Receive a beautiful orchid as a gift, but have no idea how to keep it happy? It's easier than you think, but how you care for it depends on the variety you have.
There are certain things that almost every orchid responds well to. They like to be fertilized every two to three weeks, for example—a 20-20-20 liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to at least half the recommended strength on the bottle works well. Almost all species like a higher humidity level than is found in homes during the time of year when heating and air conditioning are used, so seasoned growers leave a pan filled with pebbles and water next to their orchids to add extra moisture to the air. The flower stalk should be cut back after the flowers fall off. And all orchids should be repotted every two to three years into a slight larger pot to encourage a long life.
The goal, of course, is to keep the plants healthy and encourage them to bloom again and again. Most bloom once or twice each year if conditions are right. But beyond the basic information above, each type of orchid has subtly different requirements that you need to know about in order to keep them happy.
These orchids like more light than most, but it's best to avoid strong direct sunlight. Instead, place Dendrobium in a south-facing window with a thin white curtain that blocks the strongest rays of sun. A bright east-facing window (with no curtain) will also work. Dendrobium will grow best with their roots confined in what would seem like an unnaturally small pot, which means they can dry out fast. Still, it's important not to be overzealous about watering them—let the potting medium become dry to the touch (but not bone dry) before soaking the pot thoroughly in the sink. Then let it drain for 15 or 20 minutes before returning it to the windowsill. Dendrobium are happy at average household temperatures.
These are among the easiest orchids to grow. They are a 'low light' species, meaning any window with indirect light should suffice. They have average water needs, but as with most orchids, it's better to err on the side of less water, rather than risk over-watering which leads to fungal diseases. Phalaenopsis are adapted to typical household temperature fluctuations, so no need to worry about that, as long as you can keep it in a range between 60 and 90 degrees.
Oncidium are more tolerant of direct sunlight than most orchids. You don't want to bake them in a south-facing window with direct exposure to the sun all day long, but they can take a few hours of direct light. At a minimum, place them in a location that gets at least a bit of direct light each day and plenty indirect light. They have typical water requirements for an orchid—just give them a thorough soaking whenever the potting medium becomes dry. Oncidium tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from 55 to 95 degrees.
These orchids have very long-lasting blooms, making them one of the most popular varieties. They are in the 'high light' category and should have bright indirect light throughout the day; they can also tolerate a bit of direct light if it is early or late in the day. Follow the typical orchid watering regime mentioned above. Cattleya do best with a 15 to 20 degree temperature fluctuation each day, so they're a good choice for rooms that lack climate control.
These are 'low light' orchids, just make sure that they're not in extremely low light conditions, or they won't bloom. If the foliage looks discolored, it's probably getting to much light. Paphiopedilum have average water needs. They are one of the most cold-tolerant varieties—temperatures down to the low 40s are okay in winter—making them a safe bet for drafty rooms and locations that are not connected to a thermostat controlled heat source.