Phalaenopsis orchid in Singapore Botanic Garden mist house.
image by Javier Martin/commons.wikimedia.org
The huge plant family orchidaceae contains more than 100,000 cultivars and hybrids of orchids with varying environmental requirements. You can successfully care for your orchid plant at home by providing a suitable growing medium, appropriate light level, watering regimen, ambient humidity and feeding schedule. Mastering a few basic concepts of orchid care can help you navigate the needs of most orchid species that are in wide commercial distribution.
Provide your epiphytic orchid such as a phalaenopsis or dendrobium with a coarse and fast-draining growing medium such as a bagged commercial orchid bark containing very coarse shards of bark, charcoal and vermiculite. Give your terrestrial orchids such as paphiopedalums and calanthes a finer grade bagged orchid mix with shredded bark, peat moss and some soil. Epiphytic orchids mainly derive nutrients and moisture from the surrounding air while terrestrial orchids mainly derive nutrients from a planting substrate. All orchids fall into one of these categories and their basic care keys off of this main sensibility.
Water your orchid regularly by holding it in the sink under a gently flowing faucet. Use room temperature to tepid water only as both hot and cold water can shock or damage the vascular system in the plant. For epiphytic orchids water when the planting medium is dry and the pot feels very light when you lift it up. Depending on your orchid, seasonal climate and growing conditions, this can mean watering every few days to every two weeks. Water your terrestrial orchids when the planting medium feels only very slightly moist and the pot feels somewhat light when lifted. This will likely mean watering every few days or once a week.
Feed your orchids regularly either at every watering with a very weak fertilizer solution or once a month with a slightly stronger solution. Choose a routine and stick to it to ensure that your orchids are neither overfed or under fertilized as it will either shorten bloom life or delay blooming. Dilute commercial orchid food or other high-nitrogen water-soluble fertilizer in tepid water. Use one-quarter the recommended dose for weekly feeding and three-quarters to a full dose for monthly feeding. Pour the diluted fertilizer solution over the bark, stem and roots, saturating the pot while keeping the leaves dry.
Increase the ambient humidity around your orchid by misting the stem, roots and planting medium daily with clean water. In drier climates or where daily misting seems more hassle than maintenance joy, create a humidity tray to passively raise the ambient humidity around the plant. Fill a tray, saucer or shallow bowl with small pebbles and water. Set the pot on top of the pebbles but not touching the water. Refill the water to the lip as it evaporates. All orchids will benefit from boosted humidity.
Locate your orchid plant so that it consistently receives bright indirect light. This is the default preference for most orchid species. When your orchid is in bloom you can safely place it in a more dimly lit location for two to four weeks to extend the life of the bloom. Some direct morning and afternoon sun can be good for the plant and will help it to bloom. You must, however, keep it out of direct midday sun as the leaves can easily scorch and cause the roots and medium to dry out. When the orchid receives direct sun water uptake will increase a bit so adjust accordingly.