Although the Orchidaceae family contains more than 20,000 species, many consider orchids to be exotic and alien in appearance. Orchids may be grown with the utmost care in a specialized greenhouse or for fun as an ornamental in the home kitchen. Following a few basic care tips will help to ensure a healthy and beautiful orchid plant.
The amount of light an orchid requires varies on the species, but in general, orchids should never be put in direct sunlight. Indirect sunlight is best, so place your orchid near a window that has a little shade (blinds or a light curtain works well). An orchid with dark green leaves isn't receiving enough sunlight, while an orchid with yellow or reddish leaves is probably getting too much. If the leaves feel hot to the touch, the plant is getting too much light.
Room temperature rainwater is ideal for orchids--tap water may contain too many harsh chemicals. Water your orchid every week or so, enough to keep the soil slightly damp between waterings but not so much that it becomes wet or water-logged. Always water your orchid in the morning so the potting soil will have time to dry before the chill of night. Avoid getting water on the plant's leaves; this can quickly cause fungal issues.
Fertilizing your plant can enhance its health and well-being. Use an orchid fertilizer that has been dissolved in water, and make sure its the right kind for your species. Never feed an orchid dry fertilizer, as this is highly concentrated and may kill your plant. Phosphorous- and potassium-based fertilizers are better for the end of the growing season, when they can help flower growth, while nitrogen-based fertilizer is better for establishing the plant's leaves in the beginning of the season.
A humus rich, well-draining and slightly acidic soil is ideal for most orchid species. In the wild, orchids have access to a number of organic decomposing products that give them the nutrients they need. A soil mixed with bark or sphagnum moss can increase drainage. Orchids growing in bark require additional nitrogen, which can be added via a nitrogen-based fertilizer.
Like any other plants, orchids are subject to a host of pests and problems. Mild insect infestations--aphids, white flies and mealy bugs--can often be treated with a home remedy, such as a regular spritz of water, rubbing alcohol and a lightweight oil. Fungal problems, which cause blackened spots or rot, can often be treated with hydrogen peroxide. Help prevent a cut in the plant from developing into fungus by dusting the wound with cinnamon or sulfur.