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Ask Dr. Phipps: Orchid Care
Aug 13

Ask Dr. Phipps: Orchid Care

By Phipps Master Gardeners

Have a question about your perennials, houseplants or turf grass? Worried about pests in the garden, hydrangeas that won't bloom, or tomatoes that died on the vine? Dr. Phipps can help! Ask Dr. Phipps is a free service provided by Phipps Master Gardeners. Contact us with your questions and you may be featured in an upcoming blog post!

Q: How long do orchids typically live? I’ve had one for almost 5 years; it was rather small when I got it. It’s been lovely and bloomed a few times per year. It is currently in bloom, however, the leaves have spontaneously dropped off and I’m down to two. Two of the buds have not opened (the others have) and it appears to be dying. Just curious, is this typical in terms of abrupt changes while in bloom? Disappointed but remaining a tiny bit hopeful. Thanks!!

A: Typically orchids can live pretty long lives! It sounds like you may have what we call the Moth Orchid, which is a Phalaenopsis. If you have not changed the growing medium every two years, it may have broken down and rotted its roots which is why you are now seeing issues above. Pull the plant gently out of its pot after watering. If all the bark and the roots are dark and mushy, your roots have rotted. If any of your roots are white or green and firm, those are the good roots. Sterilize a pair of cutters and snip off the brown mushy roots. Make sure you have new bark mix ready and soak it for 24 hours in a bucket of water with a drop of dish soap. Then, repot your orchid in a pot size big enough for the root mass. DO NOT over pot! Orchids like to be pot bound. Water as usual.

The only thing I would add is that if the plant has no roots, I would tie some twisty ties on it to act as fake roots to anchor the plant.


More on orchid care:

Orchids can be tricky to grow, however, their bloom lasts a long time and are well worth the reasonable investment today. They are readily available and look great for a long time. Most orchids that you will see at gardening shops are Phalaenopsis. They are one of the easiest orchids to grow and are great for beginners. They like cooler temperatures in the evening. Do not let the plant sit in water, allow water to run through the pot and drain. It is best to use rain water or allow your tap water to sit for a day, then use. Do not over-water, do not over-fertilize and do not use ice cubes as a way to water the orchid. Enjoy the plant and if it fails, not to worry, they are just as far as your DIY store. I no longer try to save orchids that are failing. I find it is harder to do than to just start over.

For more information on Phalaenopsis Orchid Care visit: http://www.aos.org/AOS/media/Content-Images/PDFs/phalaenopsis.pdf.

For more Orchid information, please visit: http://www.aos.org/.


I have an orchid that has no roots. I don’t know how it has survived. It’s in a orchid pot with orchid planting bark. I water weekly and mist it. How can I get it to root? It was blooming when I got it. I use miracle grow orchid fertilizer.

By Sara Matson on Aug 13, 2019

Hi Sara,

Orchids are epiphytes and do not have a root system like roots systems we think of common to most plants. They get their nutrients in a different manner than most others. You should see a “root system” on the surface of the container that has green tips. The “roots” are very porous and are able to absorb like a sponge.

In addition, be careful with the fertilizer, you may want to cut back on it and also cut back on the concentration. Orchids do not like to be over-fertilized. If the orchid looks healthy and viable, continue to treat it as you are but watch the fertilizer. As mentioned above, make sure the orchid is not sitting in water, when watering, make sure the water drains through the pot. If you are using tap water, let it sit out overnight to disperse additional chemicals. Rain water is good to use when available for any indoor plants.

I wonder if you could send some pictures of your orchid along with your phone number to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  That way we can see better what’s going on with your plant.


Phipps Sustainable Landcare Coordinator
Dr. Phipps Coordinator

By Juliette Olshock on Aug 13, 2019

Why not use ice cubes? I had an orchid that I got for Mothers’ Day that was blooming on two stalks. I used ice cubes once a week and it grew a new stalk and bloomed by the next Mothers’ Day. Seemed to work well for me.

By Jacqueline Hursh on Aug 14, 2019

Hi Jacqueline,
I am glad to hear that the ice cube method has worked for you so far. In the long term, though, it may be detrimental to your plant. There are lots of reasons why we advise against watering this way. Orchids grow in moist, tropical regions. They benefit from tepid water moistening all of the bark potting material. There is a concern that ice water could damage the delicate roots of the orchid and that the water from the melting ice cubes will not get to all areas of the pot and rooting mix. Salt build up from tap water can also be detrimental to the plant. 

You can read more about this issue in this post from the Oregon Orchid Society: http://oregonorchidsociety.org/ice-cubes-and-orchids.

And hear from Ron McHatton of the American Orchid Society here (begin listening at 29:27 to hear his answer about watering with ice cubes): http://www.aos.org/All-About-Orchids/Webinars/chat/Greenhouse-Chat-July-2017.aspx

I hope this helps!  Thanks for your question,

By Juliette on Aug 15, 2019