How to Care for Orchids

Illustration of how to care for an orchid

The Spruce / Katie Kerpel

Orchids are an ever-popular indoor potted plant. While the exotic flower is widely available, many beginners don't know how to care for an orchid to keep it blooming. Here's what you need to know to nurture your new orchid, so you can enjoy its bloom for a long time.

a phalaenopsis orchid
The Spruce / Alonda Baird

Identifying Your Orchid

About 30,000 species of orchids live in the wild, along with more than 100,000 registered hybrids. When it comes to the orchids that are most commonly available for purchase, the overwhelming majority are one of two varieties:

  • Phalaenopsis (also called moth orchids): These orchids have round flowers with a pronounced lip that grow on a single tall stalk arising from a whorl of fleshy, oval leaves. Flowers are usually white, purple, pink, or some combination thereof.
  • Dendrobium (also called cane orchids): These orchids have smaller flowers that grow in rows on stalks that arise from thick canes, often with several flower clusters per plant. Flowers are typically white or purple. Dendrobium leaves are narrow and emerge from the sides of the cane.

Knowing the orchid variety you have will help you care for it after it blooms.

an orchid in bloom
Phalaenopsis orchids The Spruce / Alonda Baird
Dendrobium orchids
Dendrobium orchids

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

Caring for Your Orchid in Bloom

When you first obtain your orchid, it will likely be in bloom. And obviously you will want to take steps to prolong the bloom for as long as possible. Provided your orchid is happy, expect the blooms to last at least a few weeks, sometimes more.

Many gift orchids are potted in the wrong conditions for long-term growth. They are usually in plastic containers and packed with moss around the roots. In nature, orchids typically grow on trees, and their roots are water-gathering organs that need fresh air flow to be healthy. Orchids with wet roots are susceptible to root rot and other problems. However, while your orchid's current container might not be ideal, never repot an orchid while it is in bloom. Doing so is too stressful on the plant, and it will likely drop its blooms.

Instead of repotting, it's better to hold off on water. Unless your orchid is growing in the open air where it will quickly dry out, the plant needs very little water. Here's a good rule of thumb: Every time you think you need to water while the orchid is still in its unsuitable container, wait three more days. This will likely be to the plant's benefit.

Furthermore, don't place your orchid where it will experience cold drafts or exposure to direct sunlight or heating vents. Dry air, direct heat, and chills are enemies of these exotic flowers. Orchid blooms will last longer if you can provide a mild, warm, and somewhat humid environment.

an orchid packed in moss
The Spruce / Alonda Baird

Caring for Your Orchid After the Bloom

When the bloom is over, it's time to shift your thinking from short-term care to long-term maintenance. Most growers snip off the old flower spike near the base. (Some experts retain the spikes hoping for a rebloom, which sometimes does happen). Also at this time, you can repot your orchid into a more suitable container with the right growing medium.

cutting an orchid a little above the node
The Spruce / Alonda Baird