How to Grow and Care for Orchids

OrchidsGrowing Orchids isn't as difficult as is often made out

Creating the optimum growing conditions for Orchids is unfortunately not a "one size fits all" affair, but once achieved should result in flowers for many months.

Growing Orchids can often require a little experimentation as to what works and what does not. If you have friends who have Orchids, then comparing notes can also prove very helpful; visit each others homes and learn from each other. In the past I have had a particular plant that would not flower for me, yet giving it to a friend resulted in success!

Growing Conditions

Orchid growers vary from those who have their collection on window sills to those who have several greenhouses with all the latest electronic equipment and gadgetry. No matter what size your collection is however, a few basic principles will apply across the board.


The popular Phalaenopsis Orchid (Moth Orchid) are surprisingly tolerant of all kinds of environments and generally thrive on a window sill. Ideally they prefer a minimum of 20 C (69 F) at night, but are not too fussy about how high it goes during the daytime. Many of our rooms at home can dip well below 20 C at night, especially in the wintertime, and yet these plants do not appear to suffer too much as a result.


During the months of April to September Phalaenopsis may not like a south facing window, but some people find they do not suffer at all. If your Orchid develops purple leaves, this is usually a sign that they are getting too much light and should be moved to another aspect. A feint purpling at the edges of the leaves is fine. During the lower light months they should be given all the light they can.


Most Orchids are sold in clear pots, which enables you to see if the roots are alive (silver colour with pale green tips) or dead (brown and rotten). If the roots are generally dead, then the plant needs re-potting into fresh material (covered in a later article). The roots which grow in the air should look the same if they are healthy. These roots may look untidy, but should be left on as they take up moisture and nutrients from the air.


Correct watering will make all the difference between success and failure. However, it is not so much a question of how often to water, but of learning from the plant when it needs watering. The golden rule is (as with cyclamens and African violets) when the compost is more or less dry and the pot feels light, then a good watering is required. You can water from the top of the plant, but ensure that you soak up any water which settles in the plant's "crown" to prevent root rot.

What Orchids really don't like is a little water and often, nor do they like their "feet" in water. Beware of glass or ceramic pots into which potted plants are often placed, most of these pretty pots have no drainage holes and will soon rot your roots.


Very weak feed (e.g. 25% strength Tomorite) can be used throughout the year if the plant is growing new leaves, although many people prefer to buy commercially available Orchid feed and just follow the instructions. Flush with clear water (with no feed in it) every third watering.


Cared for properly, an Orchid will flower for many months. When buying a plant it is best to purchase one with a few unopened buds at the end of the stems. Such a plant will be fresh and flower for some 3 months or more. When the last flower has died, cut back the stem just below the dead flower (not at the base of the stem) and a new smaller flower spike will grow just below that in about 2 to 3 months.

In our next article we consider the Cymbidium family of Orchids, also quite popular although less so than the ubiquitous Phalaenopsis.

This article was written by Dr Derek Copley, Chairman of the Bournemouth Orchid Society.


Filed under House Plants.

Share this page…