Whether this is your first plant or your 100th, there are some basic things you should know and do.
What to look for
At least minimally, what sort of orchid is it? There are basic categories with lots of similarities within a category in terms of care. If it’s an orchid genus you know, then you’ll know the answers to the following questions. If it’s one you don’t know, check the orchids listed on this site and other websites to see if you can figure out at least what its basic requirements for care are. For starters, look at the flowers if you have any. If not, you’ll have to look at the basic structure of the plant to see if you can spot something close.
Things to consider:
- How is it potted? Is it potted appropriately for that orchid? Don’t assume it is. If it’s a gift, especially if it’s struggling and someone who owned it and decided they didn’t know how to care for it gave it to you, then don’t assume anything. One of the reasons its struggling may have been that it was not repotted correctly. Lots of people purchase orchids that are packed in sphagnum moss of the convenience of the grower, or in a bark medium that has broken down to the point that they roots are staying too wet, etc. If it’s a genus you recognize immediately, such as Phalaeonopsis, and you know how they are
potted, you’ll know immediately if it is correct or not. Does it have good, coarse fresh bark? Is it deteriorated to the point where it could or perhaps should be repotted? Does it appear someone mistakenly potted it in soil? (Yes, it happens. I just received a “gift” orchid yesterday from someone who felt they could no longer care for it. Yep. It was a Phal, and yes, it was planted in a mixture of soil and the remaining bark from its original potting. So it will be repotted immediately in coarse bark for its own good. While there are orchids you could obtain that really are grown in soil, most that are commercially available to casual orchid owners are not.)
- What light level does it require? If you don’t know, again you will have to do a little research. You don’t want to put a very sensitive orchid in full sun. There may be substantial damage before you figure out that it was too much direct sunlight. When in doubt, opt for less light until you find out, as a high-sun orchid can do nicely for a while in lower light, whereas the opposite is not necessarily true.
- Does it have any unusual watering requirements? For example, is it a Vanda, which requires its roots to be completely exposed at all times, and presented with a serious batch occasionally and higher than bone-dry humidity the rest of the time? Is it a Phal that will do nicely if you pour water through the bark a couple times a week?
- Temperature. Like light and water, this newcomer to your collection is going to require that you provide it the correct temperature range or it will a) fail to thrive or b) if you’re way off, simply die. I have a VERY expensive orchid that’s of a genus that I happen to keep successfully (though they are more fragile and fussy than most of my orchids), and this one is definitely not thriving. But it’s not diseased or infested. And it has a truly spectacular bloom if I can get it to survive, so I’ll keep trying until I either win or lose!
- Does it have any pests? (Aphids? Mealybugs? Scale? Something else?) If it has something you know you can treat quickly and easily with your handy-dandy dormant oil spray, do it. If it’s anything else, be very careful you don’t infest your other plants, and be prepared to through this new addition out quickly if you can’t get to the bottom of what it has and what it needs to correct. You do not want to risk your other plants.
- Segregation: This is a MUST, for ALL new additions to your orchid family. No matter WHERE I get an orchid (gift, purchase from the local supermarket or other store, even purchased from a mainstream orchid grower) it gets segregated for a while. I have (occasionally) imported pests from all of the above. Better safe than sorry. Simply keep the newcomer a safe distance (10 feet or more?) from the rest of your orchids for weeks, if not months. If there is absolutely NO sign of trouble, you can intermingle. But trust me when I say if you have a problem with ONE orchid you can have a problem with LOTS of orchids quickly if they are co-mingled when the one gets sick and/or infested.