Processes of Planting and Caring For Your Orchid

I would love to share with on the process of planting orchid. Also, I would love to share with you how to take good care of your orchid. The processes are involved in selecting the orchid, anatomy, acclimating, watering, and fertilizing.

planting orchid

Selecting an Orchid

When you are selecting an orchid you are usually looking to buy an orchid because you want to see them flower either NOW or sometime in the near future. Most of the time when selecting an orchid, the orchids that you will purchase in a store are mericloned orchids, which means they are identical to each other.

That being said, some do not look identical, and that is due to the way the orchid was grown. So here are great tips on how to select a healthy orchid, mericlone or not.

A Mericlone orchid is made by taking meristematic tissue of the parent orchid and growing new copies. This should and most of the time will result in a faithful copy of the original plant. The deciding factor in whether the Mericlone looks the same as another is the way they are grown.

  1. Wiggle Test: Check and make sure that the plant is firmly set in the pot. If the orchid is moving and shaky in the pot then that could mean it was either recently repotted or the root system has gone bad. Gently grab the orchid where it meets the potting medium and wiggle it a little.  Now Epiphytic Orchids (Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium’s, Cattleya’s, and Oncidium’s) are going to be potted in organic and inorganic material such as bark nuggets, charcoal, and Styrofoam. If the roots aren’t attached to the pot DO NOT tear it out as you do not want to damage the roots. If the orchid is potted incorrectly it is still OK to buy as long as you re-pot it soon after the purchase. (See “Repotting your Orchid).
  2. Pseudo bulb Check: Make sure the Pseudo bulb, which is located at the base of the leaves, is fat and plump. A shriveled or shrunken pseudobulb is something to be aware of as this means those bulbs are not storing water as they should be.
  3. Check the Leaves: In general, you should be selecting an orchid with thick, lightly colored, hard leaves. The leaves should have a green apple tone to them and make sure they are not shiny. A glossy leaf means the orchid has been overfed and less likely to bloom as well as orchids without shine. Make sure the leaves are free of bugs and do not have any blemishes. Leaves that are limp or slightly wilted are signs that the plant has, at some point, been placed in exceptionally cold temperature or been watered incorrectly (See “Watering Your Orchid”). A leaf with brown blemishes on them is a sign that the accord has been exposed to a damaging amount of sunlight or high temperatures. Last, always make sure the crown of the orchid is green and that the center leaves are still green. Crown rot will result in your orchid dying.
  4. Root Check: With the roots being the most important part of the Orchid it is essential that you select an orchid with a healthy root system. Healthy roots are dark green when they are wet and a light green when they are dry. They are long and pointed, with a shiny green tip. A dead orchids root will have a tan color when they are wet and a white tint when they are dry.
  5. Count the Blooms/Inspect Flowers:  Shy away from selecting an orchid with all of its buds already opened and in bloom. By selecting an orchid with unopened buds you will enjoy the bloom much longer than selecting an orchid that is already completely bloomed.  DO NOT select an orchid with yellowish shriveled flowers as these will likely fall off a couple of days after purchasing it.  And of course, make sure it is blooming a flower that is to your liking.

orchid flower

Anatomy of an Orchid

The anatomy of an orchid is fairly simple. You will usually have three sepals, three petals, a column, a spike, leaves, and a root system. There are variations from flower to flower and there are subparts to these main parts of the orchid as well. I’ll discuss what is what and how they look.

Sepals – Sepals are part of the flower bud. In orchids, they can be very colorful and large. They look like petals but are actually the protecting cover of the flower when the orchid is not in bloom

Petals – Orchids consist of three petals. Two lateral petals and a flower petal called the lip. The lip is usually a brighter color and is used to aid in pollination.

Column – The column is in the center of the orchid and is where the reproductive organs are stored. The column usually has an anther cap as well. Both male and female reproductive organs are carried in the column (gynostemium).

Spike – The spike is simple the stem or inflorescence. This is the part of the orchid that carries the flowering portion of the orchid.

Bud – A bud is the flowering portion of the orchid that is unopened and consisting of three closed sepals.

Node – Nodes are defined notches on the spike.

Pseudobulb – A swollen bulb at the base of the leaves of some orchids used for water storage.

Acclimating Your Orchid

A very important step when learning how to care for orchids is acclimating your orchid.  When you bring your orchid home it will most likely be in shock. Orchids do not like being moved, most especially when they are flowering.

The first days of acclimating your orchid are key to its long-term life. Do not expose your orchid to direct sunlight just yet, cold or downward drafts from your vents. Also do not get water happy, as it is better to let the orchid dry up a little bit rather than drowning it while you are acclimating and growing your orchid.

A very common occurrence when acclimating an orchid is Black Rot, which is from overexposing your orchid to water. Orchids thrive in high humidity areas with steady moisture, but their tolerance for water is limited.

Tips for Acclimating your orchid:

  • The closer you can come to creating a strong lit area with high humidity, and a temperature that is between 50-85 degrees you will be able to grow any orchid.  There must also be turbulent airflow around the roots.
  • In the summer, water it weekly and drench the roots. Let the excess water pool in the tray below the pot to create a more humid environment for your orchid. Don’t be afraid to drench your orchid in the summer (You can even put it in the sink and really soak it with water) as long as you allow it to dry afterward.  During this summer season feed it weekly with a small amount of powder or liquid fertilizer.
  • In the winter months, it is key to keep the plant warm and you will need to cut back your watering to about once or twice a month. Buy a mister and mist is every so often just to keep it hydrated. Do not fertilize your orchid in the winter.

Once you’re done acclimating your orchid and it’s kept healthy (which might take moving the orchid to find the right spot for it) it will fall into a routine. They show this by throwing out roots, leaves, and canes, which will result in your orchid rewarding you with a bloom yearly.

Acclimating your orchid is a necessary step whenever you get a new orchid.  If you follow the steps above and give you orchid enough attention you should be fine!

Watering Orchids

Watering orchids is probably one of the most important things that you need to do correctly to produce quality flowers.  The thing that people often do wrong when watering orchids, is overwater their orchids, which in turn rots the roots and ruins the feeding system of the plant.

Orchids are relatively easy to take care of when it comes to watering.  Depending on your environment that you have the orchids in, watering orchids could take place anywhere from once a week to once every other week.

When to Water

So, how do you tell when to water your orchid?  There are many different ways that people have talked about on the internet and in books.  You could use the toothpick test and dip the toothpick into your bark or moss medium and if the toothpick comes out dark then wait a day or two before watering.

You could feel the weight of the plant and the pot.  It will be much lighter when it is completely dry and ready for watering.  This takes some time and experience though to do it by weight.

The standard “go-to” is to dip your finger in the pot and see if it comes out moist.  You can check the roots and the leaves as well.  If the roots are fairly soft and a little wrinkled, and the leaves are drooping a little bit, then it’s time to water.  Just remember, overwatering is probably the most common cause of root rot and orchid demise.

Lastly, ALWAYS water in the morning.  The reason for this is because you want the orchids to get a full day of light after watering because, if done at night, the water will not evaporate fast enough and this could lead to root rot.

How to Water

When watering orchids, you are going to want to drench the orchid completely to the brim of the pot.  The best way to do this if indoors is in the sink.  If you are using a double pot, (plastic on the inside with holes for draining, and maybe a decorative outer pot) then you can leave it in the double pot to soak for 10 to 30 minutes in most cases.

After letting it soak, you will want to take the inner pot out and place it in the sink to completely let drain.  It’s very important to let the plant’s medium completely drain to avoid root rot.  

Water quality

The quality of the water is obviously important while watering orchids. It is really important to understand what type of water are you getting and who are you getting it from so you can find out information on the quality.

Most places are pretty good but if you’re in doubt you can treat your water with a reverse-osmosis system to filter out harmful salts. Now to forewarn you, they can be expensive, but if you are really serious and you have bad water this might be for you.

If you are in doubt, and you don’t have a large number of plants, I would just recommend buying a couple of jugs of distilled water.  In the future, I’ll post an article about DI water vs. Distilled vs. RO, but for now, let’s stick to the basics.

Now when watering you are also going to want to feed your plant with a little bit of fertilizer.

It’s also important to understand that there are exceptions to every rule and not every orchid is the same.  These are just general tips for beginners that want to get started with a basic orchid.

Read also: Healthy Orchids Stems and Roots For Flourishing Blooms

Fertilizing Orchids

Fertilizing is a very important part of making sure that your plant can really grow to its potential.  The common saying is, “weakly, weekly” which is basically just saying to go with a weaker dose for fertilizer more often. When fertilizing orchids, you want to view it in comparison to feeding a person: Too much food equals health problems and the same holds true for orchids.

Below you will read, how fertilizing orchids is done correctly: how often to fertilize, what to look for in a fertilizer, and what to avoid when fertilizing or feeding your orchids.

What to Look for in a Fertilizer

The number one thing that you want to look for when fertilizing orchids, is an orchid specific fertilizer.  The three main ingredients that are necessary are Nitrogen (N) for healthy vegetative growth, Phosphorus (P) for flower production, and Potassium (K) for overall plant health, control of flower, and vigor.

The way that they will be presented on the label will be in a three-part percentage such as 20/20/20.  This means that there is twenty percent of each element, with the remaining 40% being trace or inert elements.  You never want to go over 20% N content because the orchid simply won’t use it and it will merely turn into a pollutant.

There’s also some research that shows that P is not as important as once thought, so a low content of P may not be a bad thing either.  In any case, you want to find a fertilizer that has LITTLE OR NO UREA.  Urea is a form of nitrogen and doesn’t convert well in the porous potting medium that is used for orchids.

How to Correctly Feed Your Orchid

The best way for beginners is to start more dilute and see how that works before concentrating the fertilizer.  There are a lot of different methods that people use when fertilizing orchids, but to start, you want to probably go with 1/4 the recommended dosage if you are fertilizing weekly.

If you’re on a weekly watering schedule it’s always a good thing to go without fertilizer once a month.  If you’re on a bi-weekly fertilization schedule, you probably want to go plain water for rinsing every third watering cycle.  This will give the orchid a nice wash of any built-up salts from the fertilizer.

ALWAYS drench the potting medium before putting the fertilizer/water mix in.  The reason for this is because of how porous the medium for orchids is, therefore, making it harder for the medium to retain water.  If you don’t drench with plain water before fertilization you could possibly see root burn damage from the fertilizer.

You should only participate in fertilizing orchids in the Spring/Summer months when they are showing signs of fresh growth. The winter months are when most orchids are dormant and there is no use feeding a dormant plant.

Unless you are a highly experienced orchid grower, a steady dose of fertilizer during the right time of year will go a long way with all of your orchids. Some seasoned orchid growers will find specialized bloom-boosters that offer micronutrients that increase orchid flowering.

Most house orchids carry different types of genera that flower at different times of the year and have different requirements for them. A high-quality fertilizer, that is well balanced will benefit ALL of your plants.

Read also: 5 Factors Required For Orchid Repotting – When and How?

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