orchid care for beginners: light, water, temperature and easy to grow orchids

Getting started with orchid care for beginners, orchid vocabulary, what to use for potting your orchids, temperature, light and watering.

Favorite beginner orchids you can grow are cattleya, cymbidium, lady slippers, phalaenopsis and oncidiums.

A beautiful cattleya taught me orchid care for beginnersBeautiful Cattleya Orchid
Image by lcb from Pixabay

orchid talk

Orchids are very popular. There are more types of orchids, Orchidaceae than any other types of plants in the world.

There are some common terms people use when they are talking about orchids.

epiphytic orchids

  • Epiphytic orchids hang onto the trunks or branches of trees.

They live in trees in tropical or subtropical areas of the world. They get quite a bit of light high up in the trees.

They get their water from rain or dew. Their nutrients come from whatever debris they can catch in their roots.


  • The orchids growing up in the trees have developed an enlarged stem call a pseudobulb.

The pseudobulb store extra water and nutrients for the orchid. So when there is a lack of rain they draw moisture from their pseudobulbs.

The pseudobulbs generally are green or they may be brown. Normally they have a leaf growing out of the top. Or the pseudobulbs may grow beside the leaves.

terrestrial orchids

  • Terrestrial orchids grow on the ground in moist soil that includes a lot of humus.

Generally they grow under trees, but sometimes in meadows. They have constant food and moisture from their environment.

orchid flowers

  • Orchid flowers have three petals. Three sepals cover the flower bud before it opens.

You may hear someone talking about an orchid's lip. The center flower petal is called the 'lip'. Many times the lip is larger and/or brightly colors with decorations on it.

The lip on lady slipper orchids is enclosed into a pouch, a slipper you could imagine putting your foot into.

orchid care for beginners

  • Epiphytic orchids are grown on slabs of wood, like their tree trunks or in slatted wooden baskets. They may also, be grown in clay pots with slots up the sides, so their roots can get plenty of air.

The large garden centers make orchid care for beginners easy. They have orchid bark for sale. Bark allows the epiphytic roots to get the air like they would get on tree trunks. Use the medium size bark for any pots 4" and over, use small bark for the smaller sizes.

  • Terrestrial orchids are grown in plastic or ceramic pots with a potting mix that helps keep their roots moist.

Terrestrial orchids are potted in a fine bark. Often with the addition of perlite, sand or moss to help maintain moisture. New Zealand sphagnum moss is an excellent potting medium for terrestrials.

water and fertilizer

  • Watering is the most important orchid care for beginners.

Orchids are generally watered once a week. Water when the pot feels much lighter than it was 10 to 15 minutes after you watered it the last time.

How my first two orchids CROAKED from improper watering.

  • Orchids growing in bark are generally fertilized every two weeks with a dilute, soluble orchid fertilizer, when they are actively growing.
  • Orchids growing in sphagnum moss are fertilized about three times during their growing season.

cattleya orchids

Cattleya orchids are probably the best know orchid in the United States because the florist industry used them for beautiful corsages.

Cattleya orchids used to be the florists choice for corsages.Cattleya Orchid

The flowers are large and showy coming in purple, lavender, yellow, orange, white and bi-colors.

There are many different varieties of cattleyas and inter-generic crosses.

The plants may range in size from a few inches to two feet.

See the cattleya photo above.

Cattleyas grow best in a warm, humid greenhouse, but can be grown in the house.  They like warm temperatures, no cooler than 55 to 60 degrees at night and 65 to 70 during the day.

  • They require plenty of light in order to flower. But protect them from the hot afternoon sun.

When they are getting enough light, their leaves should be light green. If the leaves are dark green and the new growths are soft, they need more light.

paphiopedilum, lady slippers

Lady Slippers grow well where it is a bit cooler.Lady Slipper
Image by bernswaelz from Pixabay
  • Lady Slippers, paphiopedilum (often called paphs) are easy orchid care for beginners. They are terrestrial orchids native to tropical regions of Asia. They grow well in our homes as a houseplant.

There are two variations of the paphs. The green-leaf varieties can take nights down to 40 degrees and the mottled-leaf varieties like it warmer 60 to 65 at night, 70 to 85 degrees in the day.

These two types of lady slippers usually produce one flower on a stem that rises above the foliage. There are many hybrids with some amazing flowers that will grow well in the home. The flowers last a couple of months, if they stay fairly cool.

  • Other related Lady Slippers, cypripedium and phragmipedium are native in north and South America. Many grow native in the United States. Some of these lady slippers have multiple flowers per stem.

They do not transplant well from the wild. It is best to leave them growing naturally.  We can enjoy them in their native environment.

More about growing Lady Slippers


Oncidiums (dancing ladies orchids) may be grown in the homeOncidium flowers

Oncidium orchids are sometimes called Dancing Ladies because their lip flares out like the skirt of a dancing lady. They grow multiple, branched flower stems that flutter and dance in the breeze. They give a nice flower display for several months.

They are an epiphyte growing on trees in central and South America. They like warm, daytime temperatures 70 to 85 and 60 to 65 at night.

This type of oncidium requires a bit more light than the popular Moth Orchid, phalaenopsis. It may be grown in east windows or a west window behind a sheer curtain when the sun is shining directly through the window.

  • Do not over-pot the oncidiums. They actually grow better when they are a bit pot-bound.

They must dry out between waterings. The leaves should be a light green. Dark green leaves are an indication of not enough light. They will not bloom unless they receive adequate light.

A very nice oncidium hybrid for the home is the oncidium "Sharry Baby". It has brick-red and cream colored flowers. A mature plant always blooms with multiple stems of fragrant flowers. The fragrance reminds people of chocolate, quite nice. It is considered an easy orchid for the home.


Cymbidium orchids make good cut flowers.Cymbidiums make good cut flowers.
Image by Steve Bidmead from Pixabay
  • Cymbidium orchid care for beginners is not hard. That is one reason they are a popular orchid with home owners.

They are semi-ephiphytic grown in large bark. They have grass-like leaves and grow a long arching stem full of flowers, 4 1/2 to 5 inches in white, pink, yellow, green or bronze, often with red or darker colors in their throat.

  • People in frost free areas like to grow them outside under a tree or patio roof. They like cool nights of 45 to 55 degrees. They can take day temperature up to 80 or 90 degrees.

They like about 50 percent shade. They do need light to flower well. If the leaves are quite green, give them more light for the best flowering.

They bloom from February to early May. They make good cut flowers that many florists now use for corsages.

  • Keep them moist in the spring when the new growths are developing. During the winter, restrict their watering. Water only enough in the winter to keep their pseudobulbs from shriveling.

Fertilize every two weeks from January to July, then less until the end of August.

most important orchid care for beginners

Both of my lessons of orchid care for beginners were about Watering Orchids.

  • More water is not always better. It is better to err on the side of not enough water, instead of too much.

The correct amount of water is better. That's good orchid care for beginners.

Orchids can't live or function without water. They need water to carry their nutrients around in the plant. They also use water to hold themselves upright.

phalaenopsis, the moth orchid

Phalaelenopsis are the easiest house orchid.Phals are the easiest house orchid.
Image by RÜŞTÜ BOZKUŞ" from Pixabay

Phals, phalaenopsis are wildly popular today. And with good reason, they like the same conditions most of us keep in our homes. They make orchid care for beginners very easy.

  • They grow up in trees, but they do not have pseudobulbs to store extra water.

Their roots can hold a minimal amount of extra water, but not much. This is our clue on how to take care of them.

You now have a foundation for growing some of the world's most amazing plants.

All you have to do is ask yourself, is your orchid is an epiphyte or a terrestrial. Then you confidently know the general care for any type of orchid.

Orchid plant care for beginners is easy!

more about orchids

  • Types of Orchids

    There are more types of orchids in the world, than any other plant. Orchid types for growing in the home with photos and information, lady slipper, phalaenopsis

  • Phalaenopsis Orchid Care

    All about phalaenopsis orchid care, water, light, temperature and fertilizer. Moth orchids or Phals are the popular modern houseplants easy to grow now-a-days.

  • How to Water Orchids

    MY FIRST TWO ORCHIDS CROAKED! Why? I didn’t know how to water orchids, after learning there was a whole greenhouse full of orchids and blue ribbons at the shows

  • How to Care for Orchids

    You already know how to care for orchids, if you grow houseplants. Orchids are one of the modern houseplants that are easy to take care of with just 3-4 things.

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