Learn what makes orchids so unique, how to identify which orchid species you have, and how to master orchid care in our ultimate guide to orchids.
Orchids are an incredibly diverse plant family that boasts some of the most exotic and beautiful blooms in the world.
It’s not surprising, then, that orchids make wonderful houseplants since they add a special touch to any room with their dazzling colors, intricate flower shapes, lush green leaves, and—depending on the variety—unique fragrances.
The key to growing a thriving and diverse orchid collection of your own is to master a few important orchid-care basics. Once you have the basics covered, you can build on your orchid knowledge, troubleshoot when your plants look distressed and grow an impressive collection of exotic plants that burst into bloom every year.
Let’s dive into what makes orchids unique, how you can identify your orchid species, and which plant- care basics are essential in our ultimate guide to orchids.
What Makes Orchids Unique?
Orchids are unique plants not only for their intricate blooms, arc-like stems, and bold foliage, but also because they come in over 25,000 species (with more than 100,000 varieties available).
Each orchid species grows in a different natural habitat and requires different care, attention, and environmental conditions to thrive. Once you know which orchid species you have, caring for it becomes infinitely more simple.
For a collection of interesting facts about different orchid species, visit our article “Orchids in the Wild: 6 Little-Known Facts About Your Favorite Wildflowers.”
Let’s take a deeper look at some of the most common orchid species so you can identify which type you have at home.
What Type of Orchid Do I Have?
Since the orchid family is the largest family of flowering plants in the world, it’s virtually impossible to cover all traits of all orchid types here. But we are excited to share with you some telltale traits of the most common orchid types available on the market—and the ones most likely to be in your indoor garden.
Phalaenopsis Orchids (Moth Orchids)
The moth orchid is native to Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and northern Australia, but you’ve probably seen these orchids at your local nursery or in your local grocery store. They’re by far the most popular type of orchid available at retailers and big-box stores.
Moth orchids have lush, showy blooms that can last between two and six months. They also boast the classic orchid arc since their primary stem often bends under the weight of its blooms. Moth orchids come in a wide variety of colors, including white, yellow, pink, and purple.
Cymbidium orchids flower abundantly from late winter until early spring. Typically, blooms last between six and eight weeks. They are large plants with strap-like leaves and long sprays of showy flowers. They also have pseudobulbs and thick, fleshy roots.
Dendrobium orchids are native to Asia and are found abundantly in regions of China, Tibet, India, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. They’re easily identified by their delicate flowers that occur along a long stem, often bending it so the plant appears top-heavy. Blooms come in an array of pastel colors.
Cattleya orchids are commonly considered corsage orchids. They have bright, showy blooms that have three sepals, each accompanied by three petals. One petal is typically modified to form a prominent lip that often boasts eye-catching patterns. Unlike most orchids, Cattleya orchids can bloom twice a year.
Cattleyas are native to tropical regions in the Americas, such as Costa Rica and Argentina. They’re popularly grown in greenhouses and other bright and humid indoor environments.
Professional Tip: If you don’t have one of the common orchid varieties listed above, head over to our article “10 Easy-to-Grow Orchid Types for Your Indoor Garden” for additional information on common orchid types.
The Ultimate Guide to Orchids Care Routine: Master the Basics
Once you’ve identified which type of orchid you have (or want to buy), you’ll want to master three key elements in plant care: sunlight, water, and potting mix.
Orchid Potting Mix
Typically, tropical orchids are epiphytes, meaning they don’t grow in regular soil. In the wild, many tropical and subtropical orchids grow clinging to the branches of trees. If you use regular soil or a traditional potting mix for epiphytes, you’ll suffocate their roots and accidentally kill your orchid. For best results, buy an orchid potting mix that is well-draining so as to provide your orchid’s roots with plenty of air.
Professional Tip: A great compliment to well-draining soil is a humidity tray. You can buy a commercial humidity tray for your orchid, or you can make your own by placing your orchid on a saucer filled with pebbles or small stones.
Watering your orchid doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, it can be remarkably simple if you stick to this golden rule of thumb: less is more.
An easy way to know if your orchid needs water is to insert the tip of your finger into the growing mix to check if the mix is dry. If the mix feels damp (or if you’re not sure), then don’t water your orchid. For most orchid types, you should reduce watering during the winter months when your plant goes dormant to prepare to bloom in the spring.
Professional Tip: One of the best ways to ensure you’re not overdoing it is to water your orchid by leaving a few ice cubes in the pot. This slow release of water will prevent root rot and keep your orchid from sitting in water.
Though preferred light levels depend on your orchid type, most epiphytic orchids enjoy bright indirect sunlight.
Place orchids that enjoy bright light in a south- or west-facing window. Place orchids that enjoy low light conditions in an east- or north-facing window. Low-light orchids can also be positioned a few feet from the window so direct sunlight won’t reach the plant.
Professional Tip: Keep in mind that direct sunlight can easily burn your orchid. Some growers choose to put a sheer curtain between the orchid and its light source to diffuse direct sun rays.
It wouldn’t be the ultimate guide to orchids if we didn’t talk about fertilizer!
Set Yourself Up for Orchid-Growing Success With Premium Orchid Fertilizer
Once you’ve identified your orchid species and mastered the basics of orchid care, there’s one more thing you’ll want to do to really lock in your orchid-growing success: use a gentle fertilizer to ensure your plant is well nourished.
Specialized orchid fertilizers are different from traditional plant fertilizers. Their formulas are designed specifically for the unique needs of your orchid plant. The right orchid food will encourage healthy root growth, lush foliage, and reliable blooms.
For best results, keep it simple. And use an orchid fertilizer that isn’t too acidic, and choose one that doesn’t have complicated feeding instructions.
Professional Tip: Use our Premium Orchid Food to nourish your orchid with an easy-to-use spray formula. Simply spray the Orchid Food on your orchid’s leaves, roots, and potting mix every time you water. Then sit back and watch your plant bloom.