Indoor Orchids Help Beat The Winter BLAHS!


Orchids will add a touch of glamour to those winter blue periods when you start counting the days until spring just for something to do. Most people have had only a passing acquaintance with an orchid, possibly as part of a corsage worn by you or your date to the high school prom or maybe a wedding party.

Their exotic coloration and growth habits add a whole new level of cool to the household. And orchids are cosmopolitan. They can be found in most terrestrial habitats of the world except glaciers. But the tropics harbor most of the known species (28,000+). Most tropical orchid species are epiphytes. That is they grow on tall plants like trees and vines to gain access to sunlight, a scarce commodity in a dense rainforest. But they do not get water or nutrients from them. Orchids from higher latitudes are rooted in soil. And all orchids are often incredibly picky in their habitat preferences. On top of that, European and American horticulturists have produced some 1,000,000 hybrids and cultivars since the 19th Century.

I suggest that you buy one or more orchids from a reputable dealer and raise them indoors. It will be good for the merchants, good for the orchids, and good for you as you embark on a brand new hobby. Everybody wins!

Popular Orchids to Buy

Phalaenopsis (foreground) are the most available orchid at stores in addition to Oncidium (background).

At this point, we have to dive into the practical aspects of orchids and orchid care. Unless you live in or near a big population center abounding with specialty stores, you should order online from a reputable dealer. I recommend going for a big show and buying tropical epiphytes. They are more glamorous and rewarding to grow. Temperate zone natives tend to do better outdoors where they get picked by the neighbor’s kids or chomped by chipmunks or mice.

Best bets for purchase include corsage orchids (Cattelya spp.), boat orchid (Cymbidium spp.), moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.), tropical slipper orchids, (Paphiopedilum spp.) and dancing ladies (Oncidium spp.). Epiphytes such as these may be potted in wood chips or secured to a piece of tree branch or piece of bark that mimics their forest habitat. Epiphytic aerial roots collect water and nutrients from air, rainwater, and organic debris that collects around the plant.  Despite the multiplicity of exotic forms, patterns, and colors, most orchids have no discernible scent.

You should buy mature plants that have blooms and/or live buds. They should be shipped in 4 or 5-inch pots on a wood chip substrate. Barring a shipping disaster they should provide you with instant orchids.

Cymbidium orchids come in shades of ivory, green, orange, pink, purple, and yellow.

Requirements for Home Orchid Care:

  • Position your plants on a bright windowsill facing east or west.
  • Most orchids require water once a week. When the orchid arrives, water thoroughly, then routinely as indicated above thereafter. Do not disturb the planting medium the plant comes in the first year or those first buds/flowers will not bloom!
  • Unless stated otherwise, Indoor air temperature should be no less than 60 degrees F. at night and no more than 90 degrees F. during the day.
  • Unless stated otherwise, Indoor relative humidity should range from 40% to 70%’
  • Feed weekly with a liquid fertilizer designed for orchids. We recommend a 10-10-10 formulation
  • Repotting with fresh orchid mix when your orchid stops blooming for the year. We recommend Black Gold® Natural Organic Orchid Potting Mix.
  • All of this verbiage notwithstanding, You will receive (or should receive) a set of care and maintenance instructions from the nursery. Follow those
Moth orchids are the most common type available at stores.

Happy New Year and please stay safe!

Getting Phalaenopsis and Oncidium to Rebloom

Moth orchids, or Phalaenopsis, are the most commonly sold orchids and easiest to grow.

I think that most of us have walked into a grocery store or the houseplant section of a garden center and seen colorful displays of colorful blooming orchid plants. With their unique and beautiful flowers, it can be difficult not to buy one. Once purchased, it is easy to get hooked on these them because they are easy-care and their flowers can last for weeks, sometimes even months. But, getting them to bloom year after year can take a little more know-how. And, if you are not willing to try on your own, offer your plants to orchid-growing friends.

The Story of Nancy, the ‘Orchid Lady’

If you have lots of plant friends, you can always find someone willing to take an unwanted orchid.

Some indoor gardeners are ‘buy and toss’ types when it comes to orchids. My wife was one of these gardeners. She would buy an orchid plant for our entryway, nurture its blooms, and then throw it out when the flower stems stopped. Each year, I was amazed at the length of time the plant stayed in bloom. When one flower faded, another would soon appear and bloom for many weeks. After a plant had performed so well, it seems a shame to just throw it away because the flowers were gone.

Luckily for us, one day our friend Nancy Klein was visiting, and she noticed one of our flowerless orchid plants headed for the compost pile. I mentioned to Nancy how sad I felt throwing them out, and she offered to take it to see if she could get it to re-bloom. “Yes!” I replied, “of course, you can take it, and let me know if you have success.”

Well, Nancy had success with that plant and many more over the years. She has become our orchid recycle person, and her home is rarely without at least one orchid blooming. We are not the only household that she rescues orchids from, and she has gained a reputation as the ‘orchid lady.’

Nancy’s Five Growing Tips for Phalaenopsis and Oncidium

Smaller-flowered Oncidium is the second most commonly sold orchid available.

The two most commonly sold orchids are moth orchids (Phalaenopsis hybrids) and dancing lady orchids (Oncidium hybrids). Of the two, Phalaenopsis is the easiest to grow and rebloom.  I recently talked with Nancy about her orchid success, and here are some of her tips for getting orchids to thrive and rebloom. She has had much better success with getting Phaelenopsis to rebloom as compared to Oncidium, but she still has some success with Oncidium. It can just take a little more work.

1. Provide Bright, Indirect Light: Nancy does have a sunroom in her house, which has proven to be ideal for growing orchids. She said that she notices that people often put a blooming orchid in a dark corner and orchids need plenty of light to survive and bloom.

2. Trim Off Old Blooms: When someone brings her a Phalaenopsis that is through blooming, Nancy trims off the flower stem to the lowest node or bud below where the last flower was. A new flower stem will appear from this node and a new blooming stem will often appear in about three months.

Each time Nancy waters her orchids, she includes diluted fertilizer formulated for orchids.

3. Plant Orchids in the Right Mix: Nancy uses medium-sized orchid bark as a growing medium, which is best suited for growing moth and dancing lady orchids. (If you grow ground, or terrestrial, orchids, plant them in finer Black Gold Orchid Mix). She repots her orchids every 3-4 years with new orchid bark. She keeps her potted plants in a tray with pea gravel and a small amount of water over the pea gravel to give the plants added humidity.

4. Water Properly. Nancy is lucky. She has low-mineral tap water for irrigating orchids, but most homeowners have hard, mineral-rich tap water which can damage and even kill sensitive orchids. If you have hard water, then watering orchids with distilled water is a better option. Water plants about once a week. She cautions that many people water too often, so once-weekly water is sufficient if you can maintain the humidity around your orchids. Each time she waters, she adds diluted orchid fertilizer.

4. Read About New Orchids and Their Care: Getting the Oncidium to bloom on a regular basis has been a challenge and they have not been nearly as reliable as the annual-blooming Phaelenopsis. This is partly due to the Oncidium genus being very diverse in nature as its habitat can be found from the tropics to areas of high elevation with growing conditions being obviously quite different. Nancy recommends checking the label for specific information. (Click here for The American Orchid Society’s helpful page on Oncidium care, and click here for their definitive page on Phalaenopsis care.)

You will know that it’s time to upgrade an orchid when the fleshy roots fill the pot. Provide it with a slightly larger, well-drained pot, gently release the roots and place them in new bark. Then water thoroughly.

5. Give Orchid Care a Try: After your orchid plant has finished blooming, instead of throwing it away, try holding it over and see if you can get a rebloom. For starters, I would suggest the Phalaenopsis. It can be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is great when you have new blooms coming from your plant and knowing that you were successful.

What’s the Best Potting Medium for Orchids?

“Which is the best medium for potting orchids – orchid bark or sphagnum peat moss?” Question from Susan from Pembroke Pines, Florida.

Answer: Good question! It depends on the type of orchid that you are growing and how it naturally grows in the wild.

Epiphytic orchids grow in trees in the tropics and subtropics. Their large roots cling to bark and tree crevices, so these orchids grow best in a bark-based medium. Some prefer coarse bark and others fine bark; sometimes a top dressing of coarse sphagnum peat moss may be applied to hold in a little extra moisture and improve the pot’s appearance. These orchids require special water-soluble fertilizer for their unique growing needs. (Click here to learn more about potting and transplanting epiphytic orchids.)

Terrestrial orchids grow in the ground like other perennials. Their soil needs vary from species to species. Some naturally grow in bogs and appreciate a sphagnum peat moss mix, while others grow in varying soil types. It is important to research the specific soil needs of the particular orchid you are growing. Black Gold Orchid Mix, which contains both bark and peat moss, is a great option for many potted terrestrial orchids. (Click here to learn more about growing hardy terrestrial orchids.)

Semi-epiphytic orchids or semi-terrestrial orchids spend part of their life cycles has epiphytes or ground-dwelling orchids. These also grow well in Black Gold Orchid Mix.

To learn more about the growing needs of orchids, visit The American Orchid Society‘s website. They offer lots of free educational materials and expert advice on orchid growing.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

When Do I Cut Back Orchid Stems After They Bloom?

“Do I need to cut off the stems after my orchid flowers fall off or will new flowers grow on the stems next year?” Question from Bonnie of Young, Arizona

Answer: It depends on the health and blooming stage of the flowering stem. If the stem/s are still green, prune off the spent flowers to about 1-inch above the closest node on towards the bast of the stem; this may encourage further flowering. If your spike/spikes are beginning to turn brown, prune them all the way back to the base of the plant. Always use clean, sharp shears to prune off old stems, and sterilize the shears in a 10% bleach solution before pruning another orchid. This will reduce the risk of cross-contamination if one of your orchids happens to have a disease.

Always keep a lookout for keikis. On occasion, certain common orchids will develop little plantlets on their flowering stems, called keikis. These can be nurtured, removed, and replanted as entirely new plants! (Click here to learn more about keiki removal.)

Once your orchid has finished flowering, it needs a rest before it will bloom again. The length between blooming will depend on the type of orchid you are growing. But, in general, slightly decrease the growing temperature for the orchid, and give it good care and fertilization. (Click here to learn more about how to get certain orchids to rebloom.)

Please let me know if you have any additional questions about the specific orchids you are growing!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist


Getting Orchids to Rebloom

Phalaenopsis g. Baldan’s Kaleidoscope is one of many beautiful moth orchids.

It’s a common story. You are given an orchid as a gift. It blooms beautifully for a month or so, and then it stops, never to bloom again. You may be tempted to throw it away, but don’t. It may seem like a challenge, but getting your orchids to rebloom is not as difficult as it seems.

Most cultivated orchids purchased at the store represent three common genera popular with beginners:  Cattleya (corsage orchids), Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids), and Phalaenopsis (moth orchids). Orchid bloom habits depend on the type of orchid, but most of these easier-to-grow types bloom yearly, with good, balanced care. The key is getting all factors right—light, moisture, fertilizer, temperature and potting mix.



Cattleya bloom yearly producing some of the largest orchid flowers of all, and like most orchids, the flowers can persist for weeks when in bloom. In the wild, these tropical or subtropical plants are adapted to grow on trees where their thick roots cling to trunks. Because rain is not always plentiful, they have bulbous leaf sheaths (pseudobulbs) that hold water. When full they are plump and round, and as they lose water they deflate and wrinkle.

The trick to getting Cattleya to bloom is consistent good care. In the home, they grow best when planted in a bark medium and placed in areas with bright, indirect light and warm air with 40% to 70% humidity. Bright filtered light is recommended for best growth—happy plants should have medium green leaves. Planting in a porous, well-drained pot filled with coarse bark, such as medium-sized orchid bark, is recommended. The leaves of healthy plants should be solid medium green.

Too much or too little water can cause dire problems, so plan to irrigate plants once weekly by drenching the bark medium fully, then allowing it to drain. Many recommend watering in the morning to allow plant leaves to dry out during the day. These are very light feeders, so feeding with a balanced fertilizer formulated for orchids is recommended only once every one or two years. If one or more of these factors is not met, your Cattleya won’t flower. Potting should be done every three to four years for plants to thrive and bloom to their fullest.


Paphiopedilum henryanum

Unlike Cattleya, these tropical slipper orchids are semi-terrestrial, meaning they can grow on trees or in highly organic soils at the base of trees in the jungle environments where they originate. They thrive in warm temperatures, filtered light, and require soil that is moist yet highly organic and well drained, such as Black Gold Orchid Mix, which works beautifully for semi-terrestrial orchids. Blooming occurs once yearly, but flowers can last for one to two months. For best performance repot plants every two to three years in fresh medium. Happy plants have leaves that are rich green–many selections are mottled with dark spots. If leaves develop reddish hues, they are getting too much light.

As with Cattleya, flowering is encouraged by good care, but regular, a light feeding with a balanced fertilizer formulated for orchids is also appreciated by Paphiopedilum, in addition to even, light moisture at the root zone. If plants still refrain from blooming, try giving them a little more light. Though they are considered “low light” orchids, a boost of bright, completely filtered light may do the trick to encourage flowering. A slight drop in nighttime temperature may also kick start flowering.



The most common orchids sold in commerce by far are moth orchid, so it should come as no surprise that they are also some of the easiest to encourage to flower. Even better, their flowers can last for months, providing continuous color for your home. Like Cattleya, these tropical orchids naturally grow in trees, so they grow best in a porous bark medium.

Low to medium filtered light is required for good blooming and growth. Olive green leaves are what you should see in a healthy Phalaenopsis. If the leaves develop a red tint, move them to a place with lower light. Weekly fertilization with a very light concentration of a balanced fertilizer formulated for orchids will also encourage good growth and heavy flowering at bloom time. A combination of good airflow and high humidity is also recommended. Repot plants every three years or when roots become too crowded for the pot.

Cutting Back Old Flowers

Old, spent orchid flower stems often persist on plants. To make way for even bigger flowers in years to come, cut back old stems to the base of the leaves. If the stem/s are still green, prune off the spent flowers to about 1-inch above the closest node on the flowering stem; this may encourage further flowering. If your spike/spikes are beginning to turn brown, prune them all the way back to the base of the plant. Always use clean, sharp shears to prune off old stems, and sterilize the shears in a 10% bleach solution before pruning another orchid. This will reduce the risk of cross-contamination if one of your orchids happens to have a disease.

Maintaining orchids that flower yearly is not as daunting as it seems. With average, consistent care, a happy indoor orchid should bloom again and again. And if you run into trouble along the way, be sure to ask an expert. The American Orchid Society offers lots of free educational materials and expert advice.

Growing Orchids Indoors for Winter Color

Growing Orchids Indoors 01 - Photo by Rich Baer

In spite of the internet and its excess information, one of the last holdouts for actual paper catalogs must be the garden seed companies. When they start to arrive in my mailbox (a real, old fashioned mail box that gets paper letters and catalogs), I know that spring cannot be far away. Just looking at the front covers of these catalogs gets my mind thinking about what I am going to do this year in the garden!

But back to reality: this is January, winter is still here and since we do not have much color outdoors, it is nice to see something blooming in the house. Have you given any thought to growing orchids indoors for winter color in your home? We see blooming orchids at many grocery stores and they are often purchased for their flowers, which last for weeks, and then unfortunately the plant is discarded. Often orchids are overlooked as a permanent house plant, perhaps because of an undeserving reputation of being ‘fussy’ or hard to grow and that is not the case. Orchids do have some unique growing requirements, but certainly nothing that is difficult to learn.

Probably the most unique aspect of growing orchids indoors is that they grow best in an orchid bark rather than a traditional potting soil. Lucky for us Black Gold has the products needed to grow orchids in a home setting. Orchids need extremely fast drainage and often the plants are grown in an actual bark type medium. Black Gold has a quality bark/media mix called Black Gold Orchid Mix that is great for cultivating many orchids. The unique orchid mix is a blended combination of small bark, Canadian Sphagnum peat moss and perlite and/or pumice. There is a small amount of lime added and so this product is ready to use.

Growing Orchids Indoors 02 - Photo by Rich Baer

Many orchid growers like to use just bark as a potting medium and others like to use bark and blend it themselves with pumice or perlite and sometimes even adding small amounts of charcoal.  Charcoal is excellent for helping with aeration and charcoal has the ability to help remove excess moisture.

Black Gold Orchid Mix is good for semi-terrestrial orchids, such as Paphilopedium and Cymbidium, which tend to have thinner roots that need more water retention. Compare this to orchid bark, which is perfect for epiphytic orchid for types like Odontoglossum, Phalaenopsis, and Cattleya and other medium rooted varieties. A note here about orchid roots and that is many orchid plants have a tendency to send out roots above the soil or bark level in the pot and these roots will grow and often extend out over the side of the pot. These roots should NOT be cut off as they are helpful to the overall vigor of the plant.

Growing Orchids Indoors 03 - Photo by Rich Baer

Lisa Long of St. Helens, Oregon is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and has been growing orchids indoors and out for nearly 20 years. She grows orchids on her windowsill in trays of pebbles. A small amount of water is in each tray with the level of it being just below the bottom of the orchid pot. The water will supply much need humidity in a dry indoor environment. The windowsill offers the light conditions they need; bright light but indirect sunlight in the summer. Also, try to keep the plants away from an area with drafts whether it is a door, window or heating vent.

Lisa waters her plants weekly and uses a weak strength of a water soluble plant food. She suggests new orchid growers join a local orchid society if there is one in your area. You can learn many tips from those that have been growing orchids. Learn what species you have and follow a water and fertilization schedule depending on the particular requirements that species has.  Overwatering is the most common cause of orchid death. Lisa also reports that orchids, as well as many other house plants, will benefit from a weekly dusting. Lightly wipe the leaves with a damp paper towel. She also recommends re-potting them about once every year and add fresh bark or whatever potting medium you are using. When you re-pot one, select a pot that is just the next size larger.

Growing Orchids Indoors - 6 up - Photos by Lisa Long

With the vast number of varieties available, it is possible to have orchids in bloom at any month of the year. Do not be discouraged if the plant you bought from a local store does not repeat bloom for a year, or even two. This is not unusual and as long as the plant is healthy, it is just getting settled into its’ new environment.

So the next time you buy a blooming orchid, do not consider it a dispensable, one-time blooming plant to discard when the flower is gone. Instead, treat it with some tender care and you could have a plant that will continue to grow, thrive and bloom for many years.

Photos courtesy of Rich Baer and Lisa Long