Orchids are popular house plants and make a beautiful addition to house plant displays. Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) are the most common type of orchid grown in the UK, found everywhere from garden centres to supermarkets. Flowering over a long period, they’re available in an increasingly wide range of flower colours.
The popularity of moth orchids has led to other types of orchids becoming more readily available to grow as house plants. These include Dendrobium orchids, Paphiopedilum orchids, Oncidium orchids, Vanda orchids and Cambria hybrid orchids. These are all easy to grow in most homes, producing dramatic displays of exotic blooms.
How to care for orchids
Most orchids need bright but indirect light – an east or west-facing windowsill is often perfect. Too much light can scorch the leaves, so don’t stand in direct sunshine. Most indoor orchids come from humid, tropical regions, so need a humid atmosphere. In most centrally heated homes the air is dry, so mist the foliage every two to three days using tepid water (avoid spraying the flowers), or stand the pot on a tray of damp gravel.
Different types of orchid need slightly different care, so it can be useful to keep the plant label after purchase. But, broadly speaking, grow orchids in specialist orchid compost, avoid watering them too much, and feed with orchid fertiliser from spring until autumn.
Follow our essential orchid care tips, to ensure your orchids flower and thrive for many years.
Where to grow orchids
Most orchids require bright light but indirect sunlight. However some orchids, such as Vanda orchids, require full sun. For moth orchids and others that need bright but indirect light, an east- or west-facing windowsill is perfect. Too much light can scorch the leaves.
Moth orchids do best with a constant temperature of around 18°C, so are best grown indoors all year round.
How to plant orchids
If you’re growing moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) you need to grow them in clear containers to allow their green roots to photosynthesise. Dendrobium and Cymbidium orchids don’t have photosynthetic roots, so can be grown in opaque pots. Vanda orchids don’t need any pot at all, and can be grown in empty vases or suspended from wires.
Use specialist orchid compost and don’t over-pot them, as too much compost will take a long time to dry out and can therefore cause root rot.
Caring for orchids
Most orchid house plants come from humid, tropical regions, so do best in 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 be marked by 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. 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.
To water moth orchids correctly, look at its roots. Don’t water if these are green but wait until they look silvery, instead. Feed with orchid fertiliser from spring until autumn.
Orchids roots are very susceptible to root rot, so it’s important that they’re never sitting in water. Water orchids by dunking the whole container in water, then draining, or from above and again allow to drain. Tepid water is ideal, tepid rainwater even better.
How to repot an orchid
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.
When potting and repotting orchids, it’s best to steer clear of terracotta pots – the orchid’s roots will fasten themselves to the surface, making it difficult to repot in future.
How to encourage moth orchids to flower again
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.
Orchids are grown for their flowers, so it’s essential that they’re deadheaded correctly to encourage more flowers. Moth orchids flower multiple times on one stem, so cut off faded flowers just above the next flower bud. On other orchids you can cut the old flower stem right to the base.
Growing orchids: pests and diseases
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.
If your orchid gets scorched, don’t detach the damaged leaves unless the plant has several additional healthy leaves.
Advice on buying orchids
- Always read the growing advice before buying – most orchids need a warm, humid environment, but some do best in cooler and drier conditions
- Choose the right orchid for the growing conditions you have
- Always check orchids for signs of disease or damage before purchasing
Where to buy orchids
Orchid varieties to grow
Miltonia are also known as ‘pansy orchids’ as their flowers have ‘faces’, just like pansies do. They do best in cooler temperatures from 12-15°C (55-60°F) but are forgiving of temperature fluctuations. Keep them somewhere bright, but not in full sunshine.
Cymbidium orchids need cool conditions – a minimum 10°C (50°F). To flower they need a distinct drop in temperature between day and night from mid- to late summer – you achieve this by putting the plants outside from June to September. In the house, they need bright but indirect light. Watch our video guide to caring for cymbidiums.
Unlike most orchids, Odontoglossum orchids do well in low light levels – a north-facing windowsill is ideal. They hail from the Andes, so need cool, fresh, airy conditions and a minimum temperature of 10°C (50°F). High levels of humidity are required so place on a tray of damp pebbles.
Dendrobium orchids do best with a temperature of at least 16-18°C (61-65°F) and less humid environment than many other orchids. Reduce watering in autumn, and move plants to a bright windowsill or porch, where they can remain cool and dry until spring. Then, when temperatures start to increase again, increase watering and bring indoors.
Moth orchids, or Phalaenopsis, are widely available and easy to grow. They do well in centrally heated homes (they need a minimum temperature of 16°C (61°F), in a spot with bright, filtered light, such as close to an east-facing window. They need humidity, so do well in kitchens and bathrooms.
Paphiopedilum, or slipper orchids, like humidity and moderate temperatures – at least 13°C (56°F). Types with spotted leaves like it warmer. They grow on the floor of rainforests so are adapted to low light but need high humidity. Move to a cool, bright spot in winter.
Oncidium orchids, or dancing ladies usually flower in summer and may go dormant for a while. They will appreciate a spell outside in summer. They like bright light – close to an east window is ideal and a moderate temperature of around 12-15°C (55-60°F).