Ultimate Orchid Houseplant Guide

16 Jan 2022

We understand that looking after an orchid may seem like an overwhelming task but that’s not the case. Caring for an orchid as a houseplant requires a different type of care compared to other houseplants. That’s why we’re here to guide you through caring, growing, and reviving an orchid.

Main Characteristics

The orchid’s botanical name is Orchidaceae and this family is made up of 880 genera and 22,000 different species. It’s an epiphyte, just like the air plant and bromeliad.

This means that in its native home, the plant doesn’t grow in soil but clings to rocks and trees. It will get all of its nutrients from the sun and water it absorbs.

It’s native to tropical regions in Asia and the United States, so it thrives in humid and warm environments. Although it isn’t cared for like a typical houseplant, it’s actually one of the most popular ones.

The orchid goes by a few common names depending on the type of plant. We’ll be discussing the most popular orchids below.

Types of Orchids

Orchidaceae is made up of hundreds of different types of orchids that vary according to their color, petal shape, and size. Below, we’ll list ten of the most common and stunning types.

  • Phalaenopsis: The ‘moth’ orchid is one of the most widely available orchids and it includes an array of species in different sizes and its blooms are typically pink or white with a mottled or speckled pattern on them.
  • Dendrobium: The ‘cane’ orchids are the largest type of orchid and these plants either sprout blossoms along their stems or just on top of them. It’s native to Asia and typically holds on to its leaves year-round.
  • Oncidium: These plants are also referred to as ‘dancing ladies’ and ‘butterfly orchids’. Most of them bloom beautifully ruffled flowers during the winter and autumn.
  • Cymbidium: This type of houseplant has decorative flower spikes that appear during mid-autumn or mid-spring. The petals are often brightly colored with mottled variegation.
  • Rhynchostylis gigantea: The ‘foxtail’ orchid is a fairly tall plant that produces 3 to 4 waxy flowers during the winter or springtime.
  • Epidendrum: This type of orchid has 1,000 different varieties that each bloom a quirky-looking flower. Most of the houseplants have 3 lobed lips at the bottom of the flower which closes in on the center.
  • Zygopetalum: This genus is comprised of 15 species, and each sprouts a fragrant, waxy bloom that is brown and green in color with stripes and speckles.
  • Miltonia: This type is also known as the ‘pansy’ orchid as it resembles the pansy flower. Its petals are a vibrant fuchsia color and they’re typically found in Brazil and Peru.
  • Cambria: During the winter, these orchids will produce colorful blooms that are a shade of either white, pink, or purple.
  • Grammatophyllum: This orchid goes by a few common names; ‘tiger’ orchid, ‘giant’ orchid, ‘sugar cane’ orchid, and ‘queen of the orchids’. The distinguishing feature of these houseplants is that the lower flowers have no lip and it produces a scent that attracts bees and butterflies.

What Do They Look Like?

Orchids have a long and pointy stem with a few dark green, waxy leaves attached to them. It produces branches which are called ‘spikes’, and from here the beautiful blossoms will grow.

The flowers’ innermost petals are known as sepals, and each bloom typically has three groups of petals. The bottom level of petals is referred to as the lip or labellum and is designed to host pollinators such as bees.

The petals come in a variety of shapes that may have a rough, rounded, or ruffled edge. The color and size of an orchid are dependent on the species of orchid.

What Do They Symbolize?

The orchid symbolizes an array of things such as love, luxury, beauty, fertility, elegance, and thoughtfulness. They are often given as a present on special occasions and you may even see them at weddings or funerals.

Orchids became a popular gift that was associated with love and affection during the Victorian era, and even today it’s still given to loved ones.

Fun fact: In Ancient Greek, the orchid was a symbol of masculinity.

How Big Do They Get?

The typical orchid will grow up to 12 to 16 inches (30.5 – 40.6cm) tall and its blooms are usually 3 to 5 inches (7.6 – 12.7cm) wide.

The size of an orchid will vary across the different species and types of plants.

How Fast Do They Grow?

The Orchidaceae is commonly purchased and grown as a mature flower. A mature houseplant won’t increase in size but it will produce new blooms each year.

If you have a younger orchid, you can expect it to grow between 9 to 12 inches (22.9 – 30.5cm) a year until it has reached its mature size.

How Long Do They Live?

Typically, the common orchid will live for 15 to 20 years before it begins to bloom weaker and fewer flowers. This is highly dependent on the type of orchid and the care it receives.

Fun fact: Top cultivators and experts have reported orchids surviving for up to 100 years!

Are Orchids Poisonous to Cats, Dogs and Humans?

The Orchidaceae is non-toxic, so you can feel relieved when placing it near your pets or children. The houseplant can be located near a stunning windowsill or on your dining room table, and if your cat or dog comes into contact with it, they’ll be perfectly fine.

Orchid - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)

How to Care for Orchids

In this section, we’re going to discuss the care and environmental requirements that a flourishing orchid needs.

How Often to Water It

Orchidaceae are very susceptible to root rot and cannot withstand being waterlogged. The roots tend to soak up moisture rather quickly, so it only needs to be watered once the top 2 inches (5cm) of soil is dry.

During the warmer seasons, you’ll need to water it more often. Typically, you should water it 2 or 3 times a week with room temperature water. You can either water the top of the soil, or place the pot in some water for 15 minutes.

Once temperatures begin to drop during the winter and autumn, you can water your plant once a week or allow it to soak up the water once every two weeks.

Top tip: You can place 3 ice cubes on top of the soil once a week and your plant will thrive.

Does It Need Drainage?

This houseplant requires excellent drainage, just like the bird of paradise. The plant is an epiphyte in its natural environment, so its roots need a good amount of oxygen to survive.

You can ensure adequate drainage by using a pot with drainage holes and adding in bark or gravel to aerate the soil.

How to Trim It

The orchid doesn’t require frequent pruning unless its foliage is unhealthy or its flower is dying. The best time to trim the houseplant is during the springtime or straight after the plant has bloomed.

Removing the flower when it begins to fade is a great way to encourage reblooming, as energy can be directed to producing new growth.

Check out the guide below:

  1. Use a clean set of shears or pruners to cut off the flower spike at the base of the plant.
  2. If you’re cutting a leaf off then make sure to snip it off at the base of the stem.
  3. Water it well if the soil is dry, and put it back in its original location.

How and When to Repot It

Orchidaceae should be transplanted into a slightly larger pot every 1 to 2 years, or when the roots are cramped and creeping out the drainage holes. It’s also beneficial to repot it as it may need a boost of nutrients from the fresh soil.

You should only repot it after the blooms have dropped off or during the springtime.

We’ve listed the steps below:

  1. Remove the houseplant and dust off the moss or soil stuck to the rootball.
  2. Fill a new pot with orchid bark and place the plant in the container.
  3. Make sure that the orchid is planted at the same depth that it previously was in its old container.
  4. Water the plant deeply and position it by a bright windowsill.

Care in Winter

The Orchidaceae will require slightly different care during the winter. You may need to water it less frequently once the temperature decreases, however, if the air in winter becomes drier then make sure to keep the humidity levels higher as your plant thrives in a moist environment.

You should consider finding a sunnier home for the houseplant as it may need more sunshine and it must be kept warm.

The plant can survive cooler temperatures but if you reside in a particularly cold region then consider finding a new, warmer room for your orchid.

Environment Conditions

How Much Sunlight Do They Need?

This houseplant loves to bask in bright sunshine, however, it cannot withstand the harsh afternoon sunlight. It is best to place it in bright, indirect light during the morning and then move it to a shadier location during the afternoon.

A flourishing orchid needs to receive a minimum of 1 to 2 hours of bright light a day.

What Kind of Soil Do They Need?

Orchidaceae prefers soil that is slightly acidic and has a pH of around 6.5, just like the nerve plant. As it is an epiphyte, the potting mixture must allow the roots to breathe.

You must only use an orchid bark or a specific orchid potting mixture. The best types of soil are those with bark, cork, and sphagnum moss.

Can They Grow in Water?

Yes! You can grow your stunning orchid in water too. You will need to care for it properly if you want the plant to thrive.

It is ideal to use distilled water to avoid damaging the roots and make sure that it’s not too cold either. When growing it in a bowl or jar of water, only the roots should be submerged and the leaves must remain above the water.

Additionally, you’ll need to change the water regularly to avoid the build-up of algae.

When and How to Fertilize It

Ideally, you must feed the orchid once a week during the spring and summertime. To avoid fertilizer burn, you must refrain from feeding it during the winter and autumn months.

It is best to make use of a balanced, liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20. The fertilizer must be diluted to half its strength. If it is too strong then the foliage and rootball will become damaged.

Best Pot Size and Type

This houseplant prefers a pot that is 4 to 6 inches (10 – 15cm) wide and slightly shallow. It is imperative that the container has a few drainage holes for excess water to flow out.

You can opt for a clay or plastic pot, however, you will need to water the plant more often if you use a terracotta container. A clay pot is ideal as it’ll prevent root rot, but a plastic pot allows water to flow out easily too.

Temperature Tolerance

The ideal temperature during the daytime is around 75°F (23.9°C) and 65°F (18.3°C) at night. The temperature must never be above 85°F (29.4°C) or below 50°F (10°C) as it cannot withstand exposure to extreme temperatures.

Do They Like Humidity?

Orchidaceae prospers in a warm and humid environment. The ideal relative humidity level is between 40 and 70 percent.

The easiest way to maintain high humidity levels is by running an electric humidifier near the plant or spritzing the leaves 3 times a week.

Can They Grow Outside?

In USDA hardiness zones 6 through 9, your orchid will flourish outdoors. It will benefit from receiving natural air movement and warm temperatures. If you plant it in filtered sunshine, you may even see more and longer-lasting blooms.

If you grow it in your garden or on your patio then make sure to monitor the temperature, and if it is too hot or cold then you must bring it back inside.

Orchid - care, water, light, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)


How Often and When Do They Bloom?

The orchid is a seasonal bloomer that flowers at least once a year. Most houseplants will grow during the summertime and bloom in the autumn, winter or spring.

The color of the flowers will vary across the different species, however, you will usually see pink, white, orange, red, green, or purple petals.

How Long Do Blooms Last?

The flowers will last for about 1 or 2 weeks. You’ll know when they’re dying as the color of their petals will begin to fade. The flower will also become limp and eventually fall off.

How to Make It Bloom

You can promote blooms by creating the optimal environment. You will need to pay special attention to the humidity level surrounding the plant and the sunshine it receives.

We’ll list a few things that you can do to ensure that your orchid blooms:

  • Once a week use 3 ice cubes to water your houseplant.
  • Develop a regular feeding regime.
  • Place the houseplant in bright sunshine.
  • Make sure that it is placed in a cool area at night.
  • Trim off any dead spikes.

How to Get It to Rebloom

You may be dying to see those stunning blooms again, and we have great news. By doing a few simple things to your orchid, you’ll see it rebloom.

Try the tips and tricks below:

  • Place it in a location where there is a drop in temperature during the evening.
  • Only cut off the flower stalk once it has ceased producing buds.
  • If the stalk is dead then only trim it down to 1 inch (2.5cm) above the node.
  • Try out a new fertilizer to give your orchid an extra boost of nutrients.

Top tip: You can switch to a fertilizer with the ratio of 3-12-6, as this will enhance the nutrients your plant receives.

Care after Flowering

Once the orchid has bloomed and the flower starts to die then you have a few options. You can either snip off the entire stem or flower spike to keep the orchid’s growth compact, and you can leave the spike to produce more flower buds.

If you want to keep the flower spike then simply pluck off the flower after it starts to droop.

How to Grow It

You can broaden your collection of orchids by propagating it in soil or planting its seeds. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you must only grow it after the plant has bloomed. The best time of year is either during the summer or straight after the flowers have died.

How to Propagate It

There are four options when it comes to propagating the orchid. You can either use a stem cutting, keiki, aerial roots or divide its rootball.

We’ll go through each method in depth below.

How to Grow It from Cuttings

When you propagate the stem cutting, make sure that it’s an actual stem and not the flower’s spike. The stem must also be 10 or 12 inches (25.4 – 30.5cm) long with a couple of nodes still attached to it.

All you will need is some sphagnum moss, a plastic bag, pruners, anti-fungal, and a container. Once you have everything you need, you can follow the guide below.

  1. Use a sterilized blade and cut the stem near the base of the plant at the leaf joint.
  2. Fill a new container with moist sphagnum moss and dip the cut area of the cutting in some anti-fungal solution.
  3. Slice the stem cutting into separate pieces, so that each smaller cutting has 2 nodes.
  4. Lay the cuttings horizontally across the soil and press the cut ends lightly into the potting mixture.
  5. Cover the top of the pot with a clear plastic cover.
  6. Mist the soil to keep it moist and put the cuttings under indirect sunshine.
  7. After 3 to 4 weeks, you should notice new leaf growth. Once new growth sprouts, your cutting has successfully rooted.

Keikis Propagation

Keikis are unique to the orchid, and they are like miniature plants that grow from flowering stems. To successfully propagate it, you need to remove one and plant it in its own container.

Carry out the steps below:

  1. The keiki you choose to propagate must have a minimum of 2 or 3 leaves.
  2. Fill a new pot two-thirds of the way with some orchid bark.
  3. Take out a pair of scissors and cut off the keiki as close to the flowering stalk as possible.
  4. Plant it about 2 inches (5cm) deep and water it well.
  5. Position your new houseplant in filtered sunshine.
  6. Typically, it will root in 4 to 6 weeks, and you can then care for it as you would a mature orchid.

Propagating by Division

Rhizome division is by far one of the easiest and most successful methods of propagation. You only need to slice the rootball and plant each division. We’ll tell you exactly how to do this.

  1. Lift the orchid out of its current container and check that the roots are still healthy.
  2. You will notice a few pseudobulbs which look like pods. Use a sharp knife to slice these bulbs away from the rootball or use your hands to pull them apart.
  3. Once you have separated the pieces then untangle their roots and plant them in a container with orchid bark.
  4. Water the divisions deeply and care for them as you normally would.

Propagating from Aerial Roots

Aerial roots are long, thin roots that sprout from the main stem of an orchid. They can be trimmed off and planted in potting soil where they’ll form an entirely new houseplant.

We’ll explain the process below:

  1. Lift the plant out of its pot and shake the rootball to get rid of excess soil surrounding it.
  2. Put the roots in warm water at a temperature of 86°F (30°C) for 30 minutes.
  3. Clean a pair of scissors and cut the aerial root at the base of the stem.
  4. Fill a smaller container with potting soil and plant the root 2 inches (5cm) deep.
  5. Place it in indirect sunshine and keep the soil moist.
  6. After 4 to 6 weeks you should notice new growth.

How to Grow It from Seed

This is an extraordinarily complex process, especially for a beginner. Unfortunately, growing an orchid from seed is usually unsuccessful and it’ll require some patience too.

The best way to plant its seeds is by carrying out asymbiotic germination which is also known as ‘flasking’. You’ll need to purchase agar jelly and your environment must be very sterile.

If you’re keen to test out gardening skills then follow the steps below:

  1. First, place the tiny seeds in a clean bottle with bleach for 15 minutes.
  2. You will then carefully use your tweezers to remove the seed capsules. Once this is complete, you will place them on a paper towel and spritz them with room temperature water.
  3. Store the seeds in a sterilized container or plastic bag.
  4. Boil a pot of water and slowly mix in the agar powder until it forms a jelly-like substance.
  5. Pour the jelly into a flask and add the seeds to it.
  6. Cover the flask with a plastic bag and place the seeds under direct sunshine.
  7. In 1 or 2 months, the seeds can be transplanted into a jar of maintenance agar.
  8. Once new root growth is visible, you must remove the seedlings and wash off any jelly attached to them.
  9. Prepare a new container with sphagnum moss and plant the seeds inside it.
  10. Keep the soil moist until new leaf growth has sprouted.
  11. You can then care for the seedlings as you would an adult orchid, and repot them when required.

How to Keep It Alive

Orchidaceae is sensitive to environmental changes and this houseplant requires some precise care. So, when it isn’t grown in optimal conditions then the orchid may run into a few health issues.

In this section, we’re going to explore the most common problems that orchids face and how to rectify them.

Why Are Its Leaves Turning Yellow?

The orchid’s foliage will begin to yellow when it’s either sunburnt, overwatered, or underwatered. You will need to place the houseplant in a shady area for a couple of days so that its leaves can recover, and then you’ll need to find an area where it’ll receive indirect sunlight.

If improper watering is the problem then simply adjust your watering schedule and make sure that the soil is neither too dry nor soggy.

Why Are Its Leaves Drooping?

Overwatering, improper feeding, and natural aging are three potential causes of droopy leaves.

The orchid isn’t a thirsty plant so it’s better to allow the soil to dry out before watering it again. Make sure to reduce the number of times that you water it in the future or the orchid may develop root rot.

If your houseplant is deficient in nutrients, especially potassium, then it won’t have enough minerals or energy to maintain its waxy foliage. Simply feed your houseplant on a regular basis and make sure that you’re using the right type of fertilizer.

Once a houseplant begins to age, it is completely normal for a few of its leaves to appear limp. This is no cause for concern and they will eventually drop off on their own.

Why Are the Flowers Falling Off?

Dropping flowers will occur naturally after the plant has bloomed, however, the loss of premature buds or young flowers isn’t normal. There are a few reasons that this may occur; a lack of water, a lack of sunshine, low levels of humidity, hot temperatures, and a lack of nutrients.

These will each require you to revise your care regime. You’ll either need to water your houseplant more frequently so that the soil isn’t too dry, find a brighter home for it, or you may need to mist its foliage more often to increase humidity levels.

Alternatively, you may need to find a new room for the houseplant where it is slightly cooler as extreme temperatures will harm your orchid. Additionally, you must check that you’re feeding it consistently, especially during the summer when it is actively growing.

Why Are the Leaves Wrinkled?

When your orchid is watered incorrectly, lacking in potassium, exposed to high temperatures, or surrounded by low humidity levels then its leaves will begin to curl and wrinkle.

You will need to either water the houseplant more often or cut down on the number of times that you water it. The soil must never become waterlogged or completely dry.

If you suspect that the houseplant may be underfed then quickly fertilize it and monitor whether or not its health improves. If its leaves are still wrinkly then you will need to place it in a cooler area or increase the humidity levels surrounding the plant.

Black Spots on the Leaves

The foliage may develop black spots due to one of two bacterial infections; Acidovorax or Botrytis. Both of these cause black dots or smudges across the leaves and flower petals. The houseplant may need to be transplanted in fresh, aerated soil.

Root Rot

Root rot is caused by overwatering your houseplant for a period of time. The orchid may be a thirsty houseplant but it can’t survive being grown in a soggy and waterlogged environment.

When the stem and foliage become mushy or limp, and the roots are black then you’ll need to remove the plant immediately and repot it in fresh soil. Before planting it in its new pot, you should cut off any damaged root tissue and leaves.


It may seem daunting to care for an orchid, however, it isn’t. The orchid simply requires a different type of care than that of other houseplants.

When you stick to a consistent care routine and create the right environment then you’ll be able to witness its stunning blooms each year.

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