Beginner’s Guide to Orchid Care: Basics You Need to Know

Orchids are one of the most popular and beautiful flowering houseplants, with over 25,000 species in the orchid family. While they have a reputation of being difficult to grow, orchids can thrive with proper care. This beginner’s guide covers the basics of orchid care, from choosing the right orchid to watering, fertilizing, pruning, and troubleshooting common problems. With the right information, even novice gardeners can keep gorgeous orchids blooming year after year.

Choosing an Orchid

When selecting your first orchid, go for varieties that are well-suited for beginning growers. Phalaenopsis, also known as moth orchids, are a great first orchid. They come in a wide range of colors and flower shapes, are adaptable to home environments, and with proper care can re-bloom for months or years. Oncidiums and Miltonias are also good choices, as they are less fussy than some orchid varieties.

When shopping for an orchid, look for plants with:

  • Several healthy pseudobulbs – the thickened stem that stores water and nutrients for the plant.
  • Green, firm leaves – avoid plants with yellowing, wrinkled, or drooping leaves.
  • 3-5 unopened flower buds on a mature spike – this indicates it has not finished flowering and will continue blooming.
  • Good air circulation – choose an orchid with adequate spacing between leaves to allow air circulation.
  • Proper pot and potting medium – orchids prefer specialized bark mixes and pots with ample drainage. Avoid plants potted in soil.

Starting with a healthy plant from a reputable nursery or greenhouse gives your orchid the best chance of thriving. The American Orchid Society offers an orchid care guide with photos of what to look for when selecting an orchid.

Orchid Care Basics

Caring for orchids mainly involves mimicking the warm, humid, and well-draining environment they would find growing on trees in tropical forests. Follow these guidelines to keep your orchids healthy and blooming.


Bright, indirect light is ideal for most orchids. An east, west, or lightly shaded south window works well. Make sure the sun’s rays never hit the leaves directly, as this can scorch them. Supplement with artificial lighting if needed to give your orchid 10-14 hours of light per day.

Signs of too much light are yellowing or reddish leaves. Leaves that are dark green indicate the plant needs more light exposure. Adjust the orchid’s position until you find the sweet spot.


Orchids prefer daytime temperatures of 70°F-85°F and around 60°F at night. Keep them away from hot and cold drafts from windows, air vents, or exterior doors. A humidity tray filled with pebbles and water can boost moisture levels around the plant. In dry enviroments, run a humidifier nearby.


Water thoroughly once the potting medium becomes dry to the touch, about once a week in most home environments. Water first thing in the morning to allow it to fully drain before nightfall. Never let the roots sit in waterlogged soil. The pot should have drainage holes and you can place pebbles in the saucer beneath to keep the roots elevated.

The leaves can guide you – if they start to wrinkle or droop, it’s time to water. Leathery, limp leaves can indicate under-watering. Rotting stems and roots, fungus gnats, and yellow leaves can signal over-watering. Adjust your schedule accordingly.


Use a balanced orchid fertilizer or diluted regular houseplant food every 2-4 weeks while the plant is actively growing. Reduce feeding during winter months. Always follow label directions to avoid fertilizer burn.


Orchids prefer tight pots and hate having their roots disturbed. Repotting should only be done when absolutely necessary, about every 2-3 years. Slip the orchid out of its container and trim any dead roots. Repot into fresh orchid mix, making sure the base sits just below the pot’s rim.


Remove fully faded flowers by clipping the stem above the node. Prune old flower spikes back to the base. Trim any yellowing or damaged leaves and stems with sterilized shears. Take care not to cut healthy green tissue.


Humidity levels of 40-60% suit most orchids best. Run a humidifier, place the orchid pot on a water-filled pebble tray, or mist the plant daily to supplement humidity. Avoid wetting the leaves, as this can encourage fungal diseases. Ensure any water drains freely from the crown of the plant.

Orchid Varieties

Beyond popular phalaenopsis, there are hundreds of orchid types to explore. Here’s an overview of some other common varieties and their care needs:


With large, showy blooms in white, pink, yellow, red, and purple, cattleyas are one of the most coveted orchids. They prefer bright light and abundant moisture while actively growing. Let them dry out between waterings in winter.


Known as the “dancing lady” orchid for their winged flowers borne on arching stems, oncidiums come in yellow, bronze, or mahogany colors. Provide medium to high light, reduce watering in winter, and watch for pests like scale and mealybugs.


Vandas produce stunning sprays of flowers on ascending stalks. Give them high light and humidity levels. Water heavily and fertilize year-round. Vandas do best mounted rather than potted.


Extremely diverse dendrobiums display flowers that range from compact to cascading. Their care varies widely – some require a dry winter rest while others prefer even moisture. Most appreciate bright light.


Cymbidiums carry abundant blooms on long, arching sprays. Grow them in bright light with regular watering and feeding while active, and drier conditions in winter. Protect them from temperatures below 50°F.


Also called the pansy orchid, miltonias produce wide, flat flowers in striking colors. Provide medium to bright indirect light, high humidity, and allow to dry somewhat between waterings. Give a light feeding every month.

Troubleshooting Common Orchid Problems

Even with proper care, orchids can occasionally suffer setbacks. Here are some common issues and how to get your plant thriving again:

Problem: Yellowing leaves

Cause: Overwatering, insufficient drainage, or excessive light

Solution: Allow soil to dry out further between waterings, improve drainage, or provide shade

Problem: Drooping leaves

Cause: Underwatering

Solution: Water more frequently, especially in hot weather

Problem: Dropping buds and flowers

Cause: Insufficient humidity

Solution: Mist plant daily or use a humidifier

Problem: Fungal diseases

Cause: Excess moisture on leaves

Solution: Water orchid more carefully to avoid wetting leaves, increase air circulation

Problem: Wrinkled leaves

Cause: Underwatering

Solution: Water thoroughly when potting mix becomes dry

Problem: No new blooms

Cause: Insufficient light or fertilizer

Solution: Move plant to a brighter location and fertilize regularly

If problems persist, you may need to repot into fresh mix, prune damaged roots, or treat for pests. Isolate affected plants to prevent spreading issues. With attentive care and prompt troubleshooting, your orchids will continue gracing your home with their spectacular blooms.

Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Orchids

Many new orchid growers have questions about properly caring for these beautiful plants. Here are answers to some of the most common orchid care FAQs:

How often should I water my orchid?

Orchids should be watered about once per week, whenever the potting mix becomes dry to the touch. Water first thing in the morning and never let water stand in the saucer or pot. The size of the pot, material, environment, and type of orchid all affect watering needs.

What type of potting mix should I use?

Orchids prefer a loose, airy potting mix made of fir bark, sphagnum moss, charcoal, or other porous ingredients that provide drainage. Avoid soil-based mixes. Specialty orchid mixes can be found at most garden centers.

How can I get my orchid to re-bloom?

Ensure adequate sunlight, continue regular watering and feeding, and prune back the flower spike after blooms fade. Some orchids rebloom on old spikes while others produce new spikes. Maintaining the right conditions can encourage reblooming for many years.

Should I mist my orchid?

Light misting can help boost humidity levels around the plant. Avoid wetting the leaves and crown directly, as this can encourage rot. Ensure any water drains freely from the base of the plant. Use pebble trays or humidifiers to add moisture to the air instead of misting.

What temperature is best for orchid growth?

Ideal temperatures are 70°F-85° during the day and around 60°F at night. Avoid placing orchids near hot and cold drafts. Move plants outdoors in summer if the temperature does not exceed 90°F. Bring orchids back inside before temps dip below 50°F.

How much light do orchids need?

Most household orchids grow best in bright, indirect light. An east or west window is often ideal, with southern exposure lightly shaded. Supplement with artificial lighting if needed to provide 10-14 hours of light per day. Adjust placement to prevent leaf scorch or yellowing.

Should I cut orchid flower spikes after blooming?

It’s generally best to leave the spike intact after flowers drop. Many varieties will rebloom from the existing spike. Cut the stem back if it turns brown or when new growth emerges from the base. Removing spent spikes encourages new blooms.

What causes bud blast and how can I fix it?

When orchid buds turn yellow and fall before opening, it’s known as bud blast. This is typically caused by stressors like insufficient humidity, over-watering, pests, or extremes of temperature or light. Addressing culture issues can prevent future bud blast.

How often should I fertilize my orchid?

Use a balanced orchid fertilizer or diluted standard houseplant food every 2-4 weeks during the growing season. Reduce feeding in winter, as growth slows. Always follow label directions carefully to avoid fertilizer burn.


Adding an orchid or two can bring elegant, exotic blooms into any environment. Their sculptural foliage and delicate cascades of flowers decorate a home year-round. While orchids have a reputation for being difficult, these aesthetic plants can thrive with attentive care. By understanding their preferences for bright, humid conditions with an airy potting mix, even novice growers can keep them flowering continuously. Adjust water, light, and feeding to match your orchid’s needs through the seasons. With the basics covered in this guide, you’ll be ready to try your hand at growing these graceful beauties.

Beginner’s Guide to Orchid Care: Basics You Need to Know

Orchids are beloved for their extraordinary flowers, from elegant cattleyas to cascading moth orchids. With the right care techniques, these exotic houseplants can thrive indoors and delight you with blooms year after year. This beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know to successfully grow orchids in your home.

Selecting a Healthy Orchid

When choosing an orchid, look for these signs of good health:

  • Several plump, green pseudobulbs – the thickened stems that store water and nutrients.
  • Firm, unblemished leaves in a deep green color. Avoid yellowing or wrinkled leaves.
  • 3-5 unopened buds on a mature flower spike, indicating more blooms to come.
  • Adequate spacing between leaves for air circulation.
  • Proper orchid pot and potting mix – not regular soil which stays too wet.

A reputable nursery or greenhouse will offer healthy, mature plants that are already acclimatized to home conditions. The American Orchid Society provides helpful guidance on what to look for when selecting an orchid.

Providing the Right Growing Conditions

Orchids thrive when you recreate the warm, humid, tropical environment of their native habitat:


Bright, filtered light keeps orchids flowering. An east or west window is ideal. Move the plant to avoid direct afternoon sun, which can burn leaves. Supplement with grow lights if needed.


Orchids prefer daytime temperatures of 70°-85°F and around 60°F at night. Keep them away from hot and cold drafts.


Water thoroughly once the potting mix becomes dry to the touch. This is usually once a week in household conditions. Always water first thing in the morning.


Orchids prefer 40-60% humidity. Use a humidifier, pebble tray, or daily misting to boost moisture levels around the plant.

Air Circulation

Good air movement prevents fungal diseases. Choose an orchid with adequate spacing between leaves and avoid overcrowding plants.

Recreating the orchid’s preferred environment keeps your plant healthy and floriferous. Adjust conditions as needed through the seasons.

Basic Orchid Care Tasks

Follow these guidelines for the care an orchid needs to thrive:


Water orchids once a week when the potting mix feels dry to the touch. Water thoroughly in the morning and never let pots sit in water.


Use diluted liquid orchid fertilizer or houseplant food every 2-4 weeks while actively growing. Reduce feeding in winter.


Repot orchids every 2-3 years when roots or media are degraded. Trim dead roots and repot into fresh orchid potting mix.


Trim spent flower spikes back to the base. Remove old flowers and faded or damaged foliage and stems. Use sterile pruners.


Mist orchid daily, place on a humidity tray, or use a humidifier to maintain 40-60% humidity. Avoid wetting the leaves and crown.

With proper care tailored to your plant, orchids will reward you with exotic blooms year after year.

Common Types of Orchids for Beginners

Beyond the popular moth orchid (Phalaenopsis), there are many easy-growing orchids suitable for beginners:


Known as “dancing lady” orchids, oncidiums produce sprays of yellow, bronze, or brown blooms. Provide medium to bright light and air circulation.


The lovely pansy orchid displays wide, flattenend flowers in sunset shades. Give medium to high light and humidity. Allow to dry slightly between waterings.


Cymbidiums produce abundant blooms on arching stems. Site in bright light, water regularly while active, and drier in winter.


The diverse dendrobiums include compact and cascading flower shapes. Light and watering needs vary widely – some prefer a winter rest period.


Cattleyas are coveted for their large, showy blooms in white, pink, purple, yellow, and red. Give abundant light and moisture while growing.

Troubleshooting Common Orchid Problems

Even healthy orchids can occasionally suffer setbacks. Here’s how to diagnose and treat common issues:

Yellowing Leaves

Cause: Too much light, overwatering, or poor drainage.

Solution: Provide shade, allow to dry out more, or improve drainage.

Drooping Leaves

Cause: Underwatering, especially in hot conditions.

Solution: Water more frequently.

Dropping Buds

Cause: Lack of humidity.

Solution: Increase humidity through misting, pebble trays, or humidifiers.

Fungal Disease

Cause: Excess moisture on leaves.

Solution: Water more carefully, increase air circulation.

Wrinkled Leaves

Cause: Underwatering

Solution: Resume regular watering when mix is partly dry.

No New Blooms

Cause: Insufficient light or nutrients.

Solution: Move to a brighter spot, fertilize regularly.

With prompt troubleshooting, you can get your orchid thriving once again. Re-blooming takes patience but is well worth it!

Frequently Asked Questions About Caring for Orchids

Growing these exotic beauties does come with some common questions. Here are helpful answers:

How often should I water my orchid?

Water about once weekly whenever potting mix becomes dry. Pot size, environment, and orchid type affect water needs.

What potting mix is best?

Orchids need an airy, fast-draining mix like fir bark, sphagnum, or orchid potting blends. Avoid soil mixes.

How do I get my orchid to re-bloom?

Ensure adequate sunlight, continue regular care, and cut back spent spikes. Meeting the orchid’s needs encourages reblooming.

Should I mist my orchid?

Light misting can boost humidity but avoid wetting leaves and crown directly. Use pebble trays or humidifiers instead.

What temperature do orchids