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Growing Orchids at Home

March 31, 2014

More than eight years ago when I began my career at Longwood as the gardener for the newly renovated East Conservatory, I remember thinking how lucky I was to be working in such a beautiful place. As I toured the Conservatory for the first time as a Longwood employee, one space left me in complete awe—the Orchid House. I had never seen so many different types of orchids being displayed in one area before. Their flowers were so elegant and the fragrance was intoxicating. As the years passed and I walked through the display and growing houses multiple times in a day, I never lost my appreciation for the incredible plants that grow at Longwood, especially in our orchid collection. 

The Orchid House at Longwood Gardens

Last spring, I was fortunate enough to have been selected as Longwood’s Orchid Grower. I never would have thought those beautiful orchids that I admired on my first day of work would later be in my care! Our orchid collection is very diverse, with plants that are native to all areas of the world. The collection even includes some specimens that our founder, Pierre S. du Pont purchased, and others that were given to us from Mrs. William K. du Pont. We work diligently every day to keep the plants at their peak performance by dividing, repotting, watering, and fertilizing. If you have not seen our collection on display in the Orchid House, please plan your visit soon so you can come appreciate our diverse assortment of beautiful orchids. 

Our guests frequently ask me how to properly take care of orchids at home. Many home gardeners are intimidated by orchids, thinking that they are difficult to grow. However, with some simple instructions, many home gardeners will find great success. If you are considering buying an orchid, the most important thing to be aware of is the type of orchid you are purchasing so that you can replicate the conditions of the orchid’s native habitat within your home.

The most common type of orchid in many stores is Phalaenopsis, the moth orchid. These orchids are native to the tropics but are shaded by large trees, so the ideal place to grow this orchid is in an eastern facing window where the plant can enjoy bright sun but not strong afternoon rays. Depending on your home’s humidity, Phalaenopsis typically need to be watered once a week.  It is best to water the plant thoroughly so that water comes out the drainage holes in the bottom of the container, ensuring that all of the growing media has been sufficiently moistened. The best time to repot your Phalaenopsis is after it has finished flowering. When repotting, remove all the old media from the roots of your plant, and replace it with fresh orchid bark that can be purchased at your local garden center. This ensures that the roots of your orchid will be able to absorb the water that they need to maintain a healthy root system, while also having adequate air movement. A common problem experienced by home growers is coaxing their Phalaenopsis to rebloom. Here is a tip: place your orchid in an area where the day temperatures are 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the night temperatures. This will help trigger your plant to send up a flower spike. 

Orchid Care Guide

Use the chart below to determine the correct growing conditions for your orchid. Or, you can download and print this document to keep as a reference.

Orchid Care Guide

General Watering Tips

  1. The #1 cause of death in orchids is overwatering. Each plant has unique water needs that depend on the plant and pot size and the ambient temperature.
  2. Learn to evaluate the dryness of the medium your orchid is growing in. This can be achieved by feeling the weight of the pot (water adds weight), or by touching within the medium to check for moisture.
  3. When in doubt, do not water as most orchids can tolerate drying out for a short time.
  4. Water orchids with tepid water for several minutes, until it drains out of the bottom of the pot. Do not use salt-softened water.
  5. Be sure to let the plant drain completely.

Orchid Resources

Find books, plants, and potting mix at The GardenShop at Longwood Gardens.

Take a class with Longwood Gardens Continuing Education.

Find additional information through the American Orchid Society.

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