a moss base. Only water your orchid when the soil is dry to the touch, both at the surface and an inch or so down.

Yellow orchids planted in a wooden container indoors

Light is another important factor for orchids. They enjoy a lot of indirect light and don’t do very well in intense or direct light. If you don’t have any windows that get mostly morning light, or only have the option of a window with very strong afternoon light, you can put up a sheer or gauzy curtain to help diffuse the light.

Orchids do best in warmer temperatures ranging from 60 to 75 F, and their preferred humidity range is 40% to 60%. Keep an eye on your thermostat to avoid cooling your orchid down too much. If your humidity is lower than 40%, you should gently mist your orchid with plain water.

You can supplement this humidity by placing the orchid near your bathroom while you shower. The heat and steam from a hot shower is just the sort of thing orchids enjoy. Taking them into the bathroom with you may be too much moisture, so try to find somewhere near, but not in, your bathroom, so that your orchid can get the heat and steam that drift out without becoming overwhelmed.

Epiphytic orchids thrive in humid locations on the rain that gets trapped in tree bark where they grow along with decomposing organic matter. The humidity in a bathroom or over a kitchen sink is ideal for growing orchids. In arid parts of the home, they benefit from daily misting. Water orchids about once a week. Place the plant in a sink and apply room temperature water beneath the foliage, over the whole root zone for 15 to 20 seconds. Then let it drain. Use rainwater or day-old tap water, not distilled or salt-softened water.

Feed orchids weakly, weekly during the growing season. Mix a liquid 20-20-20 complete fertilizer that contains all trace elements at one-quarter strength. Apply this dilution during the regular watering schedule from spring through fall. Every fourth week, skip the fertilizer and just use plain water to flush away salt buildup. Do not feed orchids while they are blooming, and do not feed them if they are stressed or otherwise unhealthy. 

Orchids typically put out an entirely new stem for each bloom, so removing the stem along with the flower stops the flower from pouring more energy into keeping that stem alive and allows that energy to be put toward creating a new stem for a new flower.

Are orchids hard to keep alive?

Orchids can be difficult to keep alive, but they don’t need to be. As long as you take your time when planning and setting up a space for your orchid, it’ll likely do just fine. Orchids are easier to take care of if you’re a naturally meticulous person. If you find yourself often forgetting to care for your plants, you may do better with something like a snake plant. However, if you have your heart set on an orchid, they aren’t impossible to care for.

Do orchids do well indoors?

Purple orchids in a purple pot indoors

Orchids can do quite well indoors, provided the conditions meet their needs. In many places, orchids do better indoors than they do outside. This is especially true in colder climates and places with thicker soils that retain water. Orchids enjoy a very specific balance that can sometimes be hard to meet outside in places other than their native habitat.

To prune … or not

Orchids bloom on long stalks that grow from the base of the plant. When the flowers fade, the stalk may turn brown and die back. If so, go ahead and cut off the stalk where it grows out of the main plant. If it remains green, there is a chance that it will produce another round of blooms in two or three months. In this case, you can either leave it alone, or cut the top back to just above the first node (the swollen area on the flower stalk that looks like a bud is swollen beneath the surface).

Repot when necessary

Many orchids prefer to remain pot bound, so there’s no need to worry when aerial roots emerge above the pot rim. Use the condition of the bark-based potting mix as the indication that it’s time to repot. When the mix is worn out, broken down, and turning to dust (normally every one to three years), it’s time.

Epiphytes prefer a very coarse orchid potting mix, or chunky orchid bark, because it retains some moisture and nutrients but freely drains excess water. Terrestrials prefer a fine textured orchid potting mix with high organic content and excellent drainage.

Water the plant. Remove it from the container and gently remove remnants of the old orchid mix. Prune away dead, withered roots. Replant with new moistened orchid mix so that the bottom leaves are above the bark and the bark surface is ½ inch below the pot rim.

Where is the best place to keep an orchid?

The best place to keep your orchid is in a window facing either south or east, as these directions give the best indirect light. Windows that face west get a lot of direct light, but if you put up a curtain these windows can work, as well. Windows facing north typically don’t get enough light, although you can supplement with a sun lamp or other artificial sunlight. Ideally, orchids should be in a part of your house that is easily heated.

Orchids have become notorious for being finicky and difficult to care for, but with the right conditions anyone can grow these gorgeous flowers. Now that you know these easy tips for caring for your orchids, you can go forth and turn your regular house into a greenhouse!

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