With a little research and a solid care plan your orchid can bloom for years.

By Jillian Kramer
August 29, 2019

It seems easy enough to care for an orchid. After all, they thrive everywhere from naturally illuminated greenhouses to fluorescent-lit grocery stores, where they're sold. But, "for first-time orchid growers, mistakes are fairly common," says Bruce Rogers, orchid expert and author of The Orchid Whisperer, Expert Secrets for Growing Beautiful Orchids. Here, we identify the top five mistakes people make with their orchids—take note so you can avoid them.

Related: How to Correctly Prune Your Orchid—Plus, When to Do It

You're winging it.

"Too many orchid growers try to wing it when they first decide to grow an orchid," says David Horak, curator of the orchid collection at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. And when their plant doesn't do well, "they assume orchids are too difficult," he says. A little research—especially around topics like the necessary light intensity, watering frequency, potting media, and temperature ranges—is all you need to create a plan to help your orchid thrive. Horak suggests you seek out the most credible sources, such as local or national orchid societies or experienced growers, to get the best and most consistent advice for your type of orchid plant. "I cannot emphasize enough that no one can ever know too much about what an orchid needs," he says.

You're giving it too much light.

Because people tend to display their orchids where they are most visually pleasing—like in a window—they can often get too much sun and burn, says Rogers. One popular orchid in particular, the Phalaenopsis orchid, requires shade to survive. If you've selected this type of orchid, be sure to "place it where there is bright light, but out of any direct sunlight," Rogers advises. One sign that your plant is getting too much sun: "If your orchid's leaves have turned from green to yellow, then you have probably burned them and the plant should be moved to a shadier location," Rogers says.

You're not giving it enough light.

On the flip side, you might be giving your orchid too much shade, depending on the variety. Dendrobium and oncidium orchids require a lot of bright light, says Rogers. And while they can be placed in the shade for short periods of time, they should be returned to the brighter light of a window or another sunny spot as soon as possible. "If the new leaves and bulbs are smaller than the old leaves and bulbs they are probably not getting enough light," he says. (If you're home doesn't get enough natural light, consider supplementing with an LED grow lamp.)

You're overwatering it.

Overwatering your orchid can be a kiss of death. "Many orchids can go for weeks without water and still survive," says Horak. "But if they are overwatered or watered improperly, they can die within days." While different types of orchids require different amounts of water, "most orchids benefit from being allowed to approach dryness between watering," Horak says. In fact, a good rule is "if you cannot decide if it is dry enough, wait another day," he advises.

You forgot to fertilize it.

"We like to eat, and orchids like to eat," says Rogers, adding that simply watering orchids won't provide them with the nutrients they need. "Without feeding, the plant will become smaller and fail to bloom," he explains. But there's good news: "Orchids will eat any type of plant food," he says, not just the expensive orchid food you'll find at a local nursery. Pick a fertilizer with "trace elements," for the healthiest plant possible, Rogers advises. Most kelp and seaweed fertilizers have trace elements; just check the label before buying.

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