University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Orchids are no more difficult to grow than most other
houseplants when their particular growth requirements are met. This
is the key
to success— make sure that you choose species adapted to your indoor
conditions. Or, simply buy an orchid
already in bloom to just enjoy now. With
proper care, you can get several weeks of bloom from most orchids.
The beginning grower should consider starting with
established plants which should bloom within a year. Seedlings are
expensive but may take up to five years to flower. Natural species
grown, but the hybrids are often more vigorous and less demanding in
Although there are more than 25,000 species growing in
climates ranging from the arctic tundra to the tropical rain forest,
orchids most often cultivated are species from tropical climates.
commonly grouped by cool, intermediate, and warm temperature
on the plants' optimum night requirements (45 to 50 degrees F, 55 to
F, and above 65 degrees F, respectively). For warm homes, consider
Dendrobium, moth orchid (Phalaenopsis),
or Vanda orchids. The moth orchids grow
under similar conditions to African violets, making them one of the
choices for growing indoors.
Some orchids may not bloom if the nighttime and
daytime temperatures are the same.
Consistently warm temperatures are good for vegetative
growth, but may suppress flower development. A 10 to 15 degree
reduction in the night
temperature for two weeks in the fall or spring is needed to
initiate flower development on
Just because orchids may be tropical doesn’t
necessarily mean they come from rain forests.
These species need much more humidity than found in most of our
homes during winter. Some that come from
areas with seasonal dry periods, and so are good in homes with low
include dendrobiums, oncidiums, and the corsage orchid (Cattleya).
Yet dry air may result in failure of
flower buds to open and death of orchids in extreme cases. A
of 60 percent will alleviate the problem. Using a humidifier near
placing them on a tray of pebbles, kept moist, will help most any
orchid in dry
Light is often a factor limiting the growth and
flowering of orchids. Most orchids require relatively high light
and should be grown in an east or south window. However, a few such
orchids will grow well under low intensity fluorescent lights. If
there is too
little light, the leaves become a deep, lush green. With too much
leaves turn yellow-green. For proper
flowering, the leaves should have only a slight yellow tint.
Orchids vary in their water requirements. Many
tropical orchids are epiphytes, growing on the side of trees, and
will not do
well if their roots stay wet. Epiphytes should be grown in a very
porous potting medium such as coarse bark or lava rock.
Terrestrial types rooted in soil, such as one of my favorites with
leaves-- the Jewel orchid (Ludisia)--
require a well-drained, finer textured growth medium. Nutrients must
provided in dilute concentrations when orchids are grown on inert
Moderate air circulation is required for best growth.
Watering frequency depends on the medium in which they
are potted. Most orchids cannot survive prolonged drought and should
often. However, some require a "dry season" of
six to eight weeks to flower, during which watering is
reduced but not stopped. This must occur immediately after
maturation of the
current season's growth.
Orchids are affected by many of the same pests and
diseases as other houseplants. Insects such as mealybugs, scales,
can be controlled with the proper insecticide—there are several
ones as well as simple controls such as soapy water. Good cultural
and the purchase of healthy plants will reduce the chance of
most fungal and bacterial diseases may need control using
Specific orchid needs may be found on the plant label,
from knowledgeable store personnel at full service garden stores, or
and online. Or visit the American Orchid
Society website (www.aos.org) if
you want to
learn more, find local societies, discover resources, or to pursue
orchids as a hobby.