More Tips for Growing Orchids Indoors

Following Wednesday’s post about growing orchids I learned additional tips from some fellow Durham County Extension master gardeners.

Temperature change aids flowering

“I took the “how to re-pot your orchid” class at Duke Gardens a year ago, reports Jayne Boyer, EMGV. “The president of the Triangle Orchid Society taught it. One gem that he told us was that in order to bloom, Phalenopsis needs a 10-degree change in temperature from day to night. I have two small Phalenopsis plants at work that I have repotted according to his directions and water with lab deionized water twice weekly (they are in clay pots). They are by large windows facing east and since the thermostat is on an outer wall, the temperature does change a lot in the lab. They seem to love this spot and have bloomed every January for three years.”   

Jayne’s mini Phalenopsis. Photo by J. Boyer.


Personally, I am not a big fan of fertilizing plants – they make their own food, afterall! So, fertilization got overlooked in my original post.

According to the American Orchid Society, a balanced water soluble fertilizer in the range 20-20-20 is safe and beneficial. Feed weekly at half strength or full strength monthly. This is generally good advice for feeding any houseplant. It helps avoid over-feeding.  

The New York Botanical Garden recommends a compost tea as an organic alternative to chemical fertilizers. “Soak a couple of handfuls of compost wrapped and tied in cheese cloth. Steep for a few hours and use the liquid when watering. Do not store compost tea for more than a day.”1

EMGV Catherine Urich swears by an actual tea solution. “I had a couple of drowned orchids and I found that removing all the moss, cutting out the bad roots and potting in new moss and bark nuggets and watering once a week with a weak tea solution has regenerated growth. Tea contains nitrogen and in this case can be used as a fertilizer.”  Her recipe: Using a quart pitcher, add two used tea bags to warm water and let sit for 15 minutes. The water will appear almost clear. Water once a week as normal. “Both orchid plants have grown new leaves and now, four months later, look healthy. It’s so exciting to have a hand in bringing a beautiful plant back to life.”  

Photo by C. Urich

A big drink of water

As I reported earlier, orchids can take more water than would seem prudent so long as they are given ample time to drain, too.  EMGV Beverly Davis has proved that point with her orchid care.

“I picked up my orchids from the clearance rack at a big box store about five years ago,” she explained in an email. “They are in bloom now for the first time! I water once a week for about three hours by submerging them each in a pitcher of water. I never cut the stem. They receive filtered afternoon sun. I never thought they would bloom and then one day, voila!

Beverly’s orchids. Photo by B. Davis.


1. Compost tea

Additional resources

–A. Laine, editor