There are over 30,000 species of Orchids around the world in almost all climates.

Shop our Orchid and orchid success products collection in store or online. 

Most are epiphytic, meaning that they live in the upper canopy of rain forests attached to branches of trees or nestled in the junctions of the branches where they attach to the trunks. There are also orchids that live in the ground, terrestrial types. There are rhizomatous growth habits and monopodial growth habits. The plant structure includes leaves, pseudobulbs, rhizomes, roots, flower stems and resting eyes.

The roots of orchids may be air roots or conventional roots. They anchor the plant to a tree or other vertical structure. They breathe oxygen. They take in water and nutrients from soil solutions as well as store both. The classic varieties doing this are the Phalaenopsis and the Paphipedilum.

All orchids use photosynthesis and are controlled by photo-periodism, just like many of our favorite garden plants. The Fall and Winter blooming Orchids are stimulated by short days and cool night to set flower buds on Fall and Winter blooming varieties.   

Many people think that Orchids are very difficult and fussy. On the contrary, Orchids are some of the most resilient plants that we human beings grow. They prefer to grow in a well drained medium consisting of chunk fir bark pieces mixed with long-fiber sphagnum, horticultural charcoal and perlite. This well aerated mixture replicates the growing conditions in the tree axils where bark pieces collect with other organic matter.    

It is recommended to water orchids once per week with low mineral water that is room temperature. The goal is to keep the leaves and the pseudobulbs firm and non-wrinkled.

Water less during the dormant season – late Fall and early Winter before the bloom starts. Much success of failure depends on proper watering.   

Maintenance includes tying up new growths to ring stakes, tying up bloom stems while they are in bloom, cutting off old bloom stems. All tools (pruning shears, razor blades and pruning knives) should be properly sterilized using heat or flame or a strong TSP (Tri-sodium pophate) solution to prevent the spread of fungal of viral diseases.    

Fertilizing Orchids growing in fir bark is essential, as this potting mix ages, it decomposes and uses the nutrients that the Orchids need to grow and produce flowers. For indoor home growing use Dyna-Gro Orchid-Pro 7-8-6 + 11 micro-nutrients, or Dyna-Gro GROW Liquid Plant Food 7-9-5 + 11 micro-nutrients fertilizer every week at the rate of ½ teaspoon per one gallon of water year-round.

For growing in greenhouses of sun-rooms, use a higher ratio of nitrogen like Jack’s 30-10-10, or 10-5-5 or 15-5-15: or Better Grow Orchid Better Bloom 15-35-15 from February to October at 1 teaspoon per one gallon of water every week. From November to January, use Jack’s 20-20-20 every 2 weeks as per plants needs.   

To grow Orchids to bloom abundantly it is necessary to replicate the climate the various types experience where they are native. That means matching the ideal temperature for the various genera. Those ideal temperatures are classified as Warm where 65*F is the minimum temperature. Intermediate has 58*F is the minimum; and Cool is 50 to 55*F minimum. These minimum temperatures usually refer to night temperatures, which can drop significantly when the sun goes down during the Fall and Winter seasons even in a home environment.   

Light is the most critical element, and can help a plant flower beautifully and flower continuously or scorch the leaves. Young plants need less light, as well as large leafed plants, while mature plants and sturdy types need more intense light. A sheer or patterned curtain may be necessary in a South window more so in the Winter than the summer months when the sun is high in the sky. Artificial light is beneficial in combination outdoor light when the days are short in January through March. Adjust the day length to the actual daylight plus 1 hour.   

Humidity is very important and critical in this climate. During the Winter months when the furnaces are running, the forced air can cause the ambient humidity to drop to single digits. Create higher humidity in rooms where Orchids are growing by grouping plants together, closing heat registers that are near the plants, using humidity trays and lowering the night temperatures on the thermostat.   

Air movement and exchange is more beneficial in greenhouse growing conditions rather than home conditions. Use of fans is often more detrimental than beneficial due to the drying effect on the flowers and foliage in the northern Illinois area.    

Insect control is a necessary evil, but is easier with Orchids than many houseplants. Most common Orchid pests are snails and slugs; scale, mealy bugs, aphids, thrips and spider mites (all sucking insects). Treat these possible infestations only when they occur with the specific pesticides as recommended by the manufacturer (always read the label). Systemic liquid sprays are the best for the most effective control. 

Chalet Recommends:

  • BioAdvanced 3-in-1 Insect, Disease & Mite Control – trans-laminar systemic, lasts 30 days in the leaves.
  • BioAvanced Rose & Flower – only insect control – also trans-laminar systemic, lasts 30 days in the leaves
  • Bonide Houseplant Systemic Insecticide granules are useful for mealy bugs hidden in root systems

Re-potting is one of the most intimidating things for most Orchid owners, until they understand why it is so important to the health and performance of their Orchids. Every 1 to 2 years the chunk fir bark potting mixes decompose using all the available oxygen in the root area. As a result, the roots are unhealthy. The plant compensates by producing roots from the stems. That is the Orchids method of telling you, “I need to be re-potted!” Orchids are the only plant that need ALL of the old potting mix removed from the roots and replaced with fresh Orchid mix.

When the roots are exposed, it is the best time to remove any damaged or diseased root tissue using sterilized pruning shears.

Orchids like a much smaller pot than people expect. So, unless the plant has grown larger than 3 times the diameter of the pot, re-pot in the original pot with fresh potting mix in the bottom 2 inches. Wind all the healthy roots into a circle and place them in the pot. Fill in between the roots with the chunk fir bark and press firmly. The junction where the leaves meet the roots should be at the top of the bark level at ½ inch below the top edge of the pot. Water the plant right after re-potting and wait a full week before watering again.  

Use the following special efforts to get stubborn plants to bloom:.

  • More light 
  • Cool nights
  • Low nitrogen food or no food
  • Keep more dry during winter months
  • More space
  • Divide crowded plants to become rejuvenated with stronger new growth.

These are the most important genera for you to know in the order of ease in home care:

(#1 = easiest to #9 = most difficult)

Shop Orchids online here.

  1. Phalaenopsis - grow warm, medium light, bark mix, heavier feeders, annual potting –plastic in September. 
  2. Paphiopedilum - warm or cool, lower light, plastic pots, annually, light feeding.   
  3. Dendrobium phalaenopsis - warm types, bright light, clay pots, small pots, biannual re potting.   
  4. Oncidium - intermediate to warm, medium to bright light, biannual repotting to clay or plastic.   
  5. Epidendrum - intermediate to warm, medium to bright light, biannual repotting to clay or plastic. Some varieties lend themselves to mounting
  6. Odontoglossum, Miltonia, Brassia, Odontocidium,Vuylstekeara - intermediate to cool growing, shady, annual to biannual repotting to plastic pots, less fertilizer.   
  7. Cattleya (BC., LC, SLC, POT.,SC,) - intermediate, bright light, plastic pots, biannual repotting, outdoor growing from May 15 to Sept. 15. here.   
  8. Cymbidium & Dendrobium nobile types - cool, 50* F. nights, bi-annual -3 year repotting on Cymbidium to plastic pots, heavy feeders, bright light   
  9. Vanda, Ascocenda - intermediate to warm growing, humid, bright light, clay pots, or wood baskets in coconut chips media, heavier feeders.

Jennifer Brennan

Jennifer Brennan is the Horticulture Information Specialist, advising and coaching gardeners at Chalet for over 30 years.