When you think of orchids, your mind may conjure up images of tropical rainforests lining sandy beaches in Mexico or Brazil or Thailand. And you’re not wrong! But that doesn’t mean you can’t have them thriving in your apartment in the city also. We love how these exotic blooms are so unique and really bring a fresh, summery vibe to every space.
In this article we’ll let you in on how orchids naturally thrive in their original environments and how that can be translated to our very different Canadian homes.
ORCHIDS: WHO? WHAT? WHERE?
So let’s go back to that dreamy oasis you imagined from before. While often considered to come from the tropics, orchids are found on 6 continents (sorry Antarctica, no orchids for you) from a bunch of different climates--we even have some species native to Quebec! That said, the orchids you’re most likely to find in our studio are a genus called Phalaenopsis, commonly known as moth orchids, which mostly originate from warm, tropical countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. They can be found as far north as China and India, and as far south as northern Australia. You might be thinking they would be difficult to care for, or you may have heard they have a reputation as fussy, but in fact they are actually quite easy-going houseplants. With the right lighting and little dash of TLC they can comfortably thrive outside those environments, like in our own lovely homes.
PARADIS DES ORCHIDÉES
You know we like to work with vendors who are as local as possible, which is why we’re so happy to be working with Paradis des Orchidées. Not only are they a local business, but we were especially excited to partner with them because we have a lot in common! Located just over in Laval, this greenhouse is the largest producer of orchids in Eastern Canada. Through working with them we’re able to lower our C02 emissions, and we love that we’re both small, family-run companies who care about our impact on the environment. Our favourite thing about Paradis des Orchidées is that they are the only organic growers of orchids in Quebec. Something that allows them to be fully organic is they use something called integrated pest management (or, IPM for short). This means that there may be a few bad-boy bugs in their greenhouses, but they’re kept in check through the use of beneficial insects -- Just like we do. In addition to IPM they use high tech greenhouses that control the climate automatically which further helps to organically cultivate the orchids without the use of pesticides. Neat, eh? Any small, Canadian business who is a friend to the environment is a friend of ours!
FLOWER REAL TALK
One thing you’re bound to have noticed if you've ever had an orchid is that their gorgeous blooms are not always in, well, bloom! While they are perennials meaning that they can live indefinitely, they typically only bloom once a year. So don’t worry when your blooms start to fade, it’s just part of their life cycle.
Walk into a flower shop, and you’re sure to see that every single orchid is abundant with colourful flowers. This is a bit of horticultural magic. You see, the average Phalaenopsis orchid blooms in the winter, meaning that natural environmental changes like shorter days and cooler temperatures give moth orchids their cue to create a flower spike. Growers will force flowering throughout the year by manipulating lighting and temperature in the greenhouse, replicating those same changes. The catch? Well, thankfully not much. The only downside is that when you purchase an orchid, the chances that it has been force-bloomed a few times is quite high. Flowering is incredibly energy demanding and can be stressful for a plant, and being forced to flower over and over can leave your orchid feeling tuckered out.
For you, dear orchid-owner, it simply means that you must exercise patience. Your plant will need time - usually a year, potentially longer - to do some serious photosynthesising, leaf-growing and general chillaxing before it can muster up the energy to bloom again. This isn’t always the case, but it’s something to be aware of.
Despite the fact that orchids are known for their beautiful flowers, in reality, that's only a snapshot of their life. Remember that flowers are a symptom of a happy orchid and you can fully expect the majority of your time with your orchid to be flowerless. What’s most important is that you have rigid bright/deep green leaves, that you experience new leaf growth, and that your roots (in the moss or aerial) are thick and turgid. When your orchids are in bloom though, you can likely expect your flowers to last somewhere between 2 to 4 months! Not too shabby.
We’ll say it again… If your flowers die, that’s okay! Expect it! No need to fret because as long as your leaves are healthy and green and your roots are abundant, you’re doing A-OK!
“‘Got it, I’m down with the foliage. But how do I get them to flower again?”
Excellent question! We’re glad you asked. Getting your orchid to rebloom requires a holistic approach. We’ve broken down our best pro care tips so you can care for your plant with confidence.
Phalaenopsis orchids are epiphytic in their native habitats, meaning that they grow on trees and rock formations rather than directly in the ground. Not to be confused with a parasite which steals energy or resources from the host, epiphytes are benign and will grow together in harmony with their host. In the wild you can find their roots anchoring them by wrapping around tree branches or by weaving in and out of rocky crevices. When grown at home, their growth habits will be similar. Ever notice an orchid sprouting crazy roots outside of it’s pot? That’s what those are for! The roots also photosynthesize and pull humidity from the air, so it’s beneficial to let them do as they please and not tuck them into the moss. If they need extra moisture they will find their way to the pot.
Moth orchids are monopodial, meaning they grow upward from a single point. They grow new leaves from the apex (i.e. centre) and the stem/base/trunk will grow longer accordingly. You may also notice that the foliage has a bit of a tendency to grow sideways or horizontally. In nature this helps to prevent water from collecting in the leaf folds, which if left sitting can create rot. If you want them to have a classic upright look, you can use a metal or bamboo stake to support them. If you prefer a more organic look, simply let them grow in their own natural pattern. The choice is yours! The flower spikes act in the same way. Prefer the classic orchid arch? Stake it. Want rainforest vibes? Let it do it’s thang.
Roots can grow from anywhere along the stem, even from between leaves, and will sprout from any direction. Flower spikes are a bit more particular and will always sprout from between two leaves (usually between lower leaves), and will be parallel to leaf growth.
Remember how we said they don’t grow in the ground? This is important when talking potting media. Don’t expect soil to be in your pot when you buy your orchid! Instead, you’ll find their roots nestled in some fresh sphagnum moss, a barky blend, or a mix of both.
In terms of watering, it’s pretty simple! You have some cues to pick up on to help you determine when your orchid is thirsty.
First, check to see what the roots look like; if they’re green/yellow-green, they’re good! If they have turned grey, they’re likely ready for a drink. Careful though...Air roots will always have a silvery hue to them, so be sure to check in on the roots below the potting media. This is one of the reasons why orchids will typically be in a transparent nursery pot, so you can sneak a peek! You’ll also want to make sure that you only water them when the top two - three inches of moss is dry. If your plant is potted fully in moss, it will become hard when dry and soft when damp, so take it out of the cache-pot and give it a squeeze. If your roots are tucked into bark, check for signs of dew or humidity on the inside of the pot.
And even at that, it’s only when there are blooms present that you'll want to keep a close eye on watering. When your orchid is in foliage mode they’re very forgiving of a forgetful waterer. They are quite drought tolerant and should be left to dry out completely, although we don’t recommend leaving it dry for too long!
Just be sure to never leave it sitting in water, or leave water in the folds of the leaves. Oh, and the ice cube method? Not our first choice - it’s too cold and can shock the roots. Instead, fill your cache-pot with warm water, place your nursery pot in and leave it for a while. After about 30 minutes, drain off any remaining water. Easy peasy.
Bright direct and indirect light is best. If you think back to their epiphytic lifestyle, they might be under some shady leaves, but would still receive bursts of bright light through the canopy. Translation? A big bright window with a sheer curtain is marvelous, or placed a few feet away from a window that receives strong direct sunlight for more than six hours of the day. Take care with south-facing windows as there is potential for the light to be a tad too intense. If your window faces east or north, skip the curtain and place your plant as close to the window as possible. Take care to avoid any part of the plant touching the window during extra hot or cold temperatures.
We know you’ll want to try to emulate their natural environment as well as you can, but we understand that this is Canada and not the tropics! If you were able to place a humidifier close by, your orchids will thank you for it. If a humidifier isn’t in the cards, consider making a humidity tray or grouping plants together to increase the ambient humidity. And to keep this environment to their liking, just make sure to stay away from any drafty windows or AC/Heating units blowing dry air.
Orchids get their nutrients from the mix of moss and bark, but a little fertilisation never hurts! Here’s a crash course: Ever notice those numbers on the bottle, like 20-20-20? Those numbers are the ratio of elements with which your fertiliser is composed. The first is for nitrogen [encourages foliage growth], the second for phosphorus [bloom and root production] and the last for potassium [helps boost photosynthesis]. To encourage blooming, look for one with a higher middle number, like 15-30-15, or if the numbers aren’t featured on the bottle, choose one that is for flowering plants/orchids specifically. Take care to fertilize sparingly, and use only through spring-fall while the plant is actively growing.
Think like a greenhouse grower and try to replicate those natural cues for your orchid. Our best recommendation is to attempt to trigger a flower spike in autumn. You’ll be working in tandem with mother nature since the days are already getting shorter and temperatures are taking a dip. Try leaving your orchid by an open window overnight to catch a cool breeze, and keeping it warm and sunny during the day. While it’s never a guarantee, repeating this warm day/cool night cycle for about two - three weeks is usually a success!
Symptom: Leaves wilt or wrinkle
Likely cause: Underwatering
Symptom: Leaves turn yellow
Likely cause: Overwatering, or too much direct sunlight
Symptom: Flowers begin to wilt
Likely cause: End of the blooming cycle, or underwatering
YOU GOT THIS
We feel as though there are a lot of folks who are missing out on these beauties because people are under the impression that orchids are these finicky little things, when as you can now see, they’re quite simple to care for. They aren’t as fragile and unforgiving as you may think, and with these care tips we hope your orchid blooming dreams come true! We know how rewarding it is to finally get that orchid to bloom! But remember, even if you’ve lost your flowers, your orchid is still healthy and happy if the roots and leaves are green.
You got this!
Co-written by Izabella Amico + Andrea Falvo
Author Bio: Izabella Amico
After getting her Bachelor’s in English Literature, her DEC in Fine Art and her certification in Massage Therapy, Bella has been living each day as varied as she can. When she isn’t being a dog mama to her King Cavalier, she’s writing freelance copy, treating her massage clients and working on her own two small companies; a skincare apothecary and an art print shop.
Author Bio: Andrea Falvo
Founder and creative director of Studio Foliage, Andrea's passions lay in the immersive arts. She enjoys enveloping her senses with colours, smells and sounds. If she's not cooking or playing with flowers, you'll probably find her in her cosy attic apartment learning about a new cooking technique, shooing a cat or two off her desk, taking/editing photos, or experimenting with essential oils.