Guest Author - Haidy Ear-Dupuy
Congratulations! Youíve bought your first orchid. Now the challenge is to keep it thriving and for it to reward you with flowers year after year. Letís face it, orchids are not cheap plants and they can be difficult for beginners to take care of if new to the hobby.
When you bring your orchid home, put it near an east facing window. This works well for Dendrobiums or Phalaenopsis, commonly called the Moth Orchid, (usually the name is written on the store tag found on the pot or stuck into the pot with the plant). Cattleyas and Vandas like more sun so a south-facing window may be better. Dendrobiums and Phalenopsis are commonly found in grocery and hardware stores. When you bring your orchid home, poke one finger into the base of the plant and check to see if you feel any moisture. If the medium feels wet then donít water it yet. You can also feel the weight of the plant and if it feels light then water it. But I find it to be more accurate by touching the medium.
Only water the plant when you feel that it is dry. You can get away with not watering for 1-2 days if it feels slightly humid. When you water orchids, put them in the sink and run tepid water on the medium, away from the base of the plant and let the water drains completely from the pot. Letting the water runs through the plant does two things, it allows the plant to flush out and cleans the roots of the plant and it also allows fresh water to circulate through the root system. I recommend tepid water because cold water can shock your plant. Though there are species that prefer cooler climate and may agree with having cold water run through its root systemóhence some people recommend putting one ice cube on the medium (but not to let the ice touch the plant or it can cause unwanted damage). If you have water that is not clorinated (such as harvested rainwater) it is even better for plants.
Keep a close watch on your orchid. Sometimes you will notice that the lovely buds you saw at the store quickly dried up and fall off. Donít be discouraged, as your plant gets over the shock and becomes accustomed to its new environment and with your excellent care, new buds will grow. If you have Phalaenopsis, sometimes the old stem will produce new buds from the old stem. However, when you are sure no new buds will appear, clip off the long stem. This will allow the plant to generate new stem the following year. Without old stems sucking away the nutrients, the plant can use its energy to make a new flowering stem.
Sometimes, the pot that comes with the plant is too small and the medium dries out too quickly. I like to change to a slightly bigger pot and add some more potting medium, using sphagnum moss that I soaked first before potting it up with the plant. This way I can leave my orchid for longer periods before watering. Plants can go for one week without watering. For orchids that are attached to pieces of drift wood, they can be watered more often.
In the wild, orchids tend to grow in low nutrients environments, getting most of what they need from the rain and the air. However, gardeners like to help their plants grow and have better blooms. To encourage better growth and flowering you can use orchid fertilizers. Most plants need nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P)and potassium (K). Nitrogen feeds the plant and helps it to maintain healthy growth while the phosphorous and potassium support the flower production and development.