A Shopper's Guide to Buying Orchids

A Shopper's Guide to Buying Orchids

Get tips for buying orchids. Moth orchids may look delicate and fragile, but these easy-care plants are a snap to grow. By Karen Weir-Jimerson
By Karen Weir-Jimerson

Exquisite, long-lasting flowers borne on elegant, arching stems: An orchid is a symbol of natural beauty. Here are tips for buying the best orchids for your home and gifts. 

Although orchids may look delicate and fragile, these easy-care plants are less fussy than most other plants in your home. And the sublime payoff for buying orchids is that you’ll enjoy their gorgeous flowers for months. 

The long sprays of flowers on orchid stems, called inflorescence, start blooming from the bottom of the stem until the last bud on the tip of the stem opens. It’s a slow-motion symphony of bloom. From first bud to last flower, a moth orchid can be in bloom for three months or more. What a nice feat for a flowering plant!

Shopping for an Orchid
When selecting an orchid, its purpose will dictate how you buy: Longer-lasting vs. instant gratification

  > Getting the Longest-Lasting Orchid
If you want a long-lasting houseplant, look for as many stems covered with buds as possible. The flowers open in succession toward the tip, so you can see in a glance how long your orchid will stay beautiful.

  > Getting the Showiest Orchid 
A lot of people want to buy the orchid for gifts or centerpieces, so look for large, open flower sprays for dramatic instant impact. Select plants with an abundance of buds and you’ll also enjoy the plant for months.

Start with Healthy Plants
Here are the criteria for evaluating an orchid before purchase:

  > Look at the roots.
The first thing you’ll realize about an orchid is that it’s not planted in soil. Because orchids are epiphytes, which mean they grown in air), their roots are generally set in a mixture of bark and other large organic material and placed in a pot. The roots should be light green if they are dry and dark green when they are wet. They should look thick and succulent (as opposed to white and shriveled). Also, unlike houseplants that grow in soil, the roots can be exposed to the air. In fact, that’s how they drink in water and nutrients.

  > Look at the leaves and stems.
Different orchids produce different leaf shapes and textures. But all healthy orchid leaves and stems should be green, with no yellow marks or dark blemishes. Stems should be upright and arching (most will be attached to a stick which helps keep them erect and safe from snapping off in shipment and while in the store).

Bringing Your Orchid Home
Once you’ve purchased an orchid, you need to get it home safely. If the weather is cold outside, make sure the orchid is well wrapped in plastic when it leaves the store so that cold wind and freezing temperatures don’t damage it before you get it home.

Don’t leave your orchid in the car on super hot or cold days because extreme temperatures can damage it. Even a few minutes of extreme temperatures can shorten the lifespan of the flowers. 

Make your Orchid Last
Orchids, like all living things, need sunlight, moisture, and food. Placing your orchid in the right environment and giving it proper long-term care is the key to long-lasting blooms (and rebloom!).

  >  Light
Orchids can live in natural and artificial light. In nature, most moth orchids grow in the shade of tropical rain forests and don’t need full sun. In your home, your moth orchid will best thrive in an east- or west-facing window. If you have a sunny south-facing window, use a sheer curtain to help diffuse the light. If you don’t have a good light from a window, use artificial light. Place plants 1 to 2 feet beneath fluorescent light bulbs. If you keep your orchid in an office under ceiling level fluorescent light, they don’t need to be that close. 

  > Moisture
To keep the flowers at their best, allow the orchid’s potting mix dry out a little between watering. Depending on temperature, humidity, and light levels, you should add moisture once a week. What if you forget? No worries! Moth orchids are amazingly tolerant of inconsistent watering; they can survive a few weeks without water (but keep in mind that their flowers may not last as long in this situation). 

Humidity is also important to orchids since they can pull moisture from the air through their roots. Moth orchids do best in at least 50 percent relative humidity. You can boost the humidity around your plants in the following ways:

   --- Group orchids together. Plants increase air moisture as a part of their breathing process.

   --- Group orchids with other houseplants. This also increases humidity.  

   --- Use a humidifier. Place a small humidifier near your orchid to create a pocket of humid air for your plant.

   --- Create a humidity tray. This is an old-school humidifier. Fill a bowl or tray with pebbles or gravel, and add water so just the tops of the rocks are dry. Set your orchid on top of them. As the water evaporates, it goes into the air around your moth orchid.  

  > Temperature
Moth orchids like rooms the same temperatures humans do: Between 70 and 80F (21 to 27C) during the day and 60 to 70F (15 to 21C) at night. Although orchids are from the rain forest, they don’t like super-hot conditions. If daytime temperatures are consistently over 85F (30C), their flowers won’t last as long. 

  > Feeding
Fertilizing your orchid is easy. Use a food formulated for orchids and follow the dosage on the package. Or you can use a water-soluble, general-purpose houseplant fertilizer mixed at 10 percent (one part fertilizer to 10 parts water). Fertilize during the spring and summer months.

Getting Your Orchid to Bloom Again
A healthy orchid that receives consistent, proper light, adequate water and humidity, and a regular feeding should bloom again. Moth orchids naturally bloom once a year, usually in winter. Cool temperatures at night 52 to 58F (12 to 14C) help signal a change in the orchid’s chemistry, which triggers it to form flower spikes. 

Orchid Questions?
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