I've heard many of you say that you can't grow orchids. Full confession: I've had my share of orchid frustrations, too, but I've been determined to figure out what I did wrong. Growing a happy orchid can't be rocket science! Let's unearth the secret to growing a happy, healthy orchid.
Before we begin, let's assume the orchids being referred to are Phalaenopsis (also known as moth orchids). They are the most popular and the most common orchids because they are easy to grow. First let's address when your new orchid arrives home. Most orchids do not need to be transplanted until it has finished flowering. However, if the roots are circling the pot or if the pot has no drainage, then it's best not to wait to repot.
CHOOSING A POT
Look for pots that have good drainage as orchids do not like to sit in water. Terra cotta pots work well because they are porous and allow the roots to breathe. Some orchid pots have openings in the sides that allow extra air circulation for the roots which is a good thing! Choose a pot that is one size bigger than the one it is currently in. Orchid roots like to be cozy in their home. Clean the roots off and place the orchid in it's new pot. Use an orchid bark mix. Most mixes have perlite and charcoal included with the bark.
WHAT ARE THOSE CREEPY TENTACLES?
Have you wondered about this? Those alien-looking things are not tentacles or roots that need to be pushed back into the pot. They are air roots and can indicate the health of the plant. Firm and fleshy is a good sign! And please don't cut them off - just let them be, hanging out above the pot.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are quite content in an east-facing window or any spot in a room that has bright, natural light.
WHAT ABOUT USING ICE CUBES?
As orchid guru, Marc Hachadourian, says, save the ice cubes for your drinks - not your orchids! The best way to water them is to take them to the sink about once a week and water from the top, letting the water flush through the bottom. Water less frequently in fall and winter and always check to make sure they feel dry before watering.
WHEN TO FEED THEM
Orchids need to be fertilized after repotting and when done flowering. Most orchid fertilizers are fairly balanced in their N-P-K levels to ensure that leaves stay dark green and to promote flowering. Try to use one with more phosphorus (a higher middle number) every 2-3 waterings to encourage new blooms.
HOW TO HELP THEM REBLOOM
This is the question I hear the most: How do I get it to bloom again? Here are a few tips:
1. First, if the flower stem has turned brown, cut it down to the base. If the stem is still green and the leaves and air roots are healthy, cut back the green stem just above the third or fourth node. It may send out a new shoot of flowers from that node. If the plant doesn't look terrifically healthy, then cut the green stem back to about an inch above where it rises from the leaves.
2. If orchids haven't bloomed for 6-12 months, move them to a cooler spot and continue to feed them with a bloom-boosting fertilizer.
Orchids like a humid environment, so group orchids together with ferns to raise the humidity level and/or keep the pots on trays of pebbles that are kept moist.
Those are the basics! If you want to learn more, I highly recommend these two books which are written for beginner orchid growers. Both are available here in the shoppe:
If growing orchids has frustrated you in the past, give it another try,
and let me know how it goes. Happy growing!