How to Care for Orchids: Water, Sunlight, Repotting and Signs to Look Out For

If you're looking for a new plant to add color to your living space, there are several different types of orchids to choose from. From spray orchids and moth orchids to dancing ladies and the more rare lady's slipper orchids - the flowers are incredibly distinctive. Most orchids also give off a pleasant scent, making them a perfect addition to any home.

However, these flowers are also notoriously hard to keep alive, especially for those inexperienced with house plants.

Newsweek spoke to plant experts for tips on how to take care of orchids and which type is best for your home.

The Different Varieties of Orchid

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Moth orchids, also known as phalaenopsis (stock image used). Getty Images

There are many different varieties of orchid, all of which have different levels of difficulty for plant-growers.

According to Barbara Pleasant, author of The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, the orchids which produce "big, showy blossoms" tend to be harder to grow, while those which produce sprays of smaller flowers are a similar difficulty level to other houseplants.

Pleasant believes moth orchids are a good place to start when exploring the orchid family. Speaking to Newsweek she said: "Moth orchids (phalaenopsis hybrids) need less light compared to other orchids, and are often happy growing indoors year-round, near an east window, with bright indirect light. They are great orchids for beginners."

Brian Redman, Sproutl plant buyer and houseplant guru, agreed with this, saying: "The most common orchid is the phalaenopsis (moth orchid) - these generally require brief dry periods between every watering. Long flowering and the perfect entry-level orchid as easy to take care of and produces flowers for months on end.

"This is the most popular orchid and is available in a range of colours and sizes to suit every household."

For a "next stage" orchid, Redman suggested the dendrobium orchids A.K.A. spray orchids, which have similar requirements as the moth orchid.

Marcus Jaye, creative director at TheChicGeek's Fabulous Plants, suggested cymbidium (boat orchids) as another common type which could be attempted by first-timers.

Other options such as oncidium hybrid orchids, known as dancing ladies, are good for those who like to move their houseplants outside in summer, while cattleya orchids (corsage orchids) and paphiopedilium (lady's slipper orchids) are beautiful plants but, according to Pleasant, not the best for beginners.

How To Repot an Orchid

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Repotting an orchid is important every two or three years to give the roots room to grow (stock image used). Getty Images

One of the big moments in a plant's life is repotting, either because it has outgrown its current home or because it will be divided to make new plants.

Knowing when to repot an orchid is key as without it, the roots can become cramped and stop drainage of water.

Lisa Eldred-Steinkopf, The Houseplant Guru, explained how the use of clear plastic pots has made knowing when to repot easier as plant needs are more visible.

She said: "At least every two to three years, it is best to repot an orchid. The orchid potting medium will break down with time and will need to be replaced. At that time, cut off any dead or brown roots, leaving only the healthy roots."

Eldred-Steinkopf also explained that some orchids should not be cut and repotted to send a plant home with your friends.

Sympodial orchids, where their stems grow close to the ground, can be separated out to make new plants. On the other hand monopodial orchids, such as a moth orchid, only grow from one point, meaning can not be easily divided.

Redman also explained orchids should be repotted into a pot which one to two inches larger and allows air circulation.

Pleasant also noted, when it comes to reflowering, some orchids may hibernate over the colder months to then return in the spring.

Warning Signs From Yellow Leaves to Mushy Roots

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The clear pot of an orchid makes it easier to see if there are problems at the roots (stock image used). Getty Images

While many of us may have got to the point of buying an orchid, even repotting it after a time, there comes a point when things may start to go wrong.

Orchids become difficult to manage if you do not know the warning signs to look out for - and what to do if they arrive.

Some of the most common issues are yellowing leaves, but there can be issues with dry buds, mushy roots and wrinkly leaves if orchids are not cared for correctly.

Jaye gave some clear guidance on how to take care of dry buds and yellowing leaves, telling Newsweek: "If your buds dry up and die before they mature into flowers, this could be a sign the orchid needs more humidity or light.

"Orchids are sensitive like their owners, if too much light, orchid leaves may become more yellow, and, not enough, they can become darker."

Redman also said yellow leaves can be a sign of root rot, which is also shown by mushy roots.

To combat this, repot your orchid with new soil and refrain from overwatering.

There are also bugs which can bring problems for an orchid, such as mealybugs.

Eldred-Steinkopf said the best way to stop this is to treat your plant and watch for the clear warning signs.

She said: "Do you see white cottony stuff in the leaf axils? You probably have mealybugs, an insect that is sucking the life out of your plants.

"Is there small brown spots that can be scraped off on your leaves? You probably have scale. Both insects need to be removed and the plant treated for insects with an appropriate method."

She also said wrinkled, floppy leaves are important to watch out for, as this could mean the orchid is dehydrated.

Orchid Care Guide

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Misting an orchid is a way to keep them alive for longer (stock image used). Getty Images

As with any plant, the varied species mean there are different ways to take care of an orchid. An important first step is making sure you know what your type of orchid really needs.

Pleasant explained how bright, East-facing windows are perfect for moth orchids, while even brighter conditions from a South-facing window will be ideal for a spray or dancing lady orchid. The key thing is many orchids need light to thrive, though nothing too direct.

She said: "Keeping any orchid near a window is important, because they prefer a spot where nights are cooler than days. Especially during summer, the most active growth period for orchids, a day/night temperature difference of ten degrees or more is pleasing to orchids and encourages strong bloom."

Jaye agreed with this, also suggesting an ideal spot for it you want to put your orchids outside for the summer months.

He said: "It is best to have indirect sunlight for your prized blooms - indirect sunlight is simply sunlight that has been filtered by bouncing off a wall or through an object before hitting reaching the orchid. If you put them outside for the summer, shelter them under the foliage of another plant or tree."

Redman says with the proper care, i.e. a clear regimen of watering, misting and feeding, orchids can even be a "low maintenance" houseplant.

One of the common killers for orchids is overwatering, so Redman suggests submerging orchids, just to the top of the pot, for 10 to 15 minutes in distilled water before draining and returning to its ceramic pot around once a week.

However, there is a handy tool for "orchid parents" with less time to spare: ice cubes.

He said: "Depending on the season and where the orchid is kept, pop one cube twice a week on top of the potting medium underneath the leaves. Possibly increase to three times a week in very dry/warm conditions."

Misting is also a great way to help recreate an orchid's natural, tropical habitat,while using liquid food in the soil can also help them to live even longer.