How to care for orchids

Orchids are hugely popular as houseplants but have a reputation of being tricky to look after. Here's how to keep your plant blooming year after year...

How to care for orchids

how to care for orchids

Orchid facts

  • Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants with 22,000 seperate species.
  • Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, which is native to Mexico.
  • Three species of Phalaenopsis are endangered as a result of overcollection.

Orchids have been sold on the UK's high streets for just five years, but have proved so popular that the Flowers & Plants Association recently named the Phalaenopsis orchid as the UK's most popular houseplant for the second year running. Stores like Marks & Spencer sell a staggering 23,000 orchids a week and most homes have had plant in the bathroom at some stage.

Despite their popularity, orchids have a reputation for being a challenge to look after. And it's little wonder - most occur naturally in the tropics of Central and South America, Asia and Africa and it's difficult to replicate those conditions at home in the UK. Follow this advice from Simon Richards, a product developer for flowers and plants, and learn how to make your orchid flower year after year.

What types of orchids are best for beginners to grow?
The Phalaenopsis or moth orchid is one of the most popular and easiest to grow, as they can tolerate the dryness of central heating. They have large, deep green leaves and striking white, pink or purple flowers.

Should I repot my new orchid?
No! Most orchids are sold in clear plastic pots as they do better when the light can get to their roots. A new store-bought orchid shouldn't need repotting for at least a year or two, so concentrate on creating a happy environment in which the orchid can flourish, before worrying about repotting. If your plant didn't come in a decorative pot or vase, display it in one which is slightly narrower at the base so the pot doesn't touch the bottom. Alternatively, place a few stones in the bottom of the vase to allow the plant to drain naturally.

Where should I keep my orchid?
Orchids are happiest in room temperatures of 16.5°C and above so are perfect for warmer rooms like kitchens. They like strong, but not direct sunlight so a north-facing windowsill is perfect. Keep them away from draughts.

What about watering and feeding?
If you live in a hard water area, it's best to water your orchid using filtered water (soft water) or use cooled water from a boiled kettle. Water your plant once a week with an eggcup sized amount of soft water, being careful not to get any water on the leaves or flowers. The bark compost in which orchids are usually potted contains very little nutrients, so add orchid fertilizer to the water once a month (or follow the manufacturer's instructions).

All the flowers have fallen off my plant. What am I doing wrong?
Orchid flowers tend to last about eight weeks before falling off - this is perfectly natural. Once all the flowers have dropped, cut off the orchid stem diagonally to the lowest node (the small bump or eye on the stem) to stimulate new growth. Continue to water the plant as usual and a new stem should appear in two to three weeks.