A Beginner’s Guide to Caring for an Orchid

I was always afraid of orchids. They seemed so delicate, and difficult to care for. 

Until that day that my boyfriend came to one of my rehearsals, and brought me a gift: a beautiful, pink orchid. Everyone oohed, and awed, and I blushed the same color as the orchid, but underneath my excitement, I had a terrible feeling that I was not up to the challenge of raising this exotic plant. My Mom has always been wary of orchids, and I figured if she, a renowned gardener, stayed away from this strange, albeit beautiful, plant then I (a novice gardener) certainly would too! However, here was a gifted orchid in my lap. A sweet present from an awesome man, and I was not content to
let this plant wither away and die. At least not without trying to keep it alive first. The adventure began…

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A Beginner's Guide to Caring for an Orchid #orchid #plant #howto #blogger

Lesson #1: Only Water an Orchid Half a Cup a Week (or Less)

The first three months with my orchid were relatively painless. I had learned from a few of my plant-savvy readers that I only needed to water an orchid once a week. They suggested I either use half a cup of warm water or a few ice cubes. I designated Saturday as my watering day, and forgot about it the rest of the week. This was a boon in my busy schedule. I did, however, find time to admire the pink blooms on a daily basis. Life was good, my orchid kept blooming for three months, and I began to feel very smug. I rocked at this orchid thing! I even thought of buying more! I obviously had the magic touch. Perhaps I would change my major from Communications to Orchid Care. I had definitely found my talent! Watch out world, Orchid Keeper Extraordinaire was here! Every week when I took thirty seconds to pour a smidgen of water on ye old plant  I felt increasingly smug. My pride was about to take a hit…

Lesson #2: An Orchid needs a Much Smaller Pot Than you Think!

After those initial three months, I packed my worldly belongings in my car, and drove home for the summer where I would live before I got married. The orchid, of course, came home with me, along with a money tree that I had bought for my fella (side note: the money tree hasn’t started producing yet. Not even a penny or nickel. Sigh).

A Beginner's Guide to Caring for an Orchid
This was us on our way back home for the summer with all of my stuff crammed in my car. See the orchid blooming cheerily?

Once I got home, I promptly re-potted my fella’s money tree (which sorely needed it). After re-potting my boyfriend’s plant, I began eyeing my orchid. I read online that you should not re-pot the orchid while it is blooming, but being the Orchid Aficionado I was, I threw caution to the wind, found a larger pot, and re-potted my orchid the next day.

A Beginner's Guide to Caring for an Orchid
See the nice big pot my orchid is residing in? This was right after I re-potted my orchid, and just before it began losing all its blooms. Behind it are my Mom’s seed trays. Refer back to Mom being a gardening guru.

Within days my previously happy orchid dropped all of its blossoms, and began noticeably drooping. It had been blooming for so long (three months!!) that this made me sad, but I figured once it got accustomed to the new pot it would perk up again! Little was I to know that it would not forgive me for nine long months…

Lesson #3: Martha Stewart Knows All.

Over the next few months I got married (the orchid drooped) I got back from my honeymoon (The orchids leaves drooped further), I moved to my first apartment with my hubby (the orchid’s leaves began to brown a little) and I started my last semester of college (the orchid continued to die). Every time I looked at my previously perky source of pride, I felt depressed. The tips of Its leaves were browning. Its flower stalk was sagging lackadaisically. And its leaves were splayed about as if they had given up all will to live.

I began to wonder if I should just toss this previously beloved plant into the alley, but my conscience would not let me do that. I figured I could chalk it up as a plant that afforded me blooms for three months, and now was past its prime. In a final act of desperation I went on one last excursion for information using the one source that I figured had the best chance of succeeding: Martha Stewart. I watched this video and learned from my dear buddy Martha that orchids don’t need dirt, they barely need a bit of gravel or potting soil. The only thing they do need (if they are not out in the wild clinging to a tree trunk in a tropical rain forest somewhere) is a tiny little pot that keeps their roots tight, and not spread out.

Evidently, orchids don’t want to live in castles or mansions. They want to live in tiny little cottages where they bang their feet against the furniture, and only have room for one little bookshelf. In essence, orchids don’t need space: they need small.

The light bulb went on.

I grabbed my depressed orchid from its huge pot with all its potting soil, and I re-potted it with hardly any soil in a tiny little pot I had on our back porch, crossed my fingers, fed it half a cup of water, and hoped for the best.

Lesson #4: If You Don’t Live in a Rainforest then Your Bathroom Is a Close Second

In the days following my Martha revelation, and the re-potting of my plant. I did a little more research, and discovered that orchids like warm, moist environments.

There was nowhere in our apartment that was that warm due to my quest to cut down on our electric bills in the middle of winter, but I did know one place that remained relatively humid: the bathroom. I set my orchid on top of the toilet. And hoped for the best.

A Beginner's Guide to Caring for an Orchid
See that happy little orchid in the reddish pot on your right? It loves sitting next to my fiddle leaf fig tree.
Lesson #5: Orchids Can Return to the World of the Living, Even if You Think they are Past the Point of No Return

Within days my orchid exploded with growth. In a week and a half there were over a dozen bright green roots growing all over the orchid. Every day I would leap from bed, and run to the bathroom to see the new growth on my old plant friend. It was astounding. This orchid that had been slowly dying for months suddenly recovered its zest for life. Even roots that I thought were dead began growing again.A Beginner's Guide to Caring for an Orchid

Making two changes (re-potting in a smaller pot, and moving it to a humid environment) was just what Madame Orchid needed.

Lesson #5: Orchids will Bloom Without Fertilizer!

I was pleased by all the growth, and for the next two months I tried to be satisfied with this new development, but what does everyone want who owns an orchid? They want it to bloom. I am no different. I wanted beautiful flowers again. I yearned for them. I read online that in order to achieve blooms I would have to fertilize, but I just did not want to spend our scanty spending money on fertilizer for my orchid. So I waited.

And one week ago my orchid began budding out. Two long stalks covered in buds which have been growing about half an inch a day. Blooms are a’coming.

**One Year With an Orchid, and I Lived to Tell the Tale**

My boyfriend bought me an orchid, and one year later it is beginning to bloom again. It has been a rocky year for us. I almost killed my orchid. I treated it terribly, and did not give it the situations it needed to thrive or even just survive. But it hung on. And now, one year smarter, with some Martha Stewart tips under my belt, we have made it.

My orchid is perky, growing, and budding out.A Beginner's Guide to Caring for an Orchid

And it was worth every minute of research, worry, and stress. My orchid is thriving.

Additional Resources:

  1.  If you want to learn even more about orchid care I would highly recommend The Orchid Whisperer: Expert Secrets for Growing Beautiful Orchids. It is written by a guy who has been successfully growing orchids for thirty years. It has beautiful illustrations, and great for a beginner!
  2.  This is the orchid moss I use to repot my plant. I love it, and so does my orchid!
  3.  Eventually, I want to buy a wooden, hanging orchid basket. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a few orchids hanging from the ceiling?!

I regularly post updates on how my orchid is doing on my facebook page. Be sure to join The Stroller Mom community HERE.

Have you ever successfully cared for an orchid? What are your tips?

30 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Caring for an Orchid”

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  2. I had been given an orchid in 2017 after hand surgery. It was beautiful! I read the instructions on care and it lasted for about 6 months. The blooms were delightful. But soon after the blooms fell one by one to leave bare stalks.
    I stopped watering my orchid and moved it to hibernate. But this past week I noticed new buds appear and so have given it a first drink of the new year! Let’s see how it goes. I am delighted to see this plant coming back to life!

  3. Good morning Bethany, so happy I found your post!! I purchased a mini Phalaenopsis orchid a week before this Valentine’s Day and it suffered bud blast/bloom drop, root rot and mold on its roots. I cut back the spikes and rotted roots, sprayed the remaining roots with peroxide, let it dry overnight and now its in water because I wanted to try the water culture method and its growing tiny buds YAY!! And on Valentine’s Day my hubby surprised me with a GORGEOUS purple Phal and since then its suffered from bud blast/bloom drop, root rot and now the leaves are limp and wrinkled and starting to turn yellow. I realized that it got crown rot so I cut back both the spikes and rotted roots, sprayed the roots with peroxide and added cinnamon powder to the crown area to help dry it up, saw this on youtube. Left it to dry out overnight and repotted it in fresh orchid mix. So far I spotted a purple node thingy, not sure what it is but I’m desperately trying to save her so any advice would be appreciated thank you. I have her in a greenhouse btw on a humidity tray, I’m sorry for the long message but do you think there’s hope for her?

  4. I love your post! Mr darling hubby of 28 years came home with a beautiful orchid for me a couple of weeks back and although an avid gardener, I’m also a bit nervous of these beautiful plants. I will follow all your tips and hopefully keep this beauty alive! thank you. Mel x

  5. Like many, I thought orchids were too hard to maintain, despite me being successful with other house plants over the years. I finally bought one for $6 on clearance. The flowers lasted 6 full months and then nothing. Just leaves. Following year, I bought one more Orchid pot and I am now pleased to say both have re-bloomed at least once. That being said, the leaves have wrinkled a bit on the two. I read that htey may not be getting enough moisture because the wood-chips like soil medium had depleted. So I bought an organic bag of that and added it to the pots. I put nothing but 3-4 cubes of ice on each plant every week. I really liked your post as a reference for future if I run into similar issues. Keeping my fingers crossed that the leaves will unwrinkle lol!

  6. I live in Central America. Every so often, an old man comes from the rain forest to visit our island. Bringing with him a box of orchids. Like puppies, I want to rescue them all! But…I know nothing about them. Im reading everything i can find on orchid care. Your story has helped and inspired. Wish me luck!!!

    Staci Allison
    Belize Vacations

  7. I got my first orchid and it was beautiful. As time went on, I thought it was dead but decided to give it some water (or ice) and low and behold, it started growing and had 9 of the most beautiful blossoms! It’s back in it’s dormant stage now and I am very anxious for the next blooming season.
    I have a sunroom and it has done great. I wish I could post a picture of it.
    Love my orchid.

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  10. man i thought my 2 orchids died. the stalks turned brown. i looked it up and they said to trim off the dried stalk. my leaves withered next. i have up on them. a year later i am trying again on a mini orchid with a large glass jar. i just love the flowers but it’s cold winters here. i figured if i keep the jar mostly closed in the winter in front of a window it might work.

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  12. Thank you very, very much . I’m in a very similar situation my mother law give me a orchid for my Birthday it’s beautiful but, make me feel like first time mom . I will follow every single step you recommend in order to keep it alive …thanks again

  13. Hi Bethany, I wanted to stop by and say THANK YOU!!! After reading your post I moved my poor neglected, sad looking orchid to our ensuite bathroom and within a matter of weeks I noticed I had a flower shoot! I was SOOOOOOO excited! I now have a beautiful tall flower stem with several buds on it and I’m just waiting the flowers to open any day now. This is the first time I’ve ever had success growing a new flower shoot on an indoor orchid and it wouldn’t have happened without this post, so thanks again 🙂 🙂 🙂

    1. Oh, Lis, this just makes my DAY! I am so overjoyed that your orchid is doing better!! I would LOVE to see a picture when it blooms. 🙂 My orchid has just flourished ever since I put it in the bathroom, who knew?! Thank you so much for returning to update me! I love reading your blog, by the way. Your photography and recipes are SO good!

  14. Orchids are my absolute favourite flower and house plant but I have a horrible habit of killing them 🙁 after reading your post I’m about to move my latest sorry looking plant into the bathroom in the hopes I will bounce back. Thank you!

  15. Loved this and I ended up pinning it! I love houses plants too and I thought this was really informative. I have always been skiddish of getting an orchid too…however, I’ve been really lucky with my violets. Violets, I have decided, are the easiest plants to take care outside of ivy!!

  16. Wow, wow, wow! This is certainly an eye-opener! When I think of all the poor unhappy orchids that I have discarded, erroneously convinced that I just didn’t have the touch . . .oiy! Sadness, indeed! And how smart you were to investigate (of course! Martha!) and find out what your orchid needed: less space, not more! Brilliant, my dear! I’ll share this post with my friends!

  17. I have quite a little history with orchids. You’ve inspired me to write some of my confessions – and I will give credit to you for my inspiration. I am inspired enough to try to revive my mother in law’s orchid – a story in itself.

  18. Beautiful pictures! You and your mom both have a wonderful storytelling ability. 🙂 You make the tale of an Orchid so compelling! By the way, this is helpful because I have always wanted an Orchid, but I have been afraid I would kill it. . .

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