Orchid growing for beginners: A complete guide

Here's everything you need to know about starting an orchid garden.

While orchids look like a complicated plant to grow (and keep alive) they aren’t as difficult to maintain as you may think.

In fact, they’re low-maintenance and grow beautifully in the right environment. So, what's the first step? Selecting the right orchids.

Veronica Clowes, orchid judge of the Australian Orchid Council and Honorary Secretary of the Orchid Society of NSW, says there are some easy options to start with if you are a novice grower.

“For indoors the Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) is ideal. It is inexpensive and readily available from supermarkets and hardware stores,” she says. “These orchids can last in flower for 4-5 months, and will flower all year.”

If you’re looking for an outdoor orchid, Veronica suggests the Cymbidium orchid.

“This orchid provides a wonderful display each winter and spring in Sydney. The plants are quite large and when mature (with good culture) produce many spikes of large colourful flowers which last 6-8 weeks.”

Here are some of Veronica’s top beginner tips for growing orchids.

  • Choose the right location

The location of your orchid depends entirely on the orchid type.

“Many people love to grow the ‘moth’ orchid (or Phalaenopsis) in their homes, and unless you have a heated glass house,  these orchids will need to be grown indoors all year,” Veronica says.

“They thrive in areas where filtered morning sun comes through windows, and love kitchens and bathrooms where there is a more humid environment.”

If you are thinking of growing orchids indoors, there is a wide range to choose from including Cymbidiums, Cattleyas and Australian Native orchids (Dendrobium speciosum or rock lily orchid).

“All of these orchids are lovers of a north facing position in the garden, on a patio or in a green house. They love morning sun in summer but dislike hot afternoon heat.”

  • Choosing a pot

The rule of thumb is that plant size determines pot size. The pot should be only slightly larger than the circumference of the plant. Allow only about 20mm extra space all around your plant.

  • Can you over water your orchid?

“Absolutely! Most orchids which do not flourish are killed by overwatering,” Veronica says.

To avoid this, take note of the specific watering needs that some orchids have. For example the moth orchid needs to be watered from the bottom by placing the pot into a saucer of water for an hour or so, to allow the plant to take up the water, then drained. In summer, the watering can be done weekly, in winter about every two weeks.

Outside orchids on the other hand should be watered every couple of days in summer, but reduced to weekly or longer during the cooler months, and always in the early morning.

“Generally speaking, water should be given to the orchid until the excess runs away through the bottom of the pot.”

  • My orchid isn't not flowering, now what?

Orchids, like all plants, need three elements to survive and produce those wonderful flowers. Water, food and sunlight.

“If one of these elements is missing from culture, the result may be growth but no flowers,” Veronica says.
She suggests providing water, food - any water soluble fertiliser at recommended rate after watering or weekly - and plenty of light including morning sun every day. This may require relocation of plant through seasons when position of sun changes.

  • Do orchids require pruning?

While orchids aren’t pruned in a traditional sense - cutting back stems to produce a more bushy plant – they can be divided.

“You can divide orchids into smaller plants by breaking the plant through the bulbs and roots and repotting into smaller pots,” Veronica says.

Visit the Orchid Society of NSW for more growing tips for specific types of orchids.

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