So you've got an orchid as a gift ... congratulations! These beautiful flowers are rapidly becoming the most popular potted houseplant, behind only poinsettias at Christmas.
For many people, getting a gift orchid raises a question: What should I do with it to keep it? For many people, their first gift orchid is the beginning of a long-term love affair with these exotic flowers. But it can seem like a long way from that lovely gift orchid to a thriving collection of flowering plants. This article is designed to help you take those first steps.Identify Your Orchid
There are about 30,000 species of orchids in the wild, and more than 100,000 registered hybrids. Yet when it comes to gift orchids, the overwhelming majority are one of two varieties:
- Phalaenopsis, also called moth orchids. These plants have round flowers with a pronounced lip that grow on a single tall stalk arising from a whorl of fleshy, oval leaves. Flowers are usually white, purple or pink, or some combination thereof.
- Dendrobium. Dendrobiums are sometimes called cane orchids. They have smaller flowers that grow in rows on stalks that arise from thick canes, oftentimes with several flower clusters per plant. Flowers are typically white or purple. Dendrobium leaves are narrow and emerge from the sides of the cane.
Knowing the name of your orchid will help you later, after the bloom.First Things First
When you first get your orchid, it will likely be in bloom. Obviously, you want to prolong the bloom as long as possible, so whatever the tag says, here are a few tips that can help.
First, most gift orchids are potted in the wrong conditions for long-term growth. They are potted in plastic and packed with moss around the roots. In fact, orchids typically grow on trees and their roots are water-gathering organs that needs loads of fresh air flow to be healthy. Orchids with wet roots are susceptible to root rot and other problems. But you never want to repot a blooming orchid, especially one that arrived in such a beautiful container. It's too stressful on the plant and it will drop its blooms.
Instead of repotting, it's better to hold off on the water. Don't worry! Most people who are new to orchids think the plants needs loads of water to grow well, but it's just not true. Unless your orchids are growing in the open air, suspended in baskets where they can completely dry out within an hour of being watered, your orchid actually needs very little water. So here's a great piece of advice: every time you think you want to water, wait three days. Or a week. Your plant won't suffer.
Next, don't place your orchid where it will experience cold drafts or exposure to direct sunlight or heating vents. Very dry air, direct heat, and chills are the enemies of your flowers. Your bloom will last longer if you can provide a mild, warm and somewhat humid environment.
Provided your orchid is happy, expect the bloom to last at least a few weeks, sometimes more.After the Bloom
When the bloom is over, it's time to shift your thinking from a "gift plant" to one you want to keep around for a while. This means snipping off the old flower spike near the base (some experts keep these spikes on, hoping it'll rebloom from the same spike, which does sometimes happen). It also means, depending on the season, repotting your orchid into a more friendly container with the right growing medium.
Look below for a list of articles that cover the basics of how to transition your gift orchid to a permanent member of your collection