How to Tend to Your Orchid Plants:
I LOVE orchids…love, love, triple love them! However, for years I struggled with keeping them alive. In fact, my husband would refer to me as the place where orchids go to die. Yes, I did in fact kill many orchids for several reasons, but primarily it was due to over love and over protection. What do I mean by this? Well, I am here to share my failures, but primarily my wins as I paved the path for you lovely readers to not make the same mistakes as me in caring for these beautiful and exotic flowers.
I am not an expert gardener, nor do I profess to be even a novice, but I have picked up some things over the years that may be helpful to you as you begin your journey of orchid care.
anatomy of the orchid:
First things first, let’s talk about the anatomy of the orchid and what you specifically need to pay attention to while caring for them. The diagram to the side will show you the different parts of the plant. The flower is simply an output or representation of the care you provide to the rest of the plant throughout it’s life. While looking and tending to your orchids, the general rule of thumb is to leave them be…don’t fuss over them too much…they are an independent plant for the most part which is why many get the misconception that they do not need much care.
They do need care and a good amount of it. The trick is when and how much, so let’s dive in shall we?
The placement of your orchids.
For many years, my husband and I lived in a high rise condo right on the water and western facing in Southwest Florida. I would buy my orchids, as we all do, when they were blooming at a store. I would put them in my condo and leave them be, but this was a huge mistake. Pretty soon after buying them, they would begin to wilt and die. I was putting ice cubes in once a week as many blog posts suggested. Then I would try to put them outside on the balcony to get fresh air and sunlight, but they would continue to wither and die.
The problem was a simple Goldie Locks issue…the inside of our home was not light enough, and my outside had too much direct sunlight. They thrive in fresh air, need some sunlight, but I have found that direct sunlight on a constant basis will also kill them. So find a partially shaded spot outside and leave them be except watering them. That brings me to number two.
Know when and how much to water your orchids.
So this one is a bit controversial of a topic when it comes to orchid caregivers. Many bloggers advise to put one ice cube a week into the pot of your orchid to time release their water supply. While this is not a terrible thing, it is also not a necessary thing, and some people even consider it to be detrimental to the growth of your orchid. The reason is that ice is cold and that freezes the roots of the flower, and orchids to not like cold weather. Many Gardners will advise against watering your orchid in this way because depending on the environment and temperature, putting ice cubes in may very well deter from the longevity of your orchid.
For me personally, I find it simple to just water them lightly every 5 days with me handy dandy elephant watering can and call it a day (or five). I believe that the most crucial part of caring for your orchids is the placement, and after that, all else is by opinion and what works for you. The timing is important though! You do not want to over water these beauties!! So sometimes…just step away from the plant and let them live their lives.
The right way to trim your orchids.
A simple concept; however, often failed in execution. The goal here is to let your orchids be free, wild flowers! They want to spread their roots, plant their leaves, and they like to flower when they want to flower. I did write an article recently about replanting your orchids and that let you know how to trim the roots appropriately when transporting (How to Replant Your Orchids in a Few Simple Steps).
When you are not transplanting and simply trimming and grooming your orchids, there are a few simple ways to do so while not compromising the growth of the live orchid plant. 1) Never trim flowers unless you are using them for a purpose. You want the flowers to naturally die and fall off, 2) Only take leaves off that are brown and almost ready to fall off the plant. This is important because over or under trimming can lead to long term damage of the structure of the plant, 3) Never, and I mean NEVER trim the stem of your orchid unless it is completely brown and shriveled. If you do this, it will not grow back and flower for potentially three years….yes, THREE years.
If you are going to trim the stem, ensure you cut right above a knot in the steam so that it promotes fresh growth out of that portion of the flower. Again, unless you are an orchid gardening specialist, we want our orchids to live as natural of a life as possible or risk doing harm for the longevity of the flowering or overall plant structure.
Type of soil to use when planting.
This is also a reasonable debate. I have had girlfriends who use traditional potting mix to pot their orchids, and it has turned out just fine. I also have done this, and it turned out killing the orchid. The best and most useful types of planting soil are orchid specific planting soil which is a loose and chunky soil that gives the roots free reign to grow naturally and unhindered within the soil. Again, we want the orchids to thrive in as close to a natural environment as possible, and loose soil will do just that.
Also, you need dried moss. Yes, the dried moss on top of the planting soil serves a very distinctive purpose. That purpose is to distribute water slowly to the orchid and keep the roots in a more moisturized environment. Watering the moss will do just that vs. putting ice cubes on the roots. The only hiccup here is that you have to change the moss at least once every six months to ensure it is fresh and does not begin to cause root rot.
The right techniques to guide the growth of the nodes.
We have all seen the orchids in the grocery stores…they are perfectly manicured and all growing along a small pole or directed to have a bell like shape. That is wonderful for those individuals who have the time and patience to help your orchid naturally into that shape, and it is in fact possible. It is also hard to do and maintain on a consistent enough basis. If you are anything like me, you also prefer orchids that grow wild and natural to display how they intended themselves to be, but some people do prefer a distinctive shape and poles can also help the flower and steam not get too heavy where it can no longer support itself and break off.
The beautiful thing is that it is completely up to you what you want to do about the shape. Use orchid rods to guide the steam upward by using ties to guide the stem to the pole upward; otherwise, your orchids will naturally begin to grow to the side and down. I like to keep my naturally doing this, but I have had a few get too heavy and end up snapping off the stem and the flowers with it, so be wise and use your own taste and discretion.
That is it my lovely people. Enjoy these beautiful flowers, and if you still have needs when it comes to orchid care, please comment and ask your questions here!