General Orchid Culture

Introduction :
Orchids are considered by most to be difficult plants to cultivate. Nothing could be FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH ! Most varieties of orchids are quite easy to grow and bloom in the average home. Their needs are minimal, and they actually tend to do better when somewhat neglected. However they will NOT tolerate overwatering or cold draughts. In fact, overwatering is the cause of over 95% of the problems I see ! Below you will find a number of general topics, and their explanations. Orchid culture for a specific group of plants is more detailed on our culture by genus pages.

Light :
Artificial Sources - Fluorescent tubes

Windows - Natural Light Note that filtered means a light sheer curtain, while shaded means a less transparent (translucent) material.

Watering and Humidity :
Water quality is important to all plants, but especially so for orchids. Hard water should always be avoided since it contains too many dissolved minerals. NEVER use bottled, softened or well water, since their mineral/salt contents are VERY high. Good quality, city tap-water is usually acceptable on occasion, but rainwater, dehumidifier-water and distilled water are definitely preferred choices.

Orchids should be potted in a mix that caters to their needs for water. Bark mixtures allow for free drainage of water. The coarser they are, the more quickly they dry out as well ! They should be watered until water pours out of the drainage holes.

Sphagnum moss, peat mixes and inorganic moisture-retentive mixes hold on to water for long periods. It is very easy to overwater plants potted in these, so add water only until the pot feels heavy. Remember that it is always safer to underwater, rather than overwater !!!

All orchids appreciate a humid environment. Misting several times a week with distilled or rainwater will help to keep your plants happy. It is important to apply water in any form, only in the morning to allow the plant to dry off before evening. Be cautious when misting plants, as this can often lead to fungal problems (spotting on leaves) and/or crown rot. I recommend misting AROUND the plants, rather than directly on them. Never water when temperatures are cool.

Temperature :

  • Cool - 10 to 13 ° C nights
  • Intermediate (most homes) - 13 to 16 ° C nights
  • Warm - 16 to 20 ° C nights

  • There should always be a difference of at least 5 C degrees between night and day temperatures. Air circulation helps to alleviate the stress of warmer temperatures, and discourages fungal problems as well. Remember that windows can get dangerously hot if the sun is shining directly in ! During winter months, poorly insulated windows can actually freeze your plants, particularly if air is not being circulated.

    Repotting :
    Bark mixes should be replaced at least every 2 years. Moss mixtures should be replaced every year. Neglecting repotting can lead to severe root loss through rot. You can access much more detailed information on our Repotting Page.

    Fertilizing :
    Most orchids are light feeders. A good general rule is to use commercial fertilizers at 1/4 strength in alternate waterings. Some common fertilizers you can use are 15-5-15 and 20-5-20. Ideally you want to maintain a 4:1:4 or 3:1:3 ratio, since that is the proper balance of macronutrients for orchids. If you can find one of these that has micronutrients as well, then you are all set to satisfy your plant's needs. Remember to ONLY fertilize plants when they are actively growing !

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