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Understanding How Orchids Grow

Rainforests are like crowded cities of plants and animals. Trees grow like apartment buildings with many plant residents attached to their branches and trunks. The trees crowd together as they reach for the sun. Plants absorb light, water, and nutrients, and turn sunlight into energy. Rain falls a lot, sometimes in massive downpours, other times in slow drips and drizzles. High humidity, the amount of water vapor in the air, means it is always damp. Breezes move the air, and temperatures fluctuate between daytime warmth and nighttime coolness. Plants, animals, and insects leave debris. These decompose quickly in the high humidity, leaving nutrients that are valuable assets and are consumed quickly.

Orchids are successful in this competitive environment because they grow as epiphytes, living on trees above the rain forest floor. By growing as air plants, orchids are not shaded by dense plant growth on the ground. They also place themselves out of reach from hungry animals and insects that cannot fly or climb. Their sponge-like roots quickly absorb water and nutrients within reach.

Flower pots of bark or moss mimic these conditions.  Orchid roots stay in high humidity, and have air flow around them.  

Quick Guide for Basic Orchid Care

Orchids need six things to bloom. If you cannot identify your orchid, then start with these basic care guidelines:

  1. Light - Give orchids bright light, but no direct sun.
  2. Water - Water them thoroughly once or twice a week -- more when it's warmer, less when it's cooler. Make sure the water drains completely out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. Never leave the plant sitting in water!
  3. Fertilizer - Fertilize them when they are growing.
  4. Air movement - Provide gentle air circulation for the plant.
  5. Humidity - Provide some humidity for the plant; most do not like very dry environments
  6. Proper temperatures - Keep the daytime temperature between 65- 75F /18- 24C with a nighttime temperature drop of a few degrees.
Many orchids require different light levels or different temperatures. If you identify your orchid and provide the conditions it needs, it can grow and bloom for years.