The following Basic Orchid Care guidelines are based purely on my own experience and are aimed at Epiphytic Orchids, such as Phalaenopsis. Hopefully this will help you to give your plants a basic level of care.
My aim is to consider the plants’ natural home and try to replicate it to the best of my ability.
In the case of most Orchids that I sell, they inhabit Tropical Regions and generally enjoy relatively warm, humid conditions. Most are Epiphytic, which means that they live attached to trees, shaded and protected by a dense canopy. I imagine an Orchid secured to the bark of a large tree, protected from the sun by a thick canopy, and receiving a gentle trickle of water and very weak nutrients from the tree run off.
This determines their habits and is an important factor when providing them with care.
This is one of the most important aspects of Orchid Care. If you get the substrate right you are well on your way to providing very good Orchid Care.
Epiphytic Orchids roots are designed to attach themselves to open structures and get into nooks to both secure the plant in place and to obtain water and nutrients.
To replicate this situation calls for very open, airy compost and a regular watering regime. I use specialist Orchid compost, which gives the roots the optimum airy, well-drained conditions they need.
I keep my Orchids in clear pots with plenty of drainage holes. This reproduces their natural conditions as best as I can.
With most Orchids, reasonable indirect light will be of benefit, but don’t let them sit on a scorching windowsill as bleaching and discolouration of the leaves can occur. This can harm your orchid and may be fatal.
I only ever water with rain water. This helps to minimise the introduction of chemicals, which Orchids do not like.
Orchids extract a lot of their required water from the air and fine run-off from the tree they are attached to, using aerial roots. When thirsty, these roots appear grey/brown and shrivelled.
When many of the roots are grey and shrivelled, I plunge the entire pot into a bucket of rainwater, weighted down with half a brick or similar, and wait for about 20 minutes.
When the orchid has had enough, the roots will turn green and you may see air bubbles escaping from them.
To keep my Orchids in perfect condition, I trim any rotten or dying roots regularly to minimise the risk of disease.
Be careful with water spills on the leaves, and do not water in bright light as the glossy leaves are easily marked by sun spots or water.
I mist my orchids with water twice a week when it is warm– they enjoy the humidity and it allows me to apply foliar feed. I feed with a half strength solution about 4 times in the growing season, and each time a plant is in bloom.
You can buy small bottles of orchid food that releases slowly – I have not used it but have heard it works well.
I have had a lot of enquiries into the treatment of spent flower spikes. The final decision lies with you, but the following outlines your options, along with a summary of what I do.
Personally, I leave the spikes intact. The reason for this is that sometimes new growth (flower spikes or keikis) develops from the remaining flower bracts.
The sprout may be a new flower spike, or an entire new baby Orchid (Keiki). So, I wait for the spike to naturally brown off and die, at which point you know you’re not going to get any new growth. Others believe that the new growth from the bracts produces weaker, smaller flowers and as such recommend that the spent spikes are cut down, either to the base, or just above the 3rd bract from the base.
If you’re lucky enough to get a new baby orchid, wait for the roots to get to about an inch long, then detach it from the spike. Pot it up and off you go!
If your orchid has been flowering for a prolonged period it may be worth cutting the spent spikes to the base to give it a rest. This can tie in nicely with the cooler months and create a natural dormant period. This is renowned to promote stronger, fuller blooms and replicates nature, so is a good idea in my eyes. Also, a lot of commercially-grown orchids are chemically treated before sale to induce flowering. This can exhaust the plant and a break may do it good.
Temperature for Orchids
Similarly to Hoyas, orchids should not be exposed to temperatures below 10 degrees celcius for long. If you are over-wintering them in cool conditions, please make sure they are very dry. Remember that they are tropical plants and whilst many are very tough, some have a more demanding nature.