Botanical Basics: Orchids

Orchids have a bit of a reputation for being fussy, often deterring the casual admirer, however, armed with a little knowledge, anyone can cultivate an awesome orchid nearly year round. Today we will be covering care basics for the most common and easy-to-grow orchids. Orchids are not your typical houseplant, and do not usually grow in potting soil.  In nature, most orchids are epiphytes, meaning they are found attached to trees by their roots. Orchids absorb water and nutrients from the air, rain, and debris that accumulates at their base. There are hundreds of genera of orchids, and they are indigenous to regions all over the world.  Hawaii only has three native orchids and they are all quite inconspicuous and quite rare.  The orchids you will frequently find at Paiko are Phalaenopsis, Grammatophyllum, Intergeneric hybrids, and Lady Slippers.

image-1 - Orchid Blog group

Orchid FAQ

1. Do I need to provide humidity for my orchid?

Orchids enjoy moist air, with a humidity level of 55-75%. Luckily for us, Oahu’s average humidity generally falls within this range, so no additional steps to increase humidity are needed.

2. How do I know if my orchid is getting enough light?

Orchids flourish indoors in indirect light. The leaves of your plant can help you decipher whether the plant is getting the proper amount of light. Grassy green leaves indicate that your plant is receiving enough light to bloom, whereas a plant with dark green leaves could use more light.  Inadequate light can prevent your orchid from flowering, although it will still grow. Intergeneric hybrids will tolerate a wide range of light, but watch out for black spots on the leaves, which indicate the plant is getting too much light.

3. How often should I water my orchid?

Ideally, orchids should be watered enough to keep a little continuous moisture just below the surface medium.  It is important though to not to overwater, as overwatering is probably the leading cause of orchid death. Healthy moisture levels can be achieved by thoroughly watering your plant once a week. Lady Slippers are a bit different from other orchids in that you do not want your potting mix to dry out between watering.

A good watering technique is to run the pot under water until the medium is saturated, and then allow it to drain completely before returning it to a shelf or table. If you are little lazier, the ice method of watering might be the best choice for you. This method is as simple as “watering” your plant with three ice cubes (approximately ¼ cup of water) once a week. Larger plants may require more cubes.  The ice will melt slowly, distributing the water throughout the soil without leaving a pool of water at the base.

To tell if your orchid is getting the proper amount of water, take a close look at it. If the roots are green, your orchid is well watered. If the roots appear white or grayish, or the foliage is wrinkling, then the orchid can use some more water. Yellowing leaves can indicate overwatering, so let your orchid dry out thoroughly before you water again.

4. Does my orchid need to be fertilized?

You can fertilize your plant once a month with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Orchids don’t need large doses of fertilizer, so err on the side of ‘less is more’.

5. What do I do with my orchid now that the flowers are dead?

Once your orchid is done blooming, there are several things you can do:

A.)   Take the wait and see approach; your plant may produce new buds at the end of an old flower spike.

B.)    Locate a node (a triangular shaped area on the stem), and trim your flower spike just above it. This may encourage the orchid to generate new flower spikes.

C.)    You can also remove the entire flower spike one inch from the base of the plant. By doing this, more energy will go into the leaves and roots. This will strengthen your plant to produce a new flower spike.

Encourage your orchid to bloom again by moving it to an area where the night temperatures are slightly lower than their current environment. Once your plant begins producing new flowers, avoid changing the plant's orientation to the light. This will keep the flowers from twisting on the stem and give you an even, arching flower cluster.

6. When does my orchid need repotting?

Orchids should be repotted every other year after blooming has completed. This will ensure that your roots are healthy and prevent root rot from old, soggy medium. Remove old medium from the roots, and trim off rotted roots. An unhealthy root will be slimy or feel hollow, whereas a healthy root will be firm. Once this is accomplished, you can put the orchid back in the same pot with new medium-grade wood bark. Water your orchid sparingly until new roots are established.

Repotting can also be a useful way to save an unhealthy plant. If your orchid wilts, falls out of the pot, or has pale or wrinkled leaves, repot with new potting mix.  If you have other concerns about the health of your plant, you can contact Paiko for further troubleshooting, or check out the American Orchid Society website (, which is a great source for orchid information and events.

More Botanical Basics: Protea. More Orchids: Modern Weddings Hawaii, White Cymbidium Orchids