Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Orchids RSS feed


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published September 25, 2016

Today, you can go into almost any store that sells houseplants and find blooming orchids available for sale at reasonable prices. Orchids are no longer exotic plants grown only in the tropics or by experts with greenhouses. You and I can grow them fairly easily in our homes, but their care does differ from that of other houseplants.

Most of the approximately 28,000 species of orchids are epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow upon other plants but do not obtain water or nutrients from those plants. In their natural habitat, epiphytic orchids typically grow on tree trunks and branches. They hang onto their hosts with thick aerial roots and utilize those roots to absorb water and nutrients found on the surface of the bark. In addition, these thick roots store water and are capable of photosynthesis.

The roots of epiphytic orchids are covered with a protective spongy layer of dead tissue called velamen. The velamen plays an important role in the absorption of water and nutrients by these aerial roots and it also protects the roots from UV-B radiation. If you remove an epiphytic orchid from its pot, the velamen on the roots will be white when the roots are dry and transparent when moist and full of water.

Because the roots of epiphytic orchids are not typical houseplant roots, orchids cannot be grown in the typical potting media used for houseplants. They require special orchid media that provides conditions similar to those found on the bark of a tree. The media must furnish generous aeration, allow for good drainage, and retain some moisture. There are commercial orchid mixes available containing coarse fir bark and perlite, but orchid experts often create their own mix using a variety of materials that meet the specific needs of their orchids. Experts also use special orchid pots that provide plenty of aeration to the roots. These plastic or clay pots have slots on the sides for aeration in addition to holes in the bottoms for drainage.

Orchids that die at the hands of their owners usually fail either because they were watered incorrectly or they were not repotted when necessary. Orchid roots must have moisture and air. Orchids should be watered whenever the potting mix starts to dry out. When watered, good drainage is essential because orchid roots should not be allowed to sit in water.

Orchid media gradually breaks down and deteriorates, no longer providing the needed aeration. Because of this, orchid experts recommend repotting orchids every two to three years. I was afraid to take on the task of repotting, so my orchids were languishing on my windowsill and appeared to be dying. I had to do something, so two months ago I mustered the courage to repot them.

Repotting was easier than I had imagined. Working over a plastic wash tub, I carefully removed each plant from its pot and gently removed all the old growing media from the roots. Using clean pruning snips, I cut off any obviously dead, shriveled, or mushy roots. I also sterilized the snips between cuts to prevent spreading disease.

I then repotted each plant by wrapping the roots around so they would fit into the clean, somewhat larger orchid pot I had ready for it. I first placed some orchid media in the bottom of the pot and then situated the plant in the pot so that the crown at the base of the leaves was about a half inch from the top of the pot. Once in the pot, I packed fresh dampened orchid media around the roots, using a chopstick to gently push the media into any voids between the roots. I finished by watering the plants to help settle the media around the roots. Now my orchids are looking much better.


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published- MAY 2, 2014


Several weeks ago I was in a big box store and noticed that the gorgeous orchids for sale were flying off the shelves while the traditional pretty potted Easter lilies were just sitting there. I suspect that many of these orchids were destined to be gifts for someone special.

The owners of gifted orchids are often orchid novices. They are faced with the dilemma of what to do with a beautiful orchid after it stops flowering. Orchids have the reputation of being hot house plants that need to be pampered. In fact, many types of orchids are easy to grow and novice owners can save their gifts from an untimely demise with just a little knowledge.

While some orchids are fussy about temperature and light, the ones typically sold in big box and grocery stores are Phalaenopsis orchids. Phalaenopsis orchids, also known as moth orchids, are considered low light orchids and can be grown easily in the home. However, “low” light is a relative term. They still need a good amount of light and will do best in an east facing window. You can also situate them in a southern or western facing window, but they will need the protection of a sheer curtain to block them from direct sunlight.

The Phalaenopsis orchids do not need the warm temperatures of a greenhouse. The temperatures that keep us happy indoors will keep them happy too.

When it comes to potting mix and watering, Phalaenopsis orchids, as well as other orchids, are a bit finicky. Orchid growers each have their preferred mixes. Generally the mixes should drain quickly but also retain some water for good root growth. Orchid potting mix ingredients may include fir bark, tree fern, sphagnum moss, perlite, lava rock and other materials that meet the criteria.

Many of the mass market Phalaenopsis orchids come planted in potting mixes that consist mostly of fir bark. It fits the requirements of being fast draining while holding some moisture, but bark-based mixes tend to break down with time. As fir bark gradually decomposes, it becomes a finer and finer texture.

The broken down bark holds more moisture and nutrients, but also does not allow the roots to get as much air as needed. That is when you need to repot. Local orchid experts tell me that most orchids planted in fir bark will need to be repotted at least every two years. If you don’t, the roots will start to rot and the plant will decline and die.

I have six miniature orchids sitting on the sill of my east facing kitchen window. Because orchids like some humidity, I have them sitting on a bed of moist pebbles in window-box trays. Occasionally one of my orchids bloom, providing me with a great reward in return for very little effort. I even have a tiny orchid that I received last September and it is still blooming! Growing orchids is easy.

Published: 5/2/2014 11:44 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 5/3/2013

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. Some lucky moms will be the recipient of a beautiful blooming orchid plant on their special day… but then comes the challenge of knowing what to do after the blooms fade. Don’t worry. Most orchids are easy to grow.

You don’t need a greenhouse. Place your orchids in a bright window where they’ll receive indirect sunlight all day. East facing windows are great, but they can also be placed one to three feet away from a south facing window. West windows are too bright and hot, and north ones don’t provide enough light.

Orchids don’t require a warm, tropical atmosphere. Most will do well at normal home indoor temperatures that stay within the 70 degree range during the day and 55 to 65 degrees at night.

The two most critical parts of successful orchid growing are watering and growing media. Orchids don’t have a fibrous root system like that of many other plants. Their roots are thick and fleshy, requiring good drainage and plenty of aeration.

Orchid experts have developed a variety of different growing media that are well aerated, fast draining, and able to retain some water. Many of these media have fir bark as the main ingredient. Each expert tends to use their own special media mix that works well for them, but there are commercial orchid mixes available at garden stores.

It’s important to note that fir bark breaks down over time and when that happens the media fails to provide adequate aeration and can lead to root rot. Orchids should be repotted every year or two to prevent this problem.

I turned to one of our local orchid experts, Betty Wise, to answer common questions novice orchid growers have such as, ‘Why did my last orchid plant die?’ Wise answered, ‘Most orchids die because they are loved too much. By that I mean, they were watered too often and the root system died.’ She suggests that ‘a little benign neglect is better than too much care.’ If you are unsure when your orchid needs to be watered, watering every seven days should be often enough.

Another common question of orchid beginners is what should be done when the long-lasting flowers die? Wise says to cut the stalk just below the bottom most flower. If it’s a phalaenopsis orchid, this may induce the plant to produce another set of flowers. If the stalk is turning brown, cut it off just above the leaves.

Another common problem is with fancy gift orchids that come in decorative pots without any drainage. They are doomed. Wise recommends taking them out of their pretty pots and repotting them in a pot with good drainage and aeration.

What causes the tips of orchid leaves to turn brown? Two of the most likely causes are low humidity or a build up of salts from fertilizer. You can increase the humidity around your plants by placing the plants on trays of moist pebbles, making sure the pots are sitting above the pebbles and water. Salt damage can be prevented by periodically flushing any salts out by taking the plants to your sink and running water through the pot for 30 seconds. Be sure to let them drain thoroughly.

Do you have any orchid questions? You can ask Wise and other local experts those questions at this weekend’s annual Orchid Show sponsored by the South Central Washington Orchid Society.


The South Central Washington Orchid Society is having its annual Orchid Show and Sale on Saturday, May 4, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday, May 5 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The show includes classes on orchid growing, an orchid repotting service, and members answering questions about orchids. Several vendors will also be selling beautiful orchids and orchid growing supplies. The Orchid show is being held at the Tri-Tech Skills Center at 5929 West Metaline in Kennewick.

Published: 5/3/2013 11:34 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

After the 1970s houseplants seemed to lose their appeal for many. Now interest in indoor gardening is on the upswing again. A big part of this reinvigorated trend is indoor orchid culture. You can find flowering orchids for sale in garden centers, big box stores, and even grocery stores. They’re no longer just for expert hobbyists with greenhouses. Everyday gardeners are giving them a try.

If you can provide orchids with the right light and conditions, they’re easy to grow and don’t demand much attention. However, repotting orchids often has the everyday gardener stymied. They aren’t like other houseplants with typical root systems growing in regular potting soil. Most of the orchids sold for household growing are epiphytic plants native to tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Epiphytic means they don’t grow in soil, they grow on the bark of trees.

One of the things novice orchid growers need to know is how to repot plants and the right potting mix to use. Orchids growing indoors in pots, require special potting mixes and pots that provide roots with plenty of air like they get in their natural habitat. Excess moisture and a lack of air leads to root and plant death.

Orchids are typically repotted about every 1 to 2 years. Repotting is necessary either because the plant has outgrown its pot or because the potting media has begun to break down and needs to be replaced. It’s best to repot plants in the spring when they start to put new roots out, but can be done other times of year if necessary.

Potting mixes vary depending on the needs of the orchids and the environment in which they’re growing, but good drainage and aeration are the important factors when deciding what works best. Many commercial mixes contain chopped pine or fir bark, coarse perlite, and charcoal. Before repotting, the media should be rinsed and soaked overnight to allow it time to absorb moisture. It’s also good to water the orchids the night before repotting.

The next day ‘unpot’ the plant and gently remove the old potting media from around the roots. Rinse the roots with clean tepid water and cut off any dead roots. Repot the plant, situating it about a half inch from the top of the pot, filling in around the roots carefully with the new mix. A chopstick can be used to carefully push the media in between the roots. You’ll want to use a bigger pot if the plant appeared to be crawling out of its current pot.

Orchids are sensitive to disease so you should sanitize your work surface, pots, and tools before starting the repotting process. Orchid growers use a commercial sanitizer or a solution of one half cup of bleach per gallon of water. Start with clean hands too.

Unsure about the repotting process? You can get your orchids repotted at the Orchid Show in Kennewick this weekend sponsored by the South Central Washington Orchid Society. The show is being held at the Tri-Tech Skills Center, 5929 West Metaline Ave on Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The admission fee is $3.00.

Orchids will be repotted by local experts for $5.00 apiece from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. There will also be five commercial orchid vendors selling orchids and orchid growing supplies at the show.

As part of the show, there will be a large display of beautiful orchids grown by local experts and three seminars, ‘Is There a Secret to Growing Orchids in Your Home?’ at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday; ‘Potting Media and Pots for Orchids’ at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday; and ‘Mounting and Growing Orchids Au Naturale’ at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Published: 5/4/2012 2:30 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

A long time ago some friends brought me a little orchid plant from Hawaii. It was a pansy-faced Miltoniopsis. It lived about two years, bloomed and later inexplicably died. To be truthful, it may have died from a lack of watering, but I can’t be sure. After that experience, I didn’t consider myself a very good nurturer of orchids. I was often tempted to try again when I saw orchids for sale in the big box stores, but I felt they were ill-advised purchases considering my past failure. Keeping this in mind, I attended the South Central Washington Orchid Society’s (SCWOS) Annual Orchid Show & Sale for the first time last spring.

The great thing about their Orchid Show is that there are enthusiastic local orchid experts available to give you advice on growing orchids. Not only did I get the chance to see some exquisite orchids on display for the show, but I also was able to get advice from the local experts. I wanted to know the best orchids to grow as a novice and ones that I could grow easily on the windowsills in my house. I like orchids, but needy plants requiring a greenhouse or special window were out of the question.

Local expert and SCWOS member, Betty Wise recommended a few smaller miniature orchids that would work well for my situation. She recommended a little Cattleya, a little Phalaenopsis, and a little Paphiopedilum. The show also includes orchid vendors selling orchid plants and supplies. Betty was able to show me some of each that she had recommended that were for sale. I came home with three orchids, one of each that she had recommended.

Before I settled my three little darlings in their new home, I purchased a narrow plastic tray that fit my windowsill perfectly. I filled the tray with polished pebbles, added a little water, and then placed the plants on top of the pebbles. I did this because orchids like a humid environment of at least 50 per cent or more, depending on the orchid. Most homes in our region are drier than that and placing the plants on tray of moist pebbles raises the humidity around the plants.

I’m proud to say that I remembered to water them at least once a week for the past year. I also periodically fertilized them with food that I purchased at the show. My diligence was rewarded when the Cattlyea re-bloomed in February and the Phalaenopsis re-bloomed last month. I’m hoping my “Pap” will bloom before long, but at least it’s still alive and growing. I’m so proud of myself, but since they’ve grown some, I fear they may be too big for their tiny pots.

Orchids are not planted in regular potting soil like other houseplants. Their roots need lots of air so potted terrestrial forms of orchids like mine are typically planted in orchid potting media containing fir bark chunks. The size of chunks or the grade depends on the type and size of the orchid . Orchids are repotted when they get too big for their pots or when the bark starts to break down and doesn’t provide the needed aeration. It will be my first time ever for repotting an orchid, so I’m thinking of stopping by the show on Saturday or Sunday from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. when Orchid Society members will repot orchids for a fee of $5.00 each. It’ll also give me the chance to get a few more orchids. Maybe I’ll try a little Miltoniopsis. It would give me a chance at redemption for my long ago orchid failure, although Betty advises me it’s a little trickier to grow.

Published: 4/27/2010 1:37 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

The other day while shopping at a local garden store, I saw a beautiful blooming orchid plant in someone’s cart. I surmised that it was going to be a gift for some lucky person or someone might have been treating themselves. It was definitely a more creative and exotic choice than a traditional potted plant or bouquet of flowers. Did you know one of the newest gardening trends is growing exotic indoor plants, like orchids, ferns, and succulents? Did you also know that you can grow orchids at home even if you aren’t an expert at growing indoor plants and profess not to have a green thumb?

You don’t need a green thumb to grow orchids, but you do need enough light. Orchids can survive without lots of light, but to flower they need a good amount of light. A place where they can get sufficient natural light in an east, west, or south facing window will work. If you lack this type of situation, you can still grow orchids using fluorescent lighting.

The orchid that I saw going home was a pretty big one, but smaller homes and size limitations for many home growers have led orchid breeders to produce miniature orchids. The miniatures vary in size from less than three inches to over 12 inches in height. These more diminutive plants allow home gardeners to easily find spots for them on windowsills or small plant stands.

Orchids also do best with higher humidity than you’ll find in our local homes. However, you don’t need to buy a humidifier or a greenhouse to make them happy. You simply group the plants and place them on trays filled with moist gravel, raising the humidity in the immediate area of the orchids. It’s simple.

While easy to grow, orchids do have some different growing requirements than the typical indoor plant. Luckily, we have the South Central Orchid Society, a local group of orchid enthusiasts who would like to share their excitement about orchids and help us learn to grow them. In fact , today and tomorrow the South Central Washington Orchid Society is holding their annual Orchid Show and Sale at The Manor at Canyon Lakes ( 2802 W. 35th Avenue in Kennewick) You can stop in and ask the hosting members about growing orchids, plus there will be information sheets available on growing orchids. (Admission costs $3.00.)

They’re also holding two classes today, Orchids 101 at 1:00 p.m. or Everything You Wanted to Know (About Orchids) but Were Afraid to Ask at 2:30 p.m. Even if you can’t make the classes, you can stop by, ask questions and pick up the information sheets. There will also be hundreds of miniature orchid plants available for purchase… Potinara, Laeliacattleya, Phalaneopsis, Paphiopedilum, Dendrobium, Bulbophyllum and other orchids suitable for growing indoors.

This show and sale gives you a great opportunity to explore the wonderful world of orchids and find miniatures that are right for your space and growing conditions. I’m so excited about the show. I’m planning on stopping by and buying one or two miniature orchids to try. I have some perfect window sills with good light that should make it easy. I know the members will help me find the orchids that fit my growing conditions to assure my success. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Published: 5/2/2009 3:00 PM



Garden Tips, WSU Extension, Benton County, 5600-E West Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336-1387, 509-735-3551, Contact Us

WSU Extension, Franklin County, 1016 North 4th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301-3706, 509-545-3511, Contact Us
© 2017 Washington State University | Accessibility | Policies | Copyright | Log in