Orchid Care for Beginners: How to Fix Common Orchid Problems

by Flower El
orchid phalaenopsis

Taking care of orchids is not really difficult. In fact, orchids are considered as one of the sturdiest plants that you can grow. If this is your first time growing orchids, then do not fret. This post will serve as your in-depth guide on how to grow and care for your orchids.

Environmental Parameters For Successful Growth

Successfully growing your own orchids requires important growth parameters.  Orchids are like other plants and they require different elements in order to thrive well. This section will discuss about the different physical parameters that your plants need in order to grow.


Light is an important factor to the successful development of orchids. Most orchids need a lot of light but they do not tolerate direct sunlight. The thing is that orchids do not receive direct sunlight in the wild because light is filtered by the canopy of trees.  If you are growing orchids inside the house, place them in a location near windows so that they can get the light that they need to grow. On the other hand, you can install special artificial lighting to your plants if you don’t have enough natural light. Light is very important because the lack of it causes the orchids to have brittle stems, yellowing of leaves and the inability of the plant to produce flowers.


Water is very important when growing orchids.  Orchids require water in order to stay hydrated and nourished. Water makes it easy for the nutrients to become available to orchids. However, watering your orchid does not necessarily mean putting water any time of the day. Orchids are quite sensitive when it comes to the type of water that you use to feed them. Below are the tips on how to water your orchids.

Do not water your orchids with the first water from your tap at your disposal. Tap water has very high hardness, pH level, chlorine and other components that can damage the roots of your plants. Take note that orchids, in their natural habitat, use water that are soft and are free from additives.


Water the plants with water low in mineral salts like sodium and calcium. You can use bottled waters to water your plant or you can install a water filtration system if you have many plants in your house. By using a water filtration system, you can also ensure that the pH levels, hardness and mineral content of your water are kept at minimum or zero.

When it comes to the frequency of watering, make sure that you adjust it according to the temperature conditions. For instance, you may need to water more often during summer and less during winter season.

Make sure that the substrate of your orchid is partially dry between watering or before you water it again. Overwatering your orchids can kill them easily. The problem is not necessarily the amount of water that gets absorbed by the orchid but the availability of moisture encourages the growth of bacteria which can infect the roots and stems of the orchids.  Thus if you notice the swamping in your substrate, improve the drainage of your orchid to prevent damaging the roots.


To improve the drainage of your orchids, you can pace the pot where they are planted on top a container with clay pellets to drain the plants well. You can also dip the pot to a container that is filled with water without the water getting to the top of the pot. Leave the plants about 10 minutes to absorb the water that it needs and drain well.

Orchids that do not have any pseudobulbs (particularly those that are epiphytic) are susceptible to dehydration thus they require frequent watering than other species of orchids.


Orchids also require the right nutrients in order to grow well.

One of the methods is to apply foliar fertilizers which are fertilizers applied directly to the leaves of the plants.  This method is very effective as orchids can absorb nutrients from both roots and leaves. Below are the things that you need to consider when fertilizing your orchids.

Use good orchid quality fertilizers

There are many opinions regarding which fertilizer is the best for your orchids and even if this is the case, it is important that you take note that you need a fertilizer that contains three major elements for the growth of your orchids which are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It is also important that your fertilizer contains traces of sulfur, magnesium, calcium, iron, boron, manganese, zinc and molybdenum. Moreover, it is crucial to choose low-urea or urea-free fertilizers especially if you are growing epiphytic orchids because urea is not a source of nitrogen for epiphytes.

Water weekly but weekly

This is an old rule of thumb every orchid gardener must know. Orchids do not need to be fed all the time thus it is important that you apply only tiny amounts of fertilizers to your plants to prevent overwhelming them. Overfeeding your plant is not a good thing especially if you use synthetic fertilizers. Such fertilizers contain mineral salts which can build up in your pot overtime which eventually damages your plants. So instead of making your plants healthy, overfeeding kills them.

Fertilize only during growing season

Many orchids go to dormancy during the winter months and the best thing to break the dormancy is to fertilize them. The thing is that plants, when they start to show fresh growth during spring, are deprived from nutrients for a long time thus it is important to fertilize them.

Use the right blend of fertilizers

To encourage the plants to flower, you need to decrease the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that you feed to your plat and increase the potassium. Having said this, you need to use the right blend of fertilizers if you want to achieve the right growth of your plants.


Temperature is an important parameter to ensure that successful growth of your orchids. The thing is that different species of orchids are distributed in different climates all over the world but most are found in the tropical regions thus they require warmer temperatures.  Common families of orchids like Cymbidium, Cattleya, Phalaenopsis and Vandas to name a few require a minimum temperature of no less than 9 0C and should not exceed 30 0C. Orchids cannot withstand higher temperature because an increase in the temperature can often lead to dehydration in your orchids.

If you live in the sub tropics, then growing orchids outside should not be a problem for you unless you experience frost. However, growing tropical orchids might present a huge challenge if you are in the temperate regions.  Having said this, growing orchids indoors is a great option for you to successfully propagate orchids.

water drops on white orchid


Humidity is an important environmental factor for growing orchids successfully. Although important, it is also considered as the most difficult to control. Most orchids, in their natural habitat, require a relative humidity of 40% but this is not often followed if the plants are already grown away from their habitat. Below is a table to show the different humidity requirements of common species of orchids.

Orchid Genus/Humidity

Cattleya 50 – 80%.

Miltonia 70% and below.

Vanda 80%.

Epidendrum 20 – 60%.

Paphiopedilium 40 – 50%.

Dendrobidium 20 – 60%.

Oncidium 20 – 60%.

Cymbidium 40 – 60%.

Phalaenopsis 50 – 80%.

Different genus of orchids requires different levels of relative humidity

New gardeners would be better off choosing plants that do not require high relative humidity such as Oncidiums and Dendrobiums. However, if you still want to enjoy caring for orchids that require high relative humidity, below are the strategies on how you can improve the humidity for your orchids without installing any high-end devices.

Group all your orchids in a single area to create a microclimate

The thing is that orchids, just like other plants, transpire and if they are grouped together, they create humidity thus making it easier for them to autonomously maintain the moisture level. You can place the plants in a stepped way or in a tier to create a cascade of air flow within. This arrangement is also necessary so that the moisture given off by the plants at the lowest tier is used by those in the upper tier.

Place several clay pellets at the base of your pots to hold water

Make sure that the water does not get in contact with the roots to avoid the development of root rot.  The water under the clay pellets provide moisture to maintain the desired relative humidity that your orchid requires.

Installing a fountain with moving water near your orchids is a great way to maintain humidity

Now you know why orchid greenhouses often add a cascading waterfall. It is not only to add beauty to your orchid garden but also maintain the moisture level. Now if you only have a side table as your “orchid garden”, you can buy a miniature water fall and it works just the same as a cascading water fall.

  • If you live near a body of water – whether a sea or a river, you can provide moisture to your orchids by opening your windows temporarily.

You can also use hand vaporizers to provide moisture if you only have a few orchids in your house. The problem, however, you need to spritz your orchids several times during the day especially if the weather gets very hot.

If you have enough budget, you can buy an electronic humidifier. The best thing about an electric humidifier is that you can predetermine the moisture level in the setting and also use a timer to make the humidifier work only at certain times during the day.


Orchids do not thrive well in environments with little Oxygen. In fact, if methane sources are close such as decaying organic matter are present, it inhibits the flowering of most orchid species. To ensure that your orchids survive, you need to proper ventilation all throughout the day but avoid direct air currents on your plants.

Maintaining proper ventilation can be very tricky. The thing is that if you provide too much air on your orchids, the humidity might drop which can cause your plants to become dehydrated. Having said this, there should be a balance between ventilation and other environmental factors such as moisture.

However, if you don’t ventilate well, it can result to the buildup of high levels of humidity as well as temperature that can promote the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi that can greatly affect your orchid’s health. For safe measures, make sure that you provide proper ventilation to your orchids by opening a window at certain times of the day.

Grooming Your Orchids

It is important that you properly groom your orchids for many various reasons. Grooming is a way to train your orchids to grow in a structure that you want as well as prevent the plants from easily getting infected by diseases and pests. This section will discuss about the many ways on how you can groom your orchids.

Cut the rods. Groom your orchids by cutting the flower stem once it has lost all of its flowers. By cutting the flower stem, this also encourages the formation of “keiki” which is the new flower sucker of the orchid.

Separate infected plant from the rest of your healthy orchids. By quarantining the infected plant, you prevent the different types of diseases to spread to your remaining healthy plants. Apply the necessary treatments to your infected plants and reintroduce them to the healthy plants.

Remove the organic materials at the base of the orchids. Periodically, dead leaves and fallen flowers might be collected at the bottom. The dead materials can be source of diseases such as fungi and insects.

Choosing Containers For Your Orchids

Orchids can be planted in different containers but just because you can plant them in containers does not mean that you can already plant them on any container that you want. It is important to take note that different types of orchids require different types of pots. Below are the different types of pots that you can use for your orchids.

Plastic pots

Plastic pots are lightweight and they come with several drainage holes. Plastic pots are inert and are not a good conductor of heat thus the medium tends to dry out slower than clay pots. When choosing plastic pots, opt for those that have thick walls and do not break easily.  You can also choose clear polyethylene pots to make sure that the light reaches to the roots. This is especially true if you are growing orchids that photosynthesize through their roots.

Terra cotta pots

Terra cotta pots are made from clay and they are heavier thus more stable. This type of pot is great for growing orchids outdoors because they cannot be easily toppled down by strong winds. Cymbidia grows well if planted in terra cotta pots.

Basket pots

Orchids that have pendant flowers or are heavy rooted are better off planted in basket pots. Basket pots are usually made from different materials like plastic, wire, wood and mesh. The advantage of basket pots is that they allow the air to circulate around the roots.

When planting orchids on pots, make sure that you provide support to your plant by putting in the right substrate. Moreover, do not fret if your orchids have extensive root systems after being planted in a pot for a long time. You might think that it is time to repot them but the thing it is the roots that provide them nourishment so you don’t need to repot them all too soon.

orchids inside a pot

Choosing The Right Substrate For Your Orchids

There are different types of substrate that you can use for your orchids. Although there are different types of substrates for your orchids, what you need to do is to choose those that drain well. Most orchids bought at garden centers are usually epiphytes thus they need light as well as porous soil. Below are the types of substrates that you can use to grow your orchids.

Type of potting mix / Advantages / Disadvantages

Expanded clay aggregate (Aliflor)

Provides proper aeration. Does not decompose.

It is a heavy type of potting mix.

Coconut husk chunks

Retains moisture. Provides proper aeration. Slowly decomposes.

Needs to be cleaned properly to remove salt residue May retain too much moisture.

Coconut husk fiber

Retains water well. Slowly decomposes.

Does not drain well unlike coconut husk chunks.


Drains well. Very inexpensive.

Heavy. Nutrient deficient.

Fir bark

Accessible. Inexpensive. Available in many sizes. Lightweight.

Can be difficult to wet. Easily decomposes.

Hardwood charcoal

Slowly decomposes. Efficient in absorbing contaminants.

Holds very little amount of moisture. Can produce a lot of dust when dry.

Lava rock

Drains well. Does not decompose.

Very heavy.


Very lightweight. Provides proper aeration. Has good water retention. Very cheap.

Retains a lot of water.

Sphagnum moss

Retains water. Provides good aeration. Is very accessible.

Retain too much water if packed tightly.


Accessible. Inexpensive. Well-draining.

Should not be used alone because it does not retain water or other nutrients.

Tree fern fiber

Slowly decomposes. Rapidly draining.

Very expensive. Has low water retention.

Orchids are very easy to grow and it is important that you only use the recommended soils mentioned in this section. Never use soil that you grow your vegetables in otherwise it will drown the roots of your orchids.

Troubleshooting Orchid Problems

Orchids are hardy plants but this does not mean that they are invincible to problems. This chapter will discuss about the different type of troubleshooting tips and tricks to grow healthy orchids in your home.

Indicators Of Orchid Problems

You know that your orchid is in trouble by looking at the state of the plant’s roots and leaves. This section will discuss about the indicators of orchid problems so that you will be able to implement solutions to the problem.


One of the evidences that are conclusive to the good health of your orchids is the status of the roots. Roots that are hydrated and healthy appear green while dried roots appear white. So if you notice that most of your roots are white, then you need to water them regularly until they turn green in a few days.


It is also important that you look periodically at the condition of the leaves to know if your orchids are suffering from problems. Orchid leaves are naturally green but if you notice a brownish tinge of the leaves, this is a clear indicator that the orchid is receiving excess light than needed. However, if the leaves are yellowish, then it is a clear indication that it is receiving less light ach day. Another thing to check on the leaves is the texture. Leaves that are fleshy are indicative of a healthy plant while leaves that are weak indicate lack of moisture.  On the other hand, the state of the leaves also indicate if your orchids are being attacked by different diseases.

Orchid Diseases

Orchids suffer from different diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, virus and insect pests. If you want to grow orchids successfully, then it is crucial that you know how to detect these diseases and also provide possible solution to the problem. This section will discuss about the different types of orchid diseases you ought to know.


Fungal infection greatly affects most species of orchids. They are usually present as dark spots on the leaves as well as on the flowers. The presence of fungal infection can also cause the color of the leaves to change from green to yellow  or black depending on the gravity of the infection. The culprit behind fungal infection on orchids is the presence of excessive moisture, high temperatures and poor ventilation. The best thing to do to prevent fungi diseases is to control the environmental conditions. Applying the right fungicide can also help prevent the spread of the disease to other healthy plants.


Orchids are also receptive towards bacterial infection. It causes spots on the leaves as well as on the pseudobulbs. Bacterial infections on orchids are often very aggressive and it can lead to the death of the plant quickly. The proliferation of harmful bacteria on the orchids is usually facilitated by high humidity. If your plant is infected with bacteria, the best thing to do is to cut off the affected part and isolate the plant. Avoid watering the plant to prevent the bacteria from proliferating. Unfortunately, there is no effective way to treat bacterial infection in orchids but you can always disinfect your orchids with powdered cinnamon because it has antibacterial properties and does not have any adverse side effects on the plants.


Virus also presents another problem to orchids. When virus attacks orchids, it causes a wide variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms include dark spots or dots appearing on the leaves. The leaf can also turn black from the margins. Other symptoms include yellowing of the leaves and malformation or stunting of the leaves as well as the flowers. Removal of the infected part is very important to control the progression of the disease.


Pest infestation is a normal problem in orchids. Insects often live on plants for nutrients but the problem becomes adverse if the plant is on compromised health. The most common insect pest of orchids is aphids which suck the sap from the orchids which often results to the stunting of the plant. Other parasites that affect the plants include mealy bugs, mites, sappers and even caterpillars that feed on the leaves.  The basic treatment for insect infestation is to apply insecticides and acaricides. But if you are concerned about using dangerous synthetic pesticides, you can always use organic pesticides to rid your orchids from pets. Now if the pest has caused a lot of damage to the plant, you can cut off the affected area instead.

Common Solutions To Orchid Problems

Troubleshooting orchid problems can be a daunting task especially to first timers. This section will provide a list of the anomalous problems of orchid plants, their effects as well as possible solutions. This will serve as an easy reference guide to all orchid enthusiasts.

Inadequate lighting

Flowering is hampered. Weak stems develop and the plant loses vigor.

Relocate your orchids so that they receive enough light. If you cannot find a good location, supplement by using artificial lights.

Inadequate humidity

The leaves shrivel and appear weak. The plants, if already flowering, stop developing the buds. The roots will appear very white and dry and the leaves will eventually turn yellow and will fall.

Water more often or install a humidifier to control the humidity on your plants.

Temperatures too hot or too cold

Excess or absence of eat can produce the flowers to fall off.

Relocate the plant to a place where there is optimal temperature for proper growth.

Too much irrigation

The roots easily rot and adapt a flimsy texture. The leaves turn yellow and the plants eventually die.

Do not overwater your orchids. Wait for the soil to turn dry before you water. If the roots have already begun to rot, remove the affected part and transplant the healthy plant to another pot.

Leaves get burned from the sun

The leaves appear to have burns or take the yellow color.

Relocate to an area where the orchid receives only adequate lighting. Filter the light by putting them inside a greenhouse.

Too much fertilizers

The edges of the leaves turn yellow.

Do not fertilize your plants. Avoid using hard water which can also be a source of trace elements.

Presence of organic gases like methane

If your orchids are planted near a compost bin, it often displays premature falling off of flowers and wilting of leaves.

Relocate the orchids to an area where there is minimal presence of organic gases. Provide proper aeration.

Pollinating insects

Pollinating insects are not really a threat to your orchids but since orchids are grown for their flowers, pollination through insects means subsequent closure of the plants once it is fertilized. It simply shortens the life of the flower

Protect your plants from insect pollinators by putting them in an enclosed screen. Do not use pesticides because insect pollinators are useful.


Too much draught can cause premature dropping of the flowers.

Provide proper ventilation.

Other Tips To Make Orchids Healthy

Ensuring the success of your orchids require you to have good cultural practices. Below are other helpful tips that you need to do to make sure that your orchids are healthy.

When you manipulate or groom your orchids, make sure that you work with clean hands or gloves. This is to prevent the spread of diseases.

Disinfect your tools before cutting some parts of your orchids. You can disinfect by soaking the tools to a mixture of bleach and water.

If you cut a plant part, make sure that you disinfect the wound left by the cut. Use cinnamon powder and dust the wound of the plant.

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