Posted on April 16th,2012

by Andrew Ding 

Ok, so you’ve just walked out of Wholefoods with a blooming orchid that will look stunning on your hallway/coffee/kitchen-dining-food-prep-table in your new apartment.  First of all, congratulations on having great taste, pat on the back for you. Having plants in living spaces really does do so much not just for the aesthetics but it actually has a positive impact on the air quality of your space.

MYTH: Orchids are delicate plants and hard to keep alive. Rubbish.

All it takes is just a little know-how and you’ll find that they are even less needy than almost any other house plant.

I’m going to make the assumption that the orchid you chose to adopt was what is commonly referred to as a ‘Moth’ Orchid or to be scientific- ‘Phalaenopsis.’

These orchids are robust and if properly taken care of can give you up to 2 months of flower power – now that’s serious value. However, even the greenest of thumbs can kill an orchid in no time if they don’t follow some simple guidelines.

So lets go over some basic steps.


Orchids belong to a family of plants called Epiphytes. Epiphytes are found mostly in the tropics and are also known as air plants because they have no attachment to the ground or other obvious nutrient source.

If you look at the roots of an orchid you will see that they are quite thick and may even be growing outside of the potting mixture. This is because the roots of an orchid can actually absorb water and nutrients from the air as well as from rainwater and debris from supporting plants. In their natural tropical habitats orchids can be seen growing on trees, cliff faces and other unlikely places.

What this means for you is that unlike the roots of other more common houseplants, Orchid roots do not tolerate being left in oversaturated potting mixture or sitting in a tray with excess water. This can very quickly cause a host of issues such as root rot, fungal growth and will lead to the rapid death of your gorgeous plant.

What happens then is that the roots die from suffocation and will no longer be able to carry the water and nutrients to keep the plant alive.

So how do you know when to water, you ask?

Simple, here’s how:

The Chopstick test

Save those Chinese takeout disposable chopsticks.

It is safe to assume that when you first bring home your orchid it will already have been watered within the past few days by the store. So wait a few days and then do the chopstick test!

Take your chopstick and insert it into the potting mixture as far down as you can.  Don’t worry those roots are much more hardy than you think, they can take it!

Leave it there for about 30 seconds and then pull it out. Feel and examine the portion that was inserted for the following traits:

  • Cool to the touch
  • Slightly damp
  • Slight darkening of the wood color

If these are your findings then you can hold off on watering for another few days.

However, if what you find is:

  • No noticeable change in the temperature of the inserted tip
  • Dry to touch.
  • No visible color change.

Then it’s time for a good thorough watering!

Here’s what you do:

Take it to a sink, and let lukewarm water run over the potting material (not on the leaves) for about 2 minutes until you can feel the weight of the pot heavy with absorbed water. Let it drain for another 2 minutes until no more water runs from the drainage holes and return it back to your saucer or decorative pot that you were displaying it in.

That’s it! You don’t have to touch it again for probably another week!

Keep this up and you’ll be rewarded with healthy blooms for months.

Next time I’ll teach you what to do once the flowers have wilted J and NO, a trash bin is not involved.


Here is a list of the best florists above 110th Street.

When Carnations and Baby’s Breath just isn’t going to cut it.

Harlem Flo – Floral Atelier (Nice Orchid Selection)
2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd
New York, NY 10027
Neighborhood: Harlem
(212) 316-3031

Franz James Floral Boutique
2114 Frederick Douglass Boulevard
New York, NY 10026
Neighborhood: Harlem
(212) 531-1400

Barbara's Flowers
2522 Frederick Douglass B
New York, NY 10030
Neighborhood: Harlem
(212) 234-3211

Surroundings Flowers
1351 Amsterdam Ave
(between 125th St & 126th St)
New York, NY 10027
Neighborhood: Harlem
(212) 580-8982

Anthony Florist (Nice Orchid Selection)
4034 Broadway
(between 169th St & St Nicholas Ave)
New York, NY 10032
Neighborhood: Washington Heights
(212) 923-5900

Fort Washington Florist
4257 Broadway
(between 180th St & 181st St)
Neighborhood: Washington Heights
New York, NY 10033
(212) 795-2978

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