As orchids go, Maxillaria tenuifolia is relatively easy to care for. It actually prefers cooler nighttime temperatures than most others do. Coconut orchid bears long-lasting 1 ½-inch blooms during the summer. The dark red flowers sport attractive speckled lips and smell like coconut--hence the plant’s common name. Some mature Maillaria specimens produce multiple blooms that can last as long as 6 weeks.
Pot your Maxillaria tenuifolia in a clay container with the best drainage possible. Combine equal parts shredded fir bark and lava rock, small to medium size, to create your planting medium.
Place Maxillaria tenuifolia in a warm room with plenty of bright indirect sunlight. Southern exposures are best. This plant will perform best in a location where daytime temperatures exceed 68 degrees F. The coconut orchid prefers 55 to 70 degree F temperatures at night. Don’t expose this plant to cold drafts.
Put some gravel or small pebbles in the drainage dish. Add enough water to cover the stones about halfway. Set the potted orchid on top of them. The water should not touch the pot. This will help to maintain the minimum 50 percent humidity required by Maxillaria.
Water often enough to evenly moisten the orchid’s potting medium from mid-March until late November. Allow the surface to nearly dry out between waterings. This will simulate the plant’s natural rainy season in the wild. You may need to water as much as several times weekly. Use distilled or rain water, neither of which contain the impurities present in ordinary tap water. Always use warm water for your Maxillaria.
Reduce watering frequency to once every 2 to 3 weeks to keep the roots a little drier from late November through the end of March. The surface of the planting mix should feel slightly dry to the touch. Don’t let the plant go without moisture long enough to cause the pseudo bulbs to become extremely wrinkled.
Feed your coconut orchid a dilute 20-10-10 urea-free fertilizer every time you water. Mix ½ teaspoon of the product in a gallon of warm water.
Transplant your Maxillaria to the next pot size up after it has finished blooming, if necessary. When this plant matures and begins to climb out of its pot and produce pseudo bulbs one atop another, it’s time to repot. Use the same mix that the orchid currently occupies. Divide very large specimens at this time if desired, as long as each division retains at least six or eight of its own pseudo bulbs.