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How to care for orchids

Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) thrive in centrally heated homes and flower over a long period. They are available in an increasingly wide range of flower colours, and newer dwarf varieties mean you can fit a moth orchid in almost any home.

The popularity of moth orchids has led to other types of orchids becoming more readily available in garden centres, including Dendrobium, Paphiopedilum, Oncidium, Vanda and Cambria hybrids. These are all easy to grow in most homes, producing dramatic displays of exotic blooms.

Follow our care tips and your orchids will not only flower regularly, but will live for many years.

How to water

Overwatering is the most common way to kill orchids. To avoid giving your plant too much water, always lift the pot first to check if it feels heavy - water only when it feels light. If your moth orchid is in a transparent pot, look at the roots. Don’t water if these are green - wait until they look silvery. Feed with orchid fertiliser from spring until autumn.

Get the light right

Stand orchids where they’ll receive bright but indirect light. An east- or west-facing windowsill is perfect. Too much light can scorch the leaves, causing damage that will last for many years. If your orchid gets scorched, don’t detach the damaged leaves unless the plant has several additional healthy leaves.

Boost humidity

Most indoor orchids come from humid, tropical regions, so these plants appreciate a humid atmosphere. In most centrally heated homes the air is dry, so mist the foliage every two to three days using tepid water, but avoid spraying the flowers, as the petals can get marked by water. Alternatively, stand the pot on a tray of damp gravel.

Encourage flowering

With moth orchids, once all the flowers have fallen, cut off the stem just above a visible joint (node). This may stimulate the production of another flower stem, which you should clip to a support. If no shoot appears and original stem turns straw-coloured, then remove it at the base. Most other orchids won't flower twice on the same stem, so cut off spent stems immediately.

Potting on

Unlike most other pot plants, orchids don’t need regular re-potting and often thrive when root-bound. However, after two or three years it’s worth taking them out of their pots and removing as much of the compost as possible. Replant in the same pot with fresh orchid compost or choose a slightly larger pot if the plant won’t fit.

Treat pests

The most common orchid pests are scale insects and mealybugs. Signs of infestation include stickiness on the leaves or nearby surfaces, or black sooty mould. Scale insects can be found on the leaf surfaces (above and below) and flower stalks, while mealybugs prefer new leaves. It's easy to remove pests by hand, using a soapy sponge to clean the leaves. Alternatively, spray with an insecticide.

Check the label

Always keep the plant label, as different types of orchid need slightly different care. For example, showy Vanda orchids - which are often grown in glass vases without compost - require a specific watering regime. Fill the vase with water daily in summer, then empty it after half an hour. Vandas also need direct sun, which would scorch a moth orchid.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: How to care for orchids
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tamarindos 21/12/2012 at 11:33

I do not know whether you have received my question about orchids. This was, what are the white string-like threads at soil level. Can they be cut off without affecting the plant

SwissSue 21/12/2012 at 12:30

I pretty sure they are roots, so for heaven's sake, don't cut them off. See pictures in link above.

tamarindos 21/12/2012 at 15:29

Thank you. They must be aerial roots as they are above ground level. II suppose that is reasonable as I believe orchids in the wild grow as epiphytes on tree trunks

moonchild2 23/12/2012 at 11:00

I received my moth orchid in July for my birthday and it is still producing flowers on an offshoot from the mother stem with some buds still to open, there is a slight stickiness where the flowers are, is this normal? also there is a straight strong shoot coming up from under the leaves i think it looks different from the others "roots" as it is silver with a green tip, could this be a new shoot? I have collected seeds from the dried flowers that fell on the windowsill and was wondering when is the best time to try and propagate them?

Alina W 23/12/2012 at 12:37

have a very careful look at those flowers with a magnifying glass - stickiness may mean that there are insects there.

Shoot - the silver tip may just be a fresh root, but may also be a flower shoot. You can only wait and see.

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