Basic Orchid Care For Beginners

If you have never grown or cared for orchids before, let's get acquainted with some basic orchid care for beginners. The first thing that you will notice about orchids is that they are not grown in soil. Orchids are epiphytes, also sometimes known as air plants because they do not root in soil. Epiphytic plants are non parasitical, meaning they do not take or absorb nutrients from their host plant/tree that they choose to use as a support. In nature, they typically grow in the canopy of trees, using their roots to grab onto branches or limbs for support. They receive nutrients from rainwater, animal droppings, leached minerals, and decaying leaves or other organic matter in their environment using the host plant as an anchor.


Because orchids are epiphytes, they can actually be grown without a pot or potting medium and in some cases, some orchids are grown like this. However unless you plan to take care of your orchids full time, have a suitable growing area for this type of cultivation and can make time multiple times a day to care for your orchids, it is best to pot your orchids in a suitable container. This will allow for more infrequent watering, and convenience in choices for location placement. The choice of many orchid professional and hobby growers is to use a clear aerated plastic pot to house your orchid in its grow medium, which can then be placed into a decorative pot to showcase the beauty of your orchid. Clear, see through pots allow the ability to see and monitor the roots of your orchid. If you just bought your orchid and it is in bloom, and perhaps in a traditonal landscaping black plastic pot, it is best to wait until flowering is complete before re potting the orchid. 

orchid flower and buds, reds and yellows

Grow Medium

There are a few different mediums that are used for growing orchids, mainly tree bark, sphagnum moss, and LECA (lightweight expandable clay aggregate). The choice of medium is dependent on the species of orchid and sometimes on the stage of the orchid's growth. These mediums can be used on their own or in a combination such as wood bark and moss. Each has different water retention characteristics and growers tend to favor the method that works best for them depending on the size of the container, the growth stage, the orchid itself, the environment, or the cultivation method. 

Wood Bark

For beginners, the best basic orchid care choice is wood bark or wood bark in combination with some sphagnum moss. Your orchid was most likely professionally grown in the correct medium for its species, follow the grower's recommendations and when repotting, use the same type of medium.  If combining wood bark with sphagnum moss work a small amount through the wood bark, swirling it around the plant in a spiral. Sphagnum moss tends to hold more moisture and distributes the water evenly through its network of fibers. Overwatering is a common mistake for beginners, learn more about how to water orchids by clicking on the link. 

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss, not to be confused with peat sphagnum moss, is used as a growing medium for some species of orchids on its own or sometimes combined with wood bark. It also may be used for young orchids grown in smaller pots, that have not yet developed an extensive root system as it holds moisture more evenly and close to the root system in the early stages of growth. Sphagnum moss will have a crunchy sound when dry. Dryness can be tested by scrunching some moss with your fingers. If it doesn't make a crunchy sound, it is still moist and does not need water. 


Orchids in nature usually grow in the dappled shade of tree canopies. Many orchids prefer low light conditions, but this depends on the species of orchid. Vanda's and Cattleyas like very bright light conditions, but not direct sun. If you are using natural light from a window, very early morning sun (before 9.30 am) and very late afternoon sun (after 4.30 pm in most parts of the world) is ok for most orchids. Direct hot sun will burn orchid leaves. Light can be manipulated with the use of any of the many types of window shades available online or at your local hardware building supply store. If you don't have a suitable window location for your orchids, supplemental indoor lighting can provide many solutions


Watering orchids is a slightly tricky area to master. Different species will have different watering needs, there is no one size fit all solution. Remember that orchids are epiphytes, the potting medium should be allowed to dry out between watering's. Depending on the climate conditions that your orchids are exposed to, this can vary from daily to weekly and anywhere in between. For many beginners, more orchids are killed from over watering than under watering. Orchids in nature can go for some time without water, but we also don't want to under water. For more instructions on watering, go here


Fertilizing orchids is a relatively simple procedure, but different species may have different requirements. In nature orchids absorb most of their nutrients from animal droppings, leached minerals, and decaying leaves or other organic matter in their environment. Because most orchids are epiphytes and get their nutrients this way, we mimic this by giving our orchids low doses of fertilizer on a semi regular basis. Read more about fertilizing and how to fertilize here

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