Orchids were once an expensive rarity, but within the past decade or two, they’ve become widely available at big-box stores and supermarkets for just $10 to $15 apiece. They will bloom for months and rebloom indefinitely—if they’re handled properly…
Opt for a moth orchid. Orchids are the largest family of flowers, with around 35,000 species and perhaps twice as many hybrids. I strongly recommend that novices opt for a moth orchid (Phalaenopsis). It’s the most widely available and affordable of orchids. It also is quite easy to grow, attractive and long-blooming.
Helpful: The following guidance is specifically intended for moth orchids. Other orchid species might have different preferences and characteristics. Consult a garden shop or an orchid-growing guide for details.
Give orchids the proper amount of sun. Orchids that don’t receive sufficient sunlight often fail to rebloom. A spot near a sunny east-facing window tends to be ideal. A south-facing window can be a good choice as well, though this might provide too much sunlight, particularly in the southern US or during the summer.
Helpful: A moth orchid’s leaves should be medium-green in color. Dark green leaves might indicate insufficient light…while light green leaves, leaves that have a red tint or leaves with patches that look dried or burned might indicate excessive light.
Water like a passing downpour. Once every five to seven days take your orchid to the kitchen sink and use the faucet (use the sink sprayer if you have one) to drench its potting mix until it’s truly soaked. Wait 30 seconds, then drench again. Make sure that the water drains out. In the wild, most orchids do not grow in soil—they attach themselves to tree limbs or occasionally to rocks, so their roots are not designed to sit for extended periods in wet soil or water.
Fertilize lightly. Orchids benefit from fertilizer, but don’t overdo it—high concentrations of fertilizer can do an orchid more harm than good. Because orchid roots don’t normally grow in soil, they’re not designed to take in large quantities of nutrients.
Feed your orchid liquid fertilizer every week or two when you see new leaves or roots growing, but use only half the amount recommended on the fertilizer’s label. (If you don’t see new leaves or roots, don’t fertilize.) There’s no need to pay extra for specialty orchid fertilizer—a standard liquid houseplant fertilizer is fine.
Prune judiciously. Do not immediately prune off a moth orchid’s flower spike after the last of its flowers stops blooming. Unlike most orchids, moth orchids can rebloom off the same spike, below earlier flowers. Check the spike for small, fleshy green nodes. If you find them, use a sterile blade (use rubbing alcohol or a lighter to sterilize the blade) to trim the spike an inch or so above the second or third node.
Go ahead and prune off the entire spike if the nodes on the flower spike seem dried out or if you trim the spike as described above, but it turns brown before reblooming.
Repot every year or two because the potting mix breaks down. Purchase a potting mix specifically designed for orchids. You can put the orchid back in the original pot but thoroughly scrub it first to remove salt buildup.
Source: William Cullina, executive director of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine. He is this year’s winner of the Scott Medal, awarded by the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College for outstanding contributions to the science and art of gardening. Cullina is author of Understanding Orchids: An Uncomplicated Guide to Growing the World’s Most Exotic Plants (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). www.MaineGardens.org