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Orchids Need TLC

Orchids need TLC, but a little goes a long way!
by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia

There it was in all its glory – a white-flowering orchid sitting on my dining room table. The scene looked very much like a page out of House Beautiful magazine. The orchid was a Valentine’s Day gift from my husband, and I cherished its specialness. For years, he gave me long-stem red roses, and the switch to a plant that would grow and bloom again was a nice change. For days, I walked through the dining room often, admiring the orchid’s silky white flower petals.

The orchid was a Phalaenopsis, nicknamed a moth orchid because each bloom looks like a dainty moth ready to take flight from the arching stem that holds it tight. It was planted in a small clay pot filled with a bark mix made special for orchids. Thinking I was giving it kindness, I watered the orchid enough to keep the bark constantly moist. Within weeks, the orchid’s fleshy leaves began to wrinkle. I fretted and watered some more, thinking the plant was thirsty.

Desperate to save my beautiful orchid, I took it to the garden center where my husband had purchased it. They kept it for several days, nursing it back to health. They also warned me – don’t water it so much! Unfortunately, my orchid didn’t make it, but I learned an important lesson that I continually pass onto plant lovers when they ask me how to maintain an indoor plant’s good health.

Watering a houseplant too much is just as bad as watering too little. When you get a houseplant, take the time to read the label which includes care instructions. Plant roots need oxygen, and quickly suffocate and rot if left in a water-logged pot. Water orchids thoroughly, usually about once a week, then allow them to dry slightly before watering again, according to the American Orchid Society on its website at

Did I get another orchid? Not yet, but I’m hoping Cupid delivers one this Valentine’s Day!

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