Tips From the Experts on the Proper Care Techniques for Your Indoor Orchids

September 10, 2023

Have you heard that orchids are tough to grow? Maybe it’s the amount of sunlight, perfecting the temperature between day and night, or the precise watering routine that seems intimidating.

Caring for an orchid indoors is less daunting than it might seem. With (simple) proper care, you can nurture an orchid that lives for many years, producing beautiful flowers time and time again.

Learn how to properly care for your indoor orchid, including:

  • Watering regiments
  • Ideal temperatures
  • Fertilization
  • Potting
  • And more

Table of Contents

caring for orchids

What Are the 4 Most Common Orchids Found in Homes?

There are between 25,000-30,000 different species of orchids worldwide — over 4,000 of those exist in North America.  Of those 4,000+, about two dozen can survive indoors as houseplants, even during the winter.

With so many varieties available, choosing and caring for an orchid indoors can feel stressful. These four common orchids used as houseplants are easy to grow and care for:

  1. Phalaenopsis
  2. Dendrobium
  3. Cymbidium
  4. Cattleya

#1: Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchids)

Phalaenopsis, also known as moth orchids, are known to be one of the easiest varieties of orchids to grow indoors. Many refer to the Phalaenopsis orchid as the ‘beginner orchid’ for this reason.

Belonging to the plant family, Orchidaceae, Phalaenopsis are native to India, China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

They are easy to spot with:

  • Short, leafy stems
  • Long, coarse roots
  • Flat flowers arranged on a curving flowering stem that often branches off near the end

#2: Dendrobium

Also part of the plant family Orchidaceae, Dendrobium orchids are native to:

  • China
  • Japan
  • India
  • The Philippines
  • Indonesia
  • Australia
  • New Guinea
  • Vietnam; and 
  • Many islands of the Pacific

Dendrobium rarely has its roots buried in the soil. You might recognize Dendrobium orchids from their group of leaves (about six) that develop at the top of a shoot and numerous flowers that are arranged along a flowering stem. 

#3: Cymbidium

Cymbidium orchids, also known as boat orchids, are semi-terrestrial orchids that send thin roots into the soil.

You might recognize Cymbidium orchids with their usual three to 12 leaves arranged in two ranks on each shoot. Cymbidium can produce just one or many flowers on an unbranched flowering stem.

There are about 55 species and 16 hybrids of Cymbidium that exist from tropical and subtropical Asia to Australia. 

#4: Cattleya

Once referred to as ‘the Queen of Orchids,’ Cattleya is what one might imagine when one thinks of an orchid. For many special occasions, Cattleya was often used in a corsage.

Cattleya orchids were once limited to white and various shades of lavender and purple, but are now available in almost any color on the spectrum.

To identify a Cattleya orchid, notice:

  • Fleshy, noodle-like roots
  • Oblong, lanceolate, or elliptical-shaped leaves
  • Fleshy leaves
  • Flowers and petals free from one another

Caring for an Orchid Indoors: 6 Areas of Focus for Helping Your Orchids Thrive

The four common household orchids — Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, Cymbidium, and Cattleya — require different care to thrive, but with proper instruction, you can be successful in caring for any of these orchids in your home.

Botanica Floral + Home specializes in creative bouquets and houseplants, like orchids. Are you hoping to care for an indoor orchid of your own? Visit Botanica Floral + Home to get started.

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#1: Temperature

Phalaenopsis: Moth orchids are popular indoor orchids because they grow well in warmer, centrally-heated rooms. Phalaenopsis do best in rooms over 60 F at any time of the year. They thrive in bright lights, but not direct summer sunshine, so keep away from windows that see extra sunlight. A north or east facing window is best.

Dendrobium: With good ventilation and humidity, Dendrobium can withstand hot temperatures. They grow best between 60 F to 75 F during the day and 55 F to 60 F during the night. Avoid the windowsill as temperatures here might be colder or hotter than in a more central area of your home.

Cymbidium: Different from Phalaenopsis and Dendrobium, Cymbidium prefers cooler temperatures and prefers winter temperatures between 50 F and 57 F and summer temperatures below 86 F.

Cattleya: Even though Cattleyas come from the hot tropics, household Cattleyas prefer maximum sunlight without excessive temperatures. Winter temperatures should range between 60 F to 70 F during the day and around 55 F at night. Ideal summer temperatures are 65 F to 85 F during the day and 60 F to 65 F at night. Cattleya begins to suffer when reaching temperatures above the low 90s.

#2: Watering and Humidity

Phalaenopsis: Watering your Phalaenopsis might be tricky to master. If kept too wet, the roots may rot but if kept too dry, the roots might die. 

To ensure proper watering care:

  • Water weekly during the growing season and cut back during winter.
  • Avoid the roots drying out, but don’t let water pool inside the plant.
  • Drain excess water out.
  • Use rainwater if possible, and tepid water if not.
  • Avoid splashing the leaves or watering into the crown.
  • Mist lightly in the summer to increase humidity.

Dendrobium: Water Dendrobiums twice a week, depending on pot size and type. Typically, Dendrobiums are larger plants in smaller pots, so twice a week should suffice. 

Watering in the morning is ideal to give the plant time to thoroughly dry through the day. Place the pot into a sink, use tepid water, and let the water run through the plant before draining completely.

Cymbidium: During the spring and summer, Cymbidiums require moderate watering, especially when used as an indoor plant.

Water cymbidium from above to allow excess water to drain away  — avoid allowing cymbidium to sit in water. Let it dry out completely before watering again.

Cattleya: Watering Cattleya may be tricky — over- or under-watering could lead to killing the plant.

Cattleyas should be watered when completely dry — typically about once a week. It’s important to note that many factors could play into how quickly a Cattleya orchid dries out, including:

  • Potting medium
  • Amount of sun
  • Air movement
  • Active growth
  • Plant and pot size
  • Humidity (best in 40% to 70%)

To ensure proper watering, you’ll have to watch Cattleya closely to determine when more water is needed.

#3: Potting and Soil

Phalaenopsis: Using a transparent pot is best for potting because it allows you to see the wetness of the soil to provide the best care possible. Use a specially formulated bark-based orchid mix available at most garden centers — avoid loam-based or multipurpose potting soil.

Dendrobium: Use a shallow tray of pebbles filled with water underneath the pot to increase humidity, but don’t allow the pot to sit in the water or the roots will rot. Use a small pot, but avoid crowding.

Cymbidium: Choose a pot that allows for two years of growth for your Cymbidium — about an extra 4 inches in diameter. Always use a proprietary orchid mix, filling in around the roots well.

Cattleya: Many potting and soil methods work for Cattleya, including:

  • Bark
  • Tree fern fiber
  • Coconut husk chips
  • Gravel
  • Lava rock
  • Sphagnum moss

Most often, chopped fir bark is used. The choice of which potting method to use is mostly personal, although where you live might lead to better results with certain methods.

Choose a pot that allows for two years of growth and opt for broken pot pieces, gravel, or styrofoam peanuts for added drainage.

#4: Lighting

Phalaenopsis: Moth orchids should be positioned in bright light to encourage flowering during the winter. If an east- or west-facing windowsill isn’t available, adequate artificial lighting will suffice.

During the summer, avoid direct sunlight to prevent scorching the leaves. 

Dendrobium: Position Dendrobiums to receive plenty of light, but not direct sun. Consider a south-facing lightly-shaded window.

Cymbidium: Adequate light is important all year round, and especially so in the winter. 

Cattleya: Cattleya prefers 65-75% shade, but still good enough lighting. This might vary based on where in the world you are, so assess humidity and air movement to determine what “good” lighting might mean.

#5: Flowering

Phalaenopsis: A strong, healthy moth orchid should flower regularly. If you notice a large, healthy moth orchid not flowering, move it to cooler temperatures for a few weeks to see if it sends up a new flower spike.

To stimulate flowering, cut back old stalks after the blooms have fallen to just above the second node.

Dendrobium: After Dendrobium has bloomed, cut the flowering stem where it comes out of the tall thin pseudobulbs. If you cut off the stem elsewhere, new flowers will not grow.

Cymbidium: Cymbidiums can bloom from October through May, depending on the species or hybrid and your climate and environmental conditions. Flowering is initiated by a distinct drop between daytime and nightime temperatures. Once in bloom, the cymbidium flowers can last for several months. When the last blooms have faded, cut the flower spike back to the base of the plant.

Cattleya: With proper care, Cattleya can flower regularly, year after year. Flowers bud from where the leaves meet the pseudobulb. After blooming, flowers and old flower stems can be removed.

#6: Fertilizing

Phalaenopsis: Regular but light feeding is encouraged for strong growth of moth orchids, especially during the growing season. Use specific orchid fertilizer and feed when watering during the growing season. But be careful to not create a build-up of harmful salts in the compost. To avoid this, water without feeding every fourth time.

During the winter, feed sparingly, if at all.

Dendrobium: A balanced orchid fertilizer (20-20-20, for example) is ideal for potting a Dendrobium. Feeding weekly is ideal. Use clear water to flush accumulated salts out of the soil once a month.

Cymbidium: With every third watering during the spring, apply a half-strength general liquid fertilizer. In the summer, switch to a high-potassium specialist orchid fertilizer. During the winter, feed occasionally, if at all, using half-strength liquid fertilizer. 

Cattleya: Although capable of growing and flowering without regular fertilizer, Cattleya will do even better when fertilized regularly. Consider a fertilizer breakdown with lower nitrogen formulation (10-10-10, 13-13-13) during the active growing season. Flush the pot with plain water between fertilizing to avoid salt build-up. Avoid overfeeding.

How Long Can Your Indoor Orchid Live?

After taking the time and effort to learn how to care for an indoor orchid, you’re curious how long it might live now that you’re invested in its growth. 

Orchids are perennial plants — they continue to bloom year after year. Some even flower multiple times a year. Although orchids naturally lose their flowers, they’re not dying — they must go through a period of dormancy to start all over again. 

Some indoor orchids can live between 20-25 years, depending on the attentiveness of the caregiver. It may be more realistic to say that most indoor orchids can live between 10-15 years.

Phalaenopsis: Because moth orchids are considered to be hardier houseplants and easy-to-care-for orchids, you don’t have to toss them once they stop blooming. Instead, with proper care, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for between 10 and 15 years or more! 

Dendrobium: When following proper care outlined here, Dendrobium orchids can survive indoors for 10 to 15 years.

Cymbidium: Like many other household orchids, Cymbidiums may live around 10 to 15 years indoors. Their flowers can live on the plant between 4-12 weeks and about 3 weeks once cut.

Cattleya: Although Cattleya are slow to mature — about four to seven years — they are long-lasting orchids. With proper care, Cattleya may live upwards of 15 years.

how to care for indoor orchids

Botanica Floral + Home Has the Expertise To Help You Care for Your Indoor Orchids

Displaying orchids around your home may bring you a sense of joy. Even though some require specialized potting mixtures, specific fertilizing methods, and precise watering techniques, the beautiful flowers you get as a result are worthwhile.

Does caring for an orchid indoors feel tough? Botanica Floral + Home has the expertise and guidance to ensure proper orchid care and beautiful flowers as a result. 

After a life-long love affair with plants and flowers, owner Josef Reiter chose to chase his dreams of floral design and plant care, including teaching household plant enthusiasts how to best care for their blooms.

Contact Botanica Floral + Home to acquire an indoor orchid for your home and learn how to best care for your plant.

Click here to shop our floral delivery Portland/Vancouver Metro area today!