Danny Flanders

Moth Orchids Widely Available at Reasonable Prices
Orchids always add a touch of sophistication and elegance. They are widely available and affordable. Group several plants together for a striking arrangement.

It’s just not fair: Orchids have this bum rap for being some of the most finicky plants to grow. And don’t even talk about getting a second bloom out of them. Most frustrated indoor gardeners just toss them once that last flower’s gone.

Yet, the truth is orchids are some of the easiest plants to grow if given the proper exposure, potting mix and right amount of water. Just ask Becky Brinkman, longtime manager of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Fuqua Orchid Center, home to one of the country’s largest collections of species orchids. There, envious visitors corner her every day for advice on what they’re doing wrong with their own plants. So much so, that Becky has come up with her Eight Ways to Kill Your Orchid:

1. Water it every day.
The most frequently asked question is “Do you water the orchids every day?” The answer is, “No, but we check them every day.” Checking means looking at the potting mix to see if it’s dry. A good grower learns to recognize the change in color that accompanies the drying process.

2. Establish a watering schedule for your orchid. Make it conform to your schedule. Water it on the same day of the week that you go to the gym, or the grocery store, or the car wash. This one is really tempting. But let’s say it’s September. Did you notice that yesterday was one and a half minutes shorter than the day before and that the sun is now lower in the sky than it was in July? Your plant did. So, two months from now, when your orchid receives one less hour of light and considerably weaker light intensity, does it make sense to water with the same frequency?

3. Water your orchid whenever you water your other plants.
Convenient, yes. Good horticulture, no.

4. Water your Phalaenopsis orchid with ice cubes.
Tell me you don’t do this. In nature a moth orchid seldom experiences temperatures below 60 degrees. And you’re thinking about applying ice water to its roots? Why not just put it in the freezer for a day?


Try Growing One of These Moth Orchid Varieties 13 photos


5. Find out where your orchid is native to and water it when the Weather Channel says it’s raining there.
This strategy wouldn’t work even if you and your houseplant lived in its country of origin. Microclimate matters more to an orchid than macroclimate. Even if your condo is located in the rain forest, the kitchen window microclimate where your potted orchid resides is different from the microclimate within the tree canopy outside.

6. Force it to live its entire life in a beautiful pot with no drainage holes, in a dense soil mix, and smothered with florist’s moss.
I know you received it from the florist this way, and it looks great, I admit it. But shouldn’t they know better? The florist’s priority is how the plant looks, not how well it grows.

7. Force it to live its entire life in the same soil mix that the grower put it in.
After two years an orchid mix is history. Orchids in conventional peat moss-based houseplant soil should be sold with “Buyer Beware” stamped on the pot. The structure of peat moss (and composted pine bark) is too fine and too dense to be a good long-term medium for plants that in nature grow in trees. It retains loads of water and breaks down quickly. Peat-based mixes are cheap, widely available, uniform, sterile and lightweight (meaning inexpensive to ship). Young orchids reach flowering size rapidly in this mix, saving production time and labor, and then can be swiftly passed along to the consumer.

8. Bring your orchid to the Garden’s Orchid Care Clinic on the coldest day in January. On the way home leave it in your unheated car while your visit every store in the mall.
Oh no. More blood on my hands.

Becky’s bottom-line basic advice is this:


  • Plant your orchid in a coarse-textured potting mix that promotes air circulation, such as the combination of bark/charcoal/perlite.
  • Give it intense sunlight (an east-facing windowsill is good).
  • Let the plant dry out a little between waterings.
  • Don’t overdo it with the fertilizer (cut the dosage by half for these light feeders).

21 Comments About this Article

  • Cynthia Hartley
    A window in a bath shower with morning sun worked best for mine. Mine love the humidity. Do not put the ice cubes on them once a week. That doesn't even make sense. They thrive in humid climates with sunlight diffused by tree leaves. Just love and talk to it! :-)

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • Teri Taylor
    they make a regular Orchid potting mix . I got mine at my local supermarket florist. Also they need to be put in a pot either with holes in the side or in a terra cotta pot with a good drainage hoe in the bottom . They must be allowed to dry out between waterings . also to keep the humidity up , I placed mine on a large glass plate with stones on it . you set the pot directly on top of the stones and put water on the plate . this works well to keep the humidity up . Please do not put Ice cubes on top . it will cool the root systems down too much .Allow your water in your watering vessel to sit at room temp before you water . And one more thing , get a orchid plant food . Feed every week if not flowering ,every two weeks if in bloom ... Make sure your not over powering with too much food in your watering can .. :)

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • NadiasNana
    My daughter gave me a phal about 4 years ago for Mother's Day. I never cut the spikes until they are BROWN and obviously spent. Every year, it has produced more blossoms after the first bloom, and then the one year old spikes bloom again. So far I have 2 new spikes every year. So every year, I have had at least 4 bloom producing spikes, and this year it looks like I may have 5!!!

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • NadiasNana
    I also have another one that I purchased. It got moved to a window that had that stupid e-glass and eventually almost died. I nurtured it back to semi-good health, and then it sent out 3 spikes, but instead of producing blooms, it produced pups, 2-3 on each spike. I waited until they sent out roots, and then planted them in orchid mix. Now I have 7 new plants (one didn't make it). Can't wait until they bloom!

    Posted 10 months ago

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  • Livia Trevino
    Great and helpful article, just repoted my orchids and started using an orchid fertilizer -- They are sooooo happy!

    Posted 8 months ago

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  • naomi
    just spent three weeks in Hawaii & fell (even more) in love w/ orchids - now I want to try to grow some in my seaside home in Maine. Any suggestions for the type to get as my first ? Other orchid wisdom? Thanks for help

    Posted 6 months ago

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  • anonymous
    I think you mean "overdo" not "overdue" in the last bullet point. Helpful article.

    Posted 3 weeks ago

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  • anonymous
    So I can cut the spikes. I have a plant with beautiful leaves and nothing else. I am going to try and repot all three of my plants. Thanks for the helpful hints for I was one of the ice cube offenders!!

    Posted 3 weeks ago

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  • John
    we are leaving for Arizona in January and part of February and I am leaving my orchid in the east facing window in my shower at home (Memphis) but can it live without water in all that time? The house temp will be 62+, what can I do to keep it alive?

    Posted 3 weeks ago

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  • anonymous
    You say at the bottom of the article "Give it intense sunlight (an east- facing windowsill is good).". I learned the hard way never to let my orchids get 'intense (direct) sunlight'. It will kill them for sure!! So I don't understand your remark!?! They live in the forrest, clinging to trees, they only get indirect sunlight. So why did you say "Give it intense sunlight (an east-facing windowsill is good)."!?!? I'm confused!!

    Posted 2 weeks ago

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