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Handy Guide: Orchids

Orchids are found in every corner of the planet and come from the biggest family of cultivated plants on earth: 30,000 wild species.

There are twice as many orchid species as there are species of birds! Orchids have had a 200-year journey from the tropical jungles to become the nation's most popular houseplant.


Photo - Luisa Brimble


In England, by the early 19th century, having a backyard conservatory to house ones orchid collection was a sign of social success. Everybody had to have an orchid. Plant hunters were sent around the world to bring home baskets of rare and exotic plants from the world's wildest areas for botanical gardens and private collectors. Orchidmania was born.

These days, anyone can buy a tropical orchid. Moth orchids are the most popular; but whether they flower again after the initial flush is up to you. Cymbidium orchids are often given to us by relatives or passed down from relatives.


Moth orchid care

The giving of majestic winged moth orchids is common. They often do quite well for a while, lulling their owner into a false sense of security, then gradually fade. Unless they spend their time on a good, warm, light (but not sunny) east-facing windowsill, away from draughts, and not be overwatered, they'll rarely repeat flower. However, if you cut back spent flowering stems to a midway node and feed them, they usually flower again. Never water a moth orchid – only mist the leaves and roots. And never let it sit in water – it’ll only drown.

  • Moth orchids have rambling white roots that produce energy from light, so grow them in clear pots. As a bonus, you are more likely to notice if the roots are too wet or too dry.

  • Moth orchids need bright light, but not direct sunlight, and the ideal room temperature is a steady 20°C.

  • Moth orchids have thick white aerial roots — it's normal for them to escape the pot!

  • You really do only need to mist them once a week, but the water should be rainwater.

  • Every season, fill a bucket with lukewarm rainwater and submerge the whole plant (in its pot) for a few minutes, then stand on a rack to drain for half an hour, before returning it to its container.

  • I like to keep moth orchid pots on a saucer filled with small pebbles and water to increase humidity around the plant.

  • Feed fortnightly or as often as you can with a hand sprayer. Mist leaves with half-strength Aquasol. Orchid buffs could alternate with a seaweed solution.

  • Gas from fruit in nearby bowls can cause flowers to age prematurely.

  • Keep plants out of draughts.


Cymbidium orchid care

My regime centres on their flowering at a time when there is little else to excite me, during the winter months. They spend most of the year in the shade, watered by the rain and fed every month with seaweed and occasionally with half strength orchid feed. In April they come out into the full sun to develop their flower buds, Then I move them back onto the porch in June, where they take centre stage, flowering their socks off until spring.

Kept in light, coolish conditions below 30°C, cymbidiums will flower reliably, with spikes lasting a month or longer. When flowering is finished, cut down the spikes and return the pots to the garden once the danger of frost is over and temperatures stay above 8°C. If the pots are overflowing — but remember, orchids like a tight squeeze — they should be divided after flowering, then mollycoddled a little until they show signs of growth.

  • Most terrestrial orchids, such as cymbidiums, need a special orchid bark mix to grow in, not soil.

  • Water less often during the winter months and don't let them sit in saucers of water.

  • Allow pots to drain completely.

  • Feed with Strike Back pellets during the growing season. Don’t over feed – a few pellets is fine, less is more!

  • When repotting, cut off any brown roots or shrivelled bulbs.