Plant Parenting 101, The Plant Corner

Learning to Care for Your First Orchid

September 24, 2020

With advice from expert gardeners, greenhouse workers, and our plant dad, Alfred Palomares, we’ve gathered the best tips for plant-parenting newbies. Our series Plant Parenting 101 will help turn you into the perfect plant parent! 

Beachside Bliss Orchid

When one thinks of flowers that exemplify elegance, the orchid often comes to mind. This tropical beauty worked Europeans into a hysteria known as Orchideliruim in the 1800s, during which it became fashionable to pay premium prices at auction for the blossoms.   

Today, centuries of careful breeding practices have made this once-rare flower accessible to any indoor plant lover. Should you consider adding an orchid to your plant collection? Learn a little more about their origins and care, and be sure to check out our new orchids in our houseplants collection.  

What is an orchid? 

“These long-lasting colorful blooms are easy to water”

Alfred Palomares, VP of Merchandising at 1-800-Flowers and Resident Plant Dad

Having flourished since the time of the dinosaurs, orchids are considered one of the largest and oldest plant families on the planet. More than 30,000 unique species of orchids are found worldwide, and modern breeding practices have resulted in an additional 150,000 hybrids.

What sets orchids apart from most flowers is their growing strategy. Orchids don’t grow in the soil, but instead are epiphytes (air plants) that root themselves to trees and rocks. There, they capture water and nutrients from the surrounding air with their exposed roots.

“These long-lasting, colorful blooms are easy to water,” said Alfred Palomares, VP of Merchandising at 1-800-Flowers and Resident Plant Dad. According to Alfred, there’s an easy way to water your orchids. “Just add three ice cubes a week for a full size orchid. The key is to ensure the growing medium does not get dry and at the same time, make sure the roots do not sit in water,” he said. “This can lead to root rot.”

Today, wild orchids face environmental threats due to pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change to the point that many varieties are at risk of extinction. For these reasons, you should avoid purchasing wild-harvested plants and only buy orchids from legitimate vendors. This lets you enjoy their beauty at home without compromising the ones that remain in the wild.

Today, wild orchids face environmental threats due to pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change to the point that many varieties are at risk of extinction. For these reasons, you should avoid purchasing wild-harvested plants and only buy orchids from legitimate vendors. This lets you enjoy their beauty at home without compromising the ones that remain in the wild.

Orchid myths and color meanings 

There’s a lot of symbolism associated with the orchid today. This elegant flower has long been linked to ideas of love, thoughtfulness, and fertility. The color you choose is believed to carry significance, especially when given as a gift.  

  • Blue: peace, beauty, and tranquility 
  • White: innocence, reverence, and humility 
  • Purple: respect, admiration, and royalty 
  • Pink: femininity, charm, and grace 
  • Yellow: joy and friendship 
  • Green: health, nature, and financial good fortune 
  • Orange: pride, enthusiasm, and having fun 

While this symbolism is fun to consider, the right orchid color for you will always be the one you love the most. Don’t limit your selection based on these color connotations! Instead, consider the care instructions and traits of different varieties.  

Best orchid varieties to choose from 

Below are three of the most common types of beginner-friendly orchids available today.  

Phalaenopsis 

Considered a symbol of health and prosperity, this Southeast Asian native produces flowers in a range of colors and patterns and tends to blossom in slightly cooler weather. It’s one of the most popular orchids available due to its large flowers and ease of care. You can choose from purple, white, and blue varieties.  

Dendrobium 

This orchid variety hails from Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, and is considered a symbol of wisdom and beauty. Wild dendrobiums usually boom in the early spring to mid-summer and are available in various colors, including yellows, browns, pinks, and purples.  

It’s a robust grower and will send up new flower canes every year. But unlike other varieties, you shouldn’t trim the spent flower stems of this orchid until there are three or more in a pot.  

Oncidium 

You can find this delicate orchid growing throughout North and South America, where it blooms from spring to fall. Oncidium is a diverse family that thrives in a vast range of habitats. Many varieties have names that sound as dynamic as their coloration, including tiger crow, wildcat, dancing lady, and ram’s head.

Pay close attention to the care instructions for your chosen variety, as they can vary significantly within this variety.  

How to care for your orchid 

You can best enjoy orchids at home by staying mindful of their tropical origins. They do well when grown in pots of bark or moss that mimic the tree branches they call home in the wild, and most varieties need lots of filtered light.  

Keep your flowers at temperatures between 65-90 degrees Fahrenheit and provide them with a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20 ratio is recommended) every few weeks. Most need to be watered every five to seven days, though the roots should stay moist in between.  

Under proper conditions, you can expect each bloom to last two months or longer before fading. Once the flower is finished, you can cut its stem back to about an inch above the planting line and continue watering as usual. The orchid is entering a temporary resting stage where it will start to stockpile energy before producing the next bloom. Care for it like normal, and the flower stalk should soon grow back.  

Some orchid species, like the phalaenopsis, do best when replanted every few years. Others get stressed when their roots are moved, so make sure you understand the specific requirements for your variety before considering upgrading your pot.  

Try your hand at orchid cultivation today 

Despite their reputation for elegance, there’s nothing intimidating about owning an orchid. With the right care, this indoor plant will fill your home with flowers that won’t wilt for weeks on end.

Add an orchid to your décor today, and you’ll be taking part in a centuries-old tradition of celebrating one of our planet’s oldest flowers.