How to grow orchids

Martyn Cox

Orchids are a large and varied family of flowering plants that are perfect for providing a tropical touch to your interior space.



Many species boast amazing blooms, but are tricky to grow and need special care and attention to ensure they flower again, once the initial show of colour comes to an end. If you want to enjoy their exotic flowers, but are worried that they are difficult to look after, don’t despair. There are plenty of fool-proof varieties that will flower their socks off again and again with the minimum amount of fuss.

What orchids to grow

There are many easy-to-grow orchids worth trying. Moth orchids, or phalaenopsis, are available in many vibrant colours and will flower on and off during the year, while oncidiums are a large and varied tribe, with flowers in white, cream, pink and red – some are compact, others form flower stalks up to 1m tall. 

Dendrobiums are show stoppers with a mass of flowers that form on slender, cane-like structures, but perhaps the most floriferous are cymbidiums, whose flowers are held in large sprays on slender spikes. Slipper orchids, or paphipedilum, have flowers that are borne singly or in clusters.

Looking after orchids

The key to looking after orchids, and to ensure they flower again, is to provide them with the correct growing conditions. 

Different orchids have specific requirements, so make sure you place your plant in the right environment and provide it with the necessary light, water and humidity.

Phalaenopsis (moth orchids)

Moth orchids are ideal on an east-facing window sill or another bright spot that is not in direct sunlight. 

To ensure they perform well, water regularly so that the compost remains damp, but avoid overwatering to prevent roots rotting. 

Moth orchids do enjoy high humidity. Either stand on a pebble tray, with a layer of water underneath, or mist leaves with a hand-held spray. 

Do this in the morning so the moisture has a chance to dry out before evening. After the flowers start to fade, cut the stalk back to the second leaf joint from the bottom. A further stalk should form from here and carry more buds to give you another show of flowers.

Oncidium

Place oncidiums in a light position, sheltered from direct sun. Depending on variety, oncidiums need either cool, intermediate or warm conditions, so check you can provide what they needs before buying. 

Cool-loving plants need a temperature of 16°C during the day and a minimum 10°C (50°F) night time temperature, while intermediates thrive in 18-24°C during the day and 13-16°C at night. 

Warm-loving plants need at least 21°C during the day and 16°C at night. Water plants regularly, less so in winter, and use a liquid orchid feed with every other watering.

Cymbidiums

In summer, place cymbidiums in a bright position in a cool room, or place them outdoors, making sure they are sheltered from the sun. Remember to bring them back indoors well before frosts threaten in autumn. In winter, place them in a cool greenhouse, conservatory, porch or put on a south-facing windowsill. 

Keep the compost moist, but reduce watering in winter so plants are kept on the dry side. Add a few drops of specialist liquid orchid feed with every other watering and cut spikes almost to the base when the flowers have faded.

Dendrobium

Most dendrobiums should be placed in a light position with shade from the sun.

 An east-facing windowsill is ideal. Water plants regularly from spring to autumn, less so in winter. It’s important not to overwater or roots can rot. 

Give plants a boost with a liquid feed with every third watering. To raise the humidity around them, either grow several on a pebble tray or mist in the morning with a hand spray, giving the moisture plenty of time to dry out before evening

Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids)

Check plants carefully before you buy - slipper orchids fall into three groups with different temperature requirements. 

Those that like cool conditions need a temperature of at least 16°C during the day and a minimum night time temperature of 10°C (50°F). Intermediates prefer 18-24°C during the day and 13-16°C at night. Warm-loving paphiopedilums need a daytime room temperature of at least 21°C and 16°C at night. They like a light position, such as an east-facing window, but should be shaded from direct sun.

Allow the compost to almost dry between watering and spray occasionally to raise humidity.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.