How to Care for Orchids Indoors: An Easy Guide

It's easier than you think to grow an indoor orchid. With the proper conditions, your indoor orchids will reward you with years of beautiful blooms.

Updated December 9, 2022
Phalaenopsis orchid

You're strolling the floral department at the grocery store, and the orchids call out to you with their beauty. You've never cared for orchids before (and heard a rumor it might be sort of hard), so do you have what it takes to bring one home? Yes, you absolutely do. While orchids have a reputation for being difficult to care for, that's not really the case. They do have different needs from other plants, but different doesn't have to mean difficult. As long as you know and follow some key orchid care best practices, you can successfully grow orchids in your home.

How to Care for Orchids Indoors: Key Considerations

First things first. There are over 800 varieties of orchids, all requiring different care. The kind you pick up at the grocery or a big box home store or receive as a gift is most likely a phalaenopsis (moth orchid). For moth orchids, follow these key best practices, and you'll be on your way to growing and maintaining a gorgeous plant that will periodically reward you with blooms for years to come.

How to Care for Orchids Infographic

Maintain Ideal Orchid Temperature

Orchids are tropical plants that need to be in an environment that stays between 60° and 80°F. They won't survive temperatures that are consistently lower or higher. If you keep your home within this temperature range, then you can already check an important box for orchid care. Be mindful of temperature fluctuations, though. Don't put your orchid in a drafty area or near a heater vent, as the temperature can be drastically different in such areas.

Plant in Orchid-Specific Growing Medium

Do not plant an orchid in ordinary soil or potting mix you use for other plants. Instead, plant it in a potting mix specifically for orchids. Orchid soil typically includes fir bark along with ingredients like peat moss, sphagnum moss, perlite, sand, or charcoal. Choose an orchid planting mix that's recommended for the phalaenopsis (or the variety you have).

Choose the Right Kind of Container

Drainage is just as important as temperature and growing medium. Choose a pot that has several drainage holes in the bottom. If you can find one that also has side drainage holes, that's even better. Size also matters. Don't choose a large container thinking your orchid will grow to fill it. Instead, plant your orchid in a container that's only slightly larger than its roots. This will prevent the need for excess soil, which can hold too much moisture.

Place the Container on a Tray of Pebbles

Orchids require humidity, but you don't have to run a humidifier. Instead, fill a plant saucer or other shallow container with small pebbles and/or gravel, then fill it with water. Place your potted orchid on the tray and leave it there. This technique provides necessary humidity. When you water your orchid, excess water drains into the pebble-filled saucer and benefits the plant in the form of much-needed moisture.

Avoid Misting Your Orchid With Water

Some people regularly mist their orchids with water to provide them with humidity, but this isn't ideal. Misting orchids with water can cause them to develop fungal spots (which are unattractive) and crown rot (which can kill the plant). For this reason, it's better to meet an orchid's need for humidity by using the saucer method.

Provide Plenty of Bright, Indirect Light

Orchids need a lot of light, but direct sunlight isn't good for them. It's best to place them near a window where they get a lot of indirect light. The ideal placement is near a south-facing or east-facing window that lets in a good bit of light throughout the day. When you touch an orchid's leaves, they should be about the same temperature as the air. If they're hotter to the touch, they should be moved to a less bright area.

  • If the leaves turn dark green (as opposed to the bright green that indicates a thriving plant), that means your orchid needs more light.
  • If the leaves turn a yellowy-green or reddish color, that means they are getting too much light or light that is too strong.

Meet Your Orchid's Water Needs

Orchids generally need to be watered weekly, but it's important to avoid over watering. Use your finger to make sure the top inch of potting medium is dry before watering. Orchids usually need about ¼ cup of water every week. You can even use ice cubes to water an orchid. A study published by the American Society for Horticultural Science shows that placing three ice cubes on the potting soil to melt can meet an orchid's water needs each week.

  • If your orchid has limp, wrinkled, or dull leaves, that means it's too dry. In this case, water the plant.
  • If it has yellow leaves or is losing buds, it has been over watered. If this happens, replant it in new soil. Before reusing the same container, make sure it has plenty of drainage holes.

Fertilize Your Orchid Regularly

Orchids need to be fertilized regularly. For the best results, use a gentle fertilizer made specifically for orchids. If you try to use standard fertilizers on orchids, you'll need to dilute them significantly to keep them from burning your plant. It's best to use a fertilizer that you can apply directly from the bottle so you don't have to worry about harming your orchids. Get in the habit of applying this type of fertilizer when you water your orchid.

Cut Back Orchid Stems After Bloom

After your orchid stops blooming, you'll need to cut back the stem. For a phalaenopsis orchid, if the stem is still green and healthy, snip it above a node (growth point), leaving two or three nodes below the cut. If you're lucky, you might get a second bloom! If the stem is brown or soft, use sterile snippers to trim the stem at the base of the plant.

Repot Your Orchid Every Year or Two

Orchids generally need to be repotted every year or two. If your plant develops visible roots, it needs a larger container. Don't go too large, though. It's best to only go up an inch in container size at a time. You should also repot your orchid when the potting mix starts to take on a compost-like appearance. This means the soil has broken down and is no longer meeting the plant's needs. Use fresh potting soil when you repot your orchid.

Orchid Troubleshooting

Your orchid will tell you if the conditions aren't right to support its health. Observe your orchid and make adjustments as needed.

If you notice: Do this:
Bloom drop Check light, water, and soil conditions. If they're fine, the orchid has finished blooming for now. Continue to care for it, and it will bloom again in 6 to 9 months.
Leathery or withered leaves The orchid is too hot. Move it to a cooler location.
Reddish or purple spots on leaves Your orchid is sunburned. Move it to a spot where it gets less direct sunlight.
Wrinkled leaves Increase humidity and/or water. Place the orchid on a humidity tray, and water it with three ice cubes once a week.
Leaf drop Humidity is too high or too low. Adjust accordingly.
Fungal spots on leaves Decrease humidity. Don't mist.
Dark green leaves Move orchid to an area with more light.
Limp or wrinkled leaves Increase water.
Yellow leaves Decrease water.
Potting mix that looks like compost Repot the orchid in fresh potting mix.
Roots that extend out of the pot Repot in a well-draining container that's slightly larger than the roots (about 1"). Use fresh potting mix.

My Orchid Stopped Blooming. Is It Dead?

Most likely not unless it's brown and withered. Then it's dead. Otherwise, if your orchid goes for several months without blooming, it's probably working on its roots and leaves instead. Continue to meet its requirements for water, light, and fertilizer, and it may bloom again in six to nine months, usually when the temperature gets cooler.

Other reasons your orchid isn't blooming include:

  • It isn't getting enough light. Move it closer to a window or use a grow light.
  • You aren't using a good water source. Try spring or rain water instead.
  • It's too hot or too cold. Move it to a spot where the temperature ranges from 60°F to 80°F with some daytime/nighttime fluctuation within that range.
  • It needs repotting, or its growing medium has broken down. Try repotting and replacing the growing medium.

Enjoy the Blooms of Your Labor

With the right container and the right type of soil, it's really not difficult to grow orchids indoors. Just choose the location wisely and adapt your routine to provide this plant with the water and growing conditions it needs. It'll add beauty to your home all the time, especially when it rewards your diligence with gorgeous tropical blooms.

How to Care for Orchids Indoors: An Easy Guide