Known for their exquisite blooms, orchids are one of the most commonly grown houseplants. Without a doubt though, orchids are notorious for being difficult to grow when in reality this isn't' the truth at all. Yes, there are some varieties that are more challenging than others but overall orchids are really tough, rugged plants that thrive in homes when given the right conditions.
If you want to try your hand at growing orchids it's important to know that there are some key differences in tending to them versus other plants.
1. Well-draining growing media
This is one of the most important aspects of growing orchids! They should not be planted in typical potting soil or topsoil from the garden; orchids need to be planted in a growing media that drains excess moisture really, really well while staying somewhat moist overall. Commonly used mediums are redwood or fir bark, rocks, cork, sand, charcoal, or peat moss. Commercially purchased growing media consists of coarse perlite, fir bark, and sphagnum peat moss.
2. Shallow planting
Orchids are naturally tree dwellers and have very shallow, lateral root systems. To mimic their natural habit plant them with their roots quite close to the surface of the growing medium.
3. Dry out between waterings
Water your orchid plants well when they need water, the growing media will absorb what it needs and allow the excess to drain out. Then allow the growing media to dry down considerably before watering again. The best way to check the moisture level is to stick your finger about 1" down in the growing media; if the top 1" is dry it's time to water! Your orchid will handle being neglected and you forgetting to water it better than being overwatered.
4. Bright, indirect light
These plants love bright light, but indirect light. They do best when situated by a window with either eastern or southern sun exposure. According to Beautiful Orchids, leaves should be bright green; if they are dark green your plant needs more light and reddish green means they are getting too much light.
5. Lower nighttime temps
Another big difference between orchids and other typical houseplants is orchids prefer a marked difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures. Most houseplants like a consistent temperature day and night; orchids like to see the temperature drop 10-15 degrees at night to encourage blooming.
6. Maintain adequate humidity
Originating in tropical climates, orchids prefer higher humidity levels to thrive. Keep the ambient humidity between 50 and 70% to keep the plants healthy. If you live in a dry climate you can add extra moisture to the air by running a humidifier close to your plants, or set them in pebble trays that are consistently filled with water.
7. Constant airflow
Accustomed to growing in trees, orchids do not tolerate stagnant air very well. They prefer slight air flow, especially when grouped together with other plants. The constant air movement helps to also keep insect pests from settling down in the crevices of the plants.
8. Fertilize lightly, weekly
Feeding your orchid regularly isn't a high priority; after all, they receive little nutrients in their natural environment. Orchids will benefit from being fed lightly on a regular schedule but be careful as they are very sensitive to salts (and fertilizer is a salt). If your plant is dormant or not putting out new growth it's not necessary to give them any fertilizer.
9. Repot every other year
Unlike other plants, orchids don't need to necessarily be repotted because they are outgrowing their current "home". Instead, you should repot your orchid every other year to give it fresh growing media. Orchid Bliss gives great instructions on repotting orchids if you're unsure what to do.