The Q&A Archives: orchids

Question: someone gave me an orchid (no name) in 6 inch pot filled with bark. How do I care for it and when can I tell it needs watering?

Answer: Many orchids require the same temperature range as houseplants. Daytime highs in the 70?s and nighttime lows of 55-65F will keep orchids and houseplants growing happily. Orchids (and other houseplants) next to windows on extremely cold nights may be cold damaged and should be moved away from windows.

A bright window with indirect sunlight all day is ideal. Generally 12 to 36 inches away from a south window is best. Many orchid hobbyists move their plants to shade locations outdoors for the summer.

Proper watering is critical to successful orchid culture. Overwatering will quickly kill most orchids. The thick fleshy roots of orchids require the good drainage provided by special soilless potting mixtures containing either fir bark or osmunda fern fibers. In general, water once a week. Orchids growing in clay pots may need more frequent watering. The potting mix should dry slightly between waterings. Add enough water each time to run out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.

Orchids respond well to regular fertilization but are damaged or killed by too much fertilizer. Once a month, a water-soluble fertilizer should be applied as part of normal watering. Universities recommend either a complete 20-20-20 fertilizer or specialty 30-10-10 orchid fertilizer.

After blooming stops, watering and fertilizing should be reduced until new leaves appear.

Most homes, especially in winter, are too dry for orchids. The easiest way to increase humidity around the plants is to set the pots on pebbles with water in a tray or saucer. The evaporating water makes the air around the plants more humid. The pot should not sit in the water but be raised above the water level by the stones. Decorative rocks may be used for a more pleasing appearance. Orchids may also be misted with distilled water to raise humidity levels.

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