How to Grow Orchids: The Basics for Cultivating Orchid Plants

Orchids, like roses, have always been popular flowers, but orchids are the next most popular with regular consumer and commercial use. In this guide, we’ll walk through the basics of learning how to grow orchids.

There is more variety in the orchid family than you will find in any other species of flowers. Their ability to grow almost everywhere around the world adds to their popularity…

1. Appreciating the Beauty of Orchids

Asia’s orchids are multicolored, and they are more commonly seen than the African orchid, which is white. Some orchids only have one bloom per stem, but others have more than a hundred blooms on just one stem.

Some orchids thrive in a very rocky habitat. Others grow on top of rock. The atmosphere provides the necessary nutrients through rainwater, humus, litter, and their own decaying tissue.

These plants are grouped according to the way they obtain nutrients. Some attach themselves to other plants, but they are not considered parasites.

You might be surprised to learn that the orchid is one of the most adaptable plants on the face of the earth.

If an orchid plant is not blooming, you might mistake it for a palm or wild grass.

The common variety of orchid that is planted in a garden is the terrestrial plant. It will thrive in soil that is used to grow other common garden flowers.

If you find that your soil is not conducive to growing orchids, you could try growing them under hothouse conditions.

If you start with a seed, it will take a great deal of patience. The seed is about the size of a pin head. It can take from one to ten years for the seedling to mature.

They only germinate with the help of special fungi under natural circumstance.

Some orchids are grown for commercial uses. The vanilla orchid is a source of vanilla, used for cooking purposes.

The terrestrial orchid produces underground tubers that are ground into powder and used for cooking.

The flowers have to be hand pollinated, so this is a labor intensive job. Small family farms are usually the source for this vanilla.

Another commercial use

Another commercial use for orchids is in making perfume. Other than these two uses, orchids are often grown simply for their beauty and desirability.

Because of their popularity, orchids enjoy a major commercial market throughout the world. New and improved hybrids are placed on the auction block for hundreds of dollars.

In recent years, studies have been conducted on the anticancer activity of a chemical which is found in the stems of some orchid species.

Orchids were used in traditional medicine by the Chinese since 2800 BC.

Because of their availability, they are one of the most popular cut flowers throughout the world.

Two countries are leaders in producing orchids. The National Orchid Garden in Singapore is open to the public, and it has one of the finest collections of orchids in the world.

Thailand produces pure white orchids, and that country currently producing orchids for purchase by the commercial world.

If you want to try growing orchids in your home, locate a bright window that has no drafts. The plant should receive indirect sunlight in the morning and the afternoon.

A south-facing window is often ideal. If the window is quite large or a great deal of sunlight is present, you can move the plant farther from the window.

If it is placed about 18 to 36 inches away from the window, this might be a more suitable location.

Orchids in a greenhouse have the advantage of receiving the sunlight from every direction, while plants in a home usually only receive light from one direction.

Nurseries can supply you with subtropical as well as tropical orchids. Some orchids grow in cold climates, but they are the exception to the rule.

2. Basics for Cultivating Orchids

Wild orchids are a thing of beauty, and if you ever get the opportunity to observe them growing in the wild it will be a sight you will never forget.

The sheer variety of species is mind boggling. The different shapes and colors give each wild orchid a unique look.

Decide beforehand if you will try to grow an orchid in your home or outside, as this will make a difference in the species you purchase.

The care that must be provided will depend largely on the habitat you choose for your orchid plants.

Although orchids have a reputation for being finicky and difficult to grow, they can be grown successfully. It does take patience and meticulous attention to detail.

Because of their amazing beauty, many find that just having the plants in the home can add grace and charm to their surroundings.

They can be a source of calm and pleasure to everyone that comes in contact with them. Many people find that they relieve the stress from a long day’s work just by being present in the room with them.

Although orchids that are growing in their natural habitat are often growing on a tree host, this is not necessary for indoor orchids.

It is extremely adaptable, but there are certain conditions that must be met if you are to be successful in growing orchids.

The reproduction process used by the orchid plant is ingenious. It “lures” insects to land on the flower. When the insect is resting on the flower, the orchid “signature” is attached to the insect. When the insect flies away, it has the markings from that particular orchid species.

Since there are over 35,000 species of orchids, everyone can find one that suits their fancy.


If you purchase an orchid from a florist, it will not last long. However, if you enjoy the beauty of the flower you purchased, you can take steps to grow your own orchids.

After reading the requirements for successfully growing orchids, look around your home for the right spot to put the plant.

It requires proper humidity and air flow. Exposure to wind or cold will kill the plant quickly.

If you put the plant in a place that is not conducive to its growth, you will quickly see the results in the plant’s characteristic. It will begin to wilt and the leaves will turn yellow or fall off.

Because orchids need a lot of humidity, a bathroom window is often the ideal placement for your plant.

You may kill a few orchids before you get the hang of it, but if you persist, you will be rewarded with a beautiful plant.

You can enjoy its beauty for many years, if you give it the proper care.

Recognize that the orchid is a delicate plant, and treat it accordingly. It can be a treasured addition to the plants in your home.

You have an endless variety to choose from, so make sure you purchase one that really appeals to you. Read what you can about caring it before you make the purchase.

Plant Characteristics

Although each plant has some distinct characteristics, they also share some common similarities. They thrive in warm climates. Because of this requirement, orchids will not grow outdoors in most of the United States. They need tropical temperatures outdoors to thrive.

Here are some of the similarities you will find among the orchid plants. Most orchids grow best in a warmer temperature. Unless you live in a reasonably tropical zone you will not be able to grow orchids outdoors.

Don’t despair! You can usually find the right atmosphere somewhere in your home to successfully grow orchids.

With the right arrangement in your home, you will be able to grow many orchid plants.


As mentioned in a previous paragraph, they prefer above-average humidity. They must be protected from drafts, so don’t place them near the front or back doors of the house.

If you don’t have a window location that is suitable for your orchid, you can grow them under artificial lights. Most grow lights fit into traditional light sockets.

Orchids displayed in front of a wet window
Orchids displayed in front of a wet window

Just in case the orchid plant does not thrive under the natural light available in your home, you might want to have a light kit available.

Although growing an orchid may sound demanding, the needs are consistent. Once you have perfected the ideal conditions, your orchid should thrive for years to come.

There will be obvious indications if the condition is not conducive to optimum growth for your orchid. The plant may stay green and the leaves could have a healthy look, but the plant will not produce orchids if the proper conditions are not met.

If you observe this happening, you should consider another location for your plant. Continue trying different areas until the plant blooms.

If the plant refuses to bloom, no matter how hard you try to please it, you might need to re-pot the plant.

There are various reasons to choose a certain orchid plant. You might consider the color, the style of the bloom, or the fragrance.

Whatever your reason for choosing a certain species of orchid, you will find the plant will bring a lot of enjoyment and pleasure to your life.

3. Cultivating Orchids That Thrive

Many people are attracted to the orchid plant from a local nursery or other plant store, and they decide to try their hand at growing them.

If a person has a “green thumb”, they will still find growing orchids that thrive are a challenge.

Sometimes people choose to grow them because they are challenging! If plants seem to thrive without personal care, the gardener may feel that their expertise isn’t needed.

When growing orchids, the gardener can feel a sense of achievement if the plants thrive.

Here are some tips that will give you a head start on keeping your orchid alive and well:

Sufficient and Consistent Watering – usually a routine of watering the plant every four to seven days is sufficient. They do seem to have different requirements during different growing seasons.

Proper Nutrition

Fertilizer designed specifically for orchids is available. Read the directions on the label, and follow them explicitly.

Imitate Natural Growing Conditions

Be prepared to replicate the natural growing conditions of the orchid plant. Some are hardier than others; choose a hardy species for your first attempt.


If you have had your plant for a while and it begins to look “puny”, it is time to re-pot. Remove all the old mix, wash all of the dirt off the roots, and trim off any roots that do not look healthy. Keep the size of the pot small in comparison to the plant. Orchids like to experience some crowding.

After re-potting, do not water the plant for several days. This will allow it to recover from the shock of being uprooted.

If your plant is growing in sphagnum moss, soak it in water before you wrap it around the roots. This will prevent air pockets.

After Flowering

Some plants only produce one flower; others have a prolific display of flowers from the same spike.

If the plant has finished flowering the spike should be cut away from the plant with a sharp pair of scissors or cutting shears.

Checking for Disease

Certain fungi or parasites are commonly found on orchid plants. Examine the plant carefully every few weeks. If you find a problem, treat it immediately.

Insufficient light is the most common reason orchid plants fail to bloom. The light needs to be filtered, but it should be bright.

If it is in a window sill, close the curtains when the light is really bright on the plant, or move the plant to a different location.

At least ten to fifteen hours of sunlight are required for an orchid plant to bloom. If your home does not provide this much light, the natural light can be supplemented by artificial light.

When the summer heat is radiating from the window, move the plant to a cooler place. When the winter chill is reflecting off the window, find a warmer spot for your plant. To keep the light source balanced, give the pot a one quarter turn each time it is watered.

A comfortable temperature for your plant is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep plants away from direct heat sources, such as heaters. Protect the plant from drafts caused by opening doors or fans.

In the wintertime, a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit will be sufficient. This is a dormant time for most orchid plants.


Use distilled water or natural rain water to soak your plants. Minerals found in hard water can be distressing to the orchid.

These minerals may also build up in the potting medium. This is also damaging to the plant.

You may have to resort to boiling the water to kill any contaminants.

Water your orchid plants at least once a week. If the potting medium feels dry to the touch, it needs watering.

Make sure the pot has a drainage hole to prevent the water from sitting on the roots of the plant.

During periods when the plant is blooming, immerse the pot in water for about 30 minutes, and then drain it well. This can be done every other week during the summer.

Orchids thrive in a humid atmosphere. They need a humidity range of between 60 and 70 per cent. There are two different ways to achieve this humidity range.

You can put a bowl of water next to the orchid plant, or you can set the potted plant inside a dish filled with water and pebbles.

The pot and the roots should not be standing in water. You can put green florist foam in a pot, and then set the potted orchid inside the first pot.

The purpose of the foam is to absorb any excess water. Stagnated water is detrimental to the health of the plant.


If your orchids are growing in bark, give them a feeding of fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, perhaps 30-10-10. If you are applying a liquid all-purpose fertilizer, use half the dosage that is recommended on the label.

To skip the guesswork, you can purchase fertilizer formulas that are specifically designed for orchids. Because orchids are epiphytic, they receive nutrients from water and air.

Most garden centers sell orchid potting medium mixes and mesh baskets that are ideal for growing orchids. The mesh provides ventilation and prevents root rot.

If you prefer to mix your own potting medium, use a mix that is one part charcoal, two parts of half-inch pine bark, and one part peat moss.

When the plant is dormant, you can put it in a basement that is equipped with artificial light.

Easy varieties to experiment with are paphiopedalum, phaleaenopsis and cattelya.

Even though most orchids are epiphytic (thriving off moisture and nutrients received from the air and rain), there are some varieties that grow in soil.

Certain types of orchids are native to all parts of the Americas, Asia and Africa.

If you are successful with your orchid plants and enjoy the challenge, you should join an orchid society and share ideas with other orchid growers. It could become a lifetime hobby!