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How to care for orchids

Use this guide to help your orchids bloom.
The first step? Figure out which type of orchid you have.
The first step? Figure out which type of orchid you have.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Flower lovers everywhere agree: Orchids are pretty darn stunning. And although they were once reserved for the wealthy, orchids are now as readily accessible as cut flowers and everyday plants.

Whether you're a first-time orchid owner or have a vast collection, taking care of these pretty flowers doesn't have to be difficult. It all boils down to making sure your orchid gets the right amount of water, the proper temperature and the optimum growing environment.

Want to learn more about these dazzling flowers? Check out our guide for how to care for orchids.

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Every orchid is unique, and the various species have different blooming seasons.Getty Images

What are the different types of orchids?

Did you know there are thousands of species of orchids? As one of the largest plant families around, orchid types range from exotic tropicals that are native to rainforests to hardy types that grow outdoors and come from places like Minnesota and Canada.

Each species of orchid requires slightly different care, so you’ll definitely want to do a bit of research before taking one home.

“For example, phalaenopsis orchids (aka moth orchids) are epiphytic, meaning their roots don’t grow in soil. But other types of orchids are terrestrial, meaning they do need to grow in soil,” said Steven Hahn, live goods merchandising manager from the Lowe's store in Pymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. “Some orchids like to be moist all the time; others like to dry out more between waterings to prevent rot.”

Orchids come in all kinds of different colors, shapes and sizes, and a few of the most popular types that are commonly available are phalaenopsis, cymbidium (boat orchids), dendrobium, cattleya, vanda (Singapore orchids) and paphiopedilum (Venus slipper).

Every orchid is unique, and the various species have different blooming seasons, too.

“With such a wide variety, you can curate a collection where there’s at least one variety blooming in your home almost all year long,” Hahn said.

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At the end of the day, the name of the game with orchids is patience.Getty Images

How long do orchids usually live?

Unlike many fleeting flowers, orchids can live for years on end with a bit of TLC.

“Orchids, if handled properly, can live a very long time and typically bloom twice a year. Often when the blooms drop, people assume the flower has died, but this isn’t true! This occurrence is totally normal, and if you remain patient, in about six months you’ll get to see them rebloom,” said VJ Mkrtchian, the owner of Palm Springs Flower Mart.

Orchid blooms are simply dazzling and can last anywhere from 6-8 weeks to several months, depending on the type of orchid. If you cut orchid stems, they won’t remain fresh as long as they would on the plant, but their lifespan is still pretty impressive, all the same.

“Individual blooms can still outlast many other common varieties of cut flowers. With proper care, some dendrobium and phalaenopsis orchid stems can last 14 to 21 days,” said Tim Farrell, Teleflora education specialist and owner of Farrell’s Florist in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.

A well-cared-for phalaenopsis orchid (one of the most common types), can stay in bloom up to four months. At the end of the day, the name of the game with orchids is really patience.

"If you are an instant gratification sort of person, orchids may not be right for you, but if you can be patient, the reward is pretty dazzling," said Lewis Miller, florist and creative director of online flower delivery company UrbanStems.

How often should your water orchids?

How often you water an orchid depends on the species and the environment they’re kept in, but, on average, most orchids can be watered once a week to every 10 days. Just be careful not to oversaturate them.

“In general, orchid plants need much less water than the average consumer would think. The most popular orchid plants in the marketplace, members of the phalaenopsis family, grow on larger plants and trees and pull moisture from the air as well as their roots. Due to this, a small amount of water — typically 1/16 of a cup once per week — is sufficient,” Farrell said.

If your container has drainage, you can run it through warm water every 2-3 weeks, according to Mkrtchian. If it doesn’t, you can water it with a couple of ice cubes on the surface of the pot every two weeks. It may sound like too little liquid, but orchid roots hate to be soaked, so ice cubes provide the perfect amount of hydration.

Wondering how to tell when your orchid is thirsty? One of the most common household orchids, phalaenopsis orchid, start to look wrinkly in appearance when they're parched.

In general, orchids don't need any "food" or fertilizer once buds form on the spikes. If you want your plant to bloom again next year, though, Farrellrecommends placing a small amount of food — about 1/4 the recommended dosage per month applied once per week after the blooms drop — to help encourage growth.

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Ice cubes can make your job much easier.Getty Images

What temperature is ideal for orchids?

Like most of us, orchids thrive with a little bit of sun and a comfortable temperature. They do best when the temperature inside is anywhere between 60 to 80 degrees and also like to stay close to the light.

"Orchids like bright light but not necessarily direct sunlight. Direct sun can burn the leaves off the plant," Miller said.

To get the right mix of sun and shade, display your orchid in a prime location, like a south- or east-facing window and try diffusing the light with a sheer curtain. "And no worries if you don’t have natural light — they do just as well under artificial light, including the fluorescent lights commonly found in offices and cubicles," Hahn said.

If the air is dry, you can always boots humidity levels for your orchid by growing them with other houseplants, putting them in a terrarium or cloche, or placing a small humidifier nearby.

Orchids can easily grow in artificial light, like an office.
Orchids can easily grow in artificial light, like an office.Getty Images

What about soil?

Orchids don't grow in soil, so your best bet is to plant them in bark chips or moss, and grow them in the planter of your choice.

"Some orchids like to be potted in moss or bark because it lets the roots breathe better than soil," Hahn said.

Paying attention to your orchid's planter can also help you avoid inundating it with water.

"The most common problem with household orchid plants it adding too much water, so a special potting mix that has peat moss, bark pieces and a bit of gravel provides a nice medium that allows for sufficient drainage. It is also important to note that ideally, the pot should have a drainage hole in the bottom so that excess water never accumulates around the roots causing root rot," Farrell said.

After a year or two, moss and bark can start to break down and resemble soil, and that's the time to repot your orchids.

You’ll probably want to repot your phalaenopsis orchid once every year or two when the moss or bark starts to break down and look more like soil.