growing and painting orchids

As plant and flower obsessed as I am, it's not surprising that I want to grow orchids on my windowsills. Right now I'm growing only two types, phalaenopsis and oncidium. Phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, are probably the most common. You can buy them almost anywhere. It's why I have so many. I just couldn't resist them. Over the years I have killed more than my fair share of orchids and I felt like a gardening failure for not being able to grow what is considered the easiest type of orchid. But then things began to shift and I had first one live to rebloom and then another... Now my collection includes some plants that I've had for about 4 years and they are blooming like crazy.

white orchid flowers phalaenopsis

pink orchid flowers phalaenopsis

yellow pink orchid flowers phalaenopsis

white pink orchid phalaenopsis flowers

I have come to realize a few things about growing orchids and I thought I'd share what I learned in case you're struggling with them, too.

The most important thing I've learned about growing plants in general is simply to pay attention. Get to know them. Observe them. Read what you can about their likes and dislikes and set them up where they'll have the conditions they most like. The American Orchid Society has care instructions for phalaenopsis here, but looking them over just now I see that I'm growing my plants in conditions that aren't considered ideal. The temperatures are too low and they're getting too much sun. Also, I haven't fertilized in well over a year and nearly all of them need to be repotted. They're blooming better than ever. To me that says you shouldn't stress too much over ideal conditions.

What I have found to be most crucial for phalaenopsis is healthy roots. If your orchid is suffering or dies, it's probably because of a root problem. As epiphytes (plants that grow attached to a tree or other plant and absorb moisture and nutrients from the air) they don't naturally have their roots contained and it's very easy to overwater unless you're paying close attention. I like growing my plants in clear pots so I can see what's happening with the roots.

phalaenopsis roots in a clear pot

Green or silvery roots are healthy. Blackened, brown or shriveled roots are not. If you're buying an orchid plant, take a moment to look at the health of the roots as well as the leaves and flowers. In the photo above you can see that the roots are pretty crowded in the pot. Once this plant finishes blooming I will repot it, cutting off any damaged roots and adding fresh moss. You can also see that the conditions inside the pot look moist. I watered it yesterday and won't need to water again for a while. I like to check not only the top of the pot, but inside as well, to determine when to water.

damp moss in an orchid pot

I can see in this photo that the moss looks damp, but it's also a good idea to feel it with your fingers. If it feels at all moist, wait to water. Generally I water my orchids once or twice a week depending on how warm and sunny it is. A plant whose roots are tight in the pot will need to be watered more often than a plant that has more room. Again, the most important thing is to observe and pay attention. Having a strict watering schedule isn't going to work.

Something else I have learned is how to water. I don't use a watering can. Instead, I fill the sink in the bathroom and submerge the whole pot. I let the plant sit for a bit. When I pull it out I make sure any excess water drains out before I return the plant to its decorative pot and back in its place. Putting a little gravel on the bottom of the decorative pot is also helpful. Any excess water will drain into the gravel so the plant isn't sitting in water. Sitting in water will cause the roots to rot.

A plant with damaged or rotting roots isn't a lost cause. You'll just need to be extra careful with it. Repotting in fresh moss is helpful as long as there is a healthy root or two to anchor the plant. Monitor the moisture carefully. A month or so ago I accidentally damaged one of my plants by inadvertently pulling it out of the pot while watering. I carefully repotted it and kept an eye on it. Some of the flower buds dropped. But then it bounced back. The other day the first flower bud opened.

white orchid with purple spots phalaenopsis flower

Plants thrive when they receive attention (as long as its not in the form of overwatering or over-fertilizing) and love. My orchids are growing in my studio. They're close at hand and I am constantly observing them. I think they like the creative vibes going on in here, too. They're also an inspiration and they call me to paint them. I shared my recent terrarium painting. Since then I painted one in a clay pot.

watercolor moth orchid in a clay pot

I felt a bit antsy working on that one, ready to move on to other things. I think it might be spring fever. As much as I love all of my indoor plants and flowers, I'm looking forward to my outdoor garden.

Wishing each of you a wonderful, joy-filled and creative weekend.


  1. Great orchid advice Anne. I didn't realize that you could keep them indefinitely and thought they only lived a season or two! Next time I buy an orchid I will come here to heed your advice born out of your experiences. Your orchids look so healthy and loved and your orchid painting is lovely. have a wonderful weekend. :)

    1. They baffled me for years, Simone. I can see why you might think that. Maybe you'll find a sweet little plant just waiting to come home with you!

  2. Great orchid advice. I just had an orchid given to me this past August. I do wonder if I am doing things right with it.
    Enjoy the Wisconsin warm up. :-)

    1. Good luck with your orchid. Hope that it will bloom again and again for you. And hooray for the spring-like weather!

  3. These are such pretty photos, Anne. I especially love the one with the roots showing through the's fresh green things like that that make me so happy. Great tip, btw, about submerging the whole pot when watering. Now why didn't I think of that?

  4. Thanks, Laurie. Green fresh things are the happiest. Like brand new rose leaves just forming on plants or tiny sprouting seedlings. Such joy!


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