What's the deal with Orchids?
Out of all flowering plants, the orchid family is one of the largest, with thousands of different species growing on every continent except for Antarctica. The orchid varieties that gained popularity as houseplants, are primarily from tropical and subtropical region of the world; the Phalaenopsis Orchid being one of the most common and recognizable.
In the wild, orchids are either terrestrial or epiphytic. Terrestrial orchids, such as cymbidium orchids, grow in the ground. Epiphytic orchids, such as phalaenopsis and dendrobium orchids, grow on other living trees, and they do so without damaging, or drawing nutrients from the tree. Some orchids will source out locations with heavily aerated soil such a humus, or grow on rocks and in crevices, usually close to freshwater sources. These plants thrive in high humidity.
To reflect their natural environments, the substrate in which orchid houseplants like to grow, is made up of a mixture of sphagnum moss, bark, and stone-like material, like perlite and charcoal. Unlike potting soil, orchid medium does not retain a lot of nutrients, so it is recommended that a mild blooming fertilizer be applied regularly to provide your plant with all the energy it needs to grow and bloom happily.
Lighting & Temperature:
Orchids grow best in a bright filtered light, often doing well in the morning sun that comes from an East-facing window. They appreciate consistent ambient temperatures, so it is important to ensure your plant is not being subjected to drastic temperature changes from season to season. It is also not advisable to use ice cubes to water your plant.
Watering & Humidity:
Orchids grow best in humid conditions. Lightly misting the leaves and aerial roots every 1-3 days can help to maintain a sufficient ambient humidity. Orchids like their medium to dry out moderately in between watering. When the first inch of bark and sphagnum moss feels dry to the touch, water carefully with room temperature water. In dryer environments, it may be beneficial to soak the bark more thoroughly, directing the water along the inner edge of the pot to avoid root rot.
What about those aerial roots?
The natural tendency of a happy phalaenopsis orchid is to put out long aerial roots (these are roots that grow upwards into the air, and not into the ground or potting orchid mix). These adventitious aerial roots are one of the few types of roots that can photosynthesize, creating energy for the plant. It is recommended to leave these roots when they appear, as opposed to cutting them or encouraging them to grow downwards into the pot.
Orchids are usually in full bloom when they are purchased, and the flowers are known to last several weeks. When the blooms are finished, the stem can be trimmed to a lower node. Depending on where your plant is at in its blooming cycle, this may prompt the orchid to flower from that stem again, usually within six weeks. If the stem begins to brown, or does not bloom, it can be trimmed back to the base of the plant. Re-blooming can be expected six to twelve months later.