How to Keep Your Orchids Alive Long Term

  I am going to start this post by admitting something: I have killed a lot of orchids. It always seemed like I was over compensating in some way that would lead towards a painful end. Either watering them too much because I had let them dry out before, or water too little because I over watered last time. Orchids seem so touchy when it comes to watering and this has led to another realization: orchids are the worse plants to watch die since it takes so long for them to kick the bucket. I'm left to helplessly wait as the inevitable happens. They either take weeks for the leaves to shrivel and fall off from root rot, or each leaf shrivels and turns black/yellow from too little water.

   However, I have managed to keep a window full of orchids alive now for 3+ years in my apartment. I have had them re-blossom and spread out with new growth. It feels amazing to finally have a system in place that help the little guys thrive. Here's what I have found to work:

Our bedroom window filled to the brim with orchids and doubling as a cat perch for our little Chaussette.

Soil: I really am a believer in tree bark now. For some reason most of the local nurseries near me sell soil as orchid soil, when this only seems to lead to root rot. The tree barks holds water but allows air flow for the roots to breath and mostly dry out. Orchids never like to be soggy. I do keep my Vanda in a hanging basket with no bark but these are more the exception than the rule.

Watering: I water once a week now. It is better to miss a couple days than water early. During the Spring and Summer, around the time they are to re-bloom, I start fertilizing them every other week with orchid fertilizer. I dunk the pot most of the way into a bucket with a fairly quick dunk. and then I pour water over the top. This way the bark doesn't float out from the top of the pot. Once most of the water has stopped draining I put the orchid back. No need for catch plates with Orchids.

Spraying: Orchids really need good humidity. My apartment gets fairly dry, especially in the winter, so I have to do this part quite religiously. I give them all a very good spray on their leaves and at the top of the pot to get their roots a little wet. I do this once per day and they really seem to like this.

Humidity Reader: I live in the northeast and during the winter, my building cranks the heat to the point where I need to open the windows sometimes. Since the heating is always on, the air can get super dry, which is horrible for the orchids. One trick I figured out was to get a cheap humidity reader (around $10-$20), so that I could keep track of the moisture levels near my orchids. After buying it, I was easily able to figure out how much to spray the orchids everyday. If you decide to buy one, you want the humidity around your orchid area to read around 60% at the very least. After getting the reader, I haven't had the issue of my orchids drying out.

Light: I have a mostly West facing window. I understand more of an East facing window can be better but I do not have this choice. During the summer I have has one or two leaves scorched but otherwise they have been pretty happy in this spot. A noonday sun in a South facing window would definitely be too much for them. It takes awhile to get used to the fact that beautifully dark green leaves means the orchid actually needs more light and is not getting enough where it is. A lighter grass-green color means that have the correct amount of light they need.

Pots: Terracotta with the slits are great. If you want to have a glazed ceramic planter you need one with plenty of cutouts or slits to allow air to go through the orchid soil.

Drainage: This is somewhat related to the pots. The pot must have at least a big hole in the bottom to allow water to drain and some air to flow through the pot. I have too often seen orchids for sale at flower shops and nurseries where they sell the orchids in glazed pots with no holes. Essentially the complete opposite of what an orchid should be kept in and guarantees the roots will rot. We always cut large holes in the bottom of our pots to make sure there is maximum drainage.

Long term Orchid care does require more perseverance than a quick water when the leaves start wilting. Orchids can live 20+ years, so with careful care you can enjoy watching them grow and re-bloom for years to come!

An example of an orchid pot with extra drainage holes

How to Set Up Easy Drainage Holes for Succulent Planters

One of the hardest things about keeping your succulents alive is making sure they have the correct amount of drainage. Too much water and their roots rot, not enough water they wilt and die. As someone who keeps orchids, I know that it's especially hard to make sure that water doesn't build up in the bottoms of my planters. One trick I learned to ensure that there is enough drainage, without getting soil everywhere, is to give the planter a traditional bonsai drainage set up. These planters have large holes at the bottom, so that water can drain out quickly, while having a mesh and wire set up that stops any debris from falling out. Here are the steps to fix up your own planter with large drainage holes. If you start to get lost and need some visual help, I've added step by step photos at the bottom that should help you out.

Succulent planter

You will need:

  1. A pair of scissors
  2. Plastic mesh
  3. Copper wire
  4. Ruler
  5. Planter with large drainage holes

Step One: Measure the plastic mesh against the hole in the bottom of your ceramic planter. You will want the mesh to be bigger than the hole, so that it stays in place and doesn't fall through.

Step Two: Cut a square of mesh that fits comfortably in the bottom of the foot ring. The mesh will be going inside of the planter; however by making sure that it fits within the foot ring, you ensure that it will fit perfectly flat in your planter. 

Step Three: Cut a piece of copper wire about 6" long. For this planter, I have a 1" drainage hole. If you have a hole that is bigger you can do 8" - 10" long piece of wire for extra clearance and then just trim off any excess.

Step Four: The next step is a little tricky but if you need help there are pictures to guide you. Essentially you need to fold each wire end over to form little loops that will end up just shy of the hole width. Take one end of the wire and start to fold it as if you were to fold it in half. As you start to get toward the other end, pull the wire downward toward you to form a loop. This can be seen in pictures 6 and 7. Once you have one loop, flip the wire over and do the same thing to the other side. You want the two loops ends on the opposite sides of each other (pictures 8 and 9). You will know you did it right if one loop wire goes in front and one loop wire goes behind. Place aside for now and be sure not to trim the ends!

Step Five: Place the plastic mesh inside of your planter up against the drainage hole.

Step Six: While holding the mesh in place with one hand, turn the planter over to expose the bottom of the pot. Place the pointy ends of the wire (that you made the loops with) through the little mesh holes and into the pot. Make sure that the loops are near the edges of the drainage hole, so that when they get put in place, they reach the sides of the planter.

Step Seven:  Twist/push the loops down so that they lie against the bottom of the planter to secure the mesh in place, while pushing down the straight ends on the inside, against the pot. Take a look at picture 12 to see how they should look. The reason we wanted the loops to be set up front and back is so that when you push down on the loops they don't open back up. If they both faced the same way, when you twisted the wire, one loop would come undone.

And that's it, you're done! Fill your planter with whatever soil you like and relax knowing that your succulent plants have plenty of drainage, even if you accidentally over water them. If you're looking for nice ceramic planters that have these larger drainage holes, take a look at our shop here.  Any of the planters we have can be modified to have the larger drainage holes, so feel free to give it a try!