The Orchid Whisperer

By Kate Riley July 27, 2012

When it comes to orchids, I’m not the best steward of their care. It isn’t for lack of wanting to keep an orchid alive or an affection for the species, in fact, I like to buy orchids from time to time and display them in my home, but truth is, I lack both the talent and patience to make them rebloom. I fully admit I am an Orchid Killer. As we all know, orchids are so pretty displayed indoors – some designers label the mass produced Phalaenopsis as “ubiquitous” but I think all varieties are beautiful. We acquired a few orchids earlier this year, and as with the two dozen other orchids I’ve ever purchased and owned over the course of my life, they look pretty for two weeks, the blooms fall off, and then the stem turns wooden and petrified, death results, and that’s the end of the story. So here’s how things changed in our house and someone (not me) became The Orchid Whisperer.

Matt was on a real estate inspection a few months ago, and the woman who lived in the home he was appraising had an impressive collection of orchids that had rebloomed year after year.  Knowing his wife to be a notorious Orchid Killer, he inquired how he might take it upon himself to learn a few tricks – perhaps spare the lives of a few of the species – and asked this knowledgeable woman what really was the secret formula for orchids that rebloom?  And she spilled it.

So we he tested out these key pieces of advice over the course of the last few months, and hey guess what, they worked.

Exhibit A:  I brought home a moth Phalaenopsis orchid pictured here at my kids’ public school auction (mixed with curly willow) way back in early March and after the blooms fell off, I pretty much ignored it.  It sat there dormant, but Matt followed all the tips suggested, and look at it now, five months later.


I feel three emotions at the same time looking at this orchid.  I’m proud, surprised, and just a little envious because under his care, this is what happened:


So not fair.

And to prove his new skill, the orchid below that I photographed for this winter post . . .

Is actually blooming again in my home.

And I had nothing to do with it.

(silently shaking fist in air whilst muttering *damn you Orchid Whisperer!*)

Because, truth be told, if left to me, all orchids end up looking like this:

So guess what people, there’s hope!

You too can have an orchid rebloom in your home!

Matt’s Five Tips:

1. Repot!  After your orchid plant loses its blooms and goes into dormancy, repot it in an orchid pot like this one designed to allow for aeration among the roots.

2.  Replant in Bark or Moss.  Orchids should be planted in sphagnum moss or bark.  If you tend to water your plants a lot, then choose bark because it dries out faster, but if you tend to underwater your plants, then moss is a better choice because it holds moisture longer.

3.  Avoid Overwatering.  Avoid the watering can or running under the faucet method. Instead place a large ice cube (or several small ice cubes) on the outskirts of the moss or bark to allow for slower watering as the ice cube(s) melt.  Do this once a week in between feedings.   Use your finger to determine if any moisture remains underneath moss to avoid overwatering.  In hot or humid climates where the air conditioner runs indoors, mist once or twice a week with a water spritzer bottle.  Humidity helps orchids thrive – bathrooms are a natural place to put them, but not essential.

4.  Fertilize.  Twice a month add a small amount (less than recommended on the package) of orchid food to an empty squeeze bottle filled with water (ketchup bottles work well).  Dose the outer edges of the pot with 6 to 8 ounces of the mixture.

5.  Grow in Filtered Light.  Most orchids do not thrive in direct sunlight, so situate them in filtered light or in front of sheer curtains.   Dark green leaves signal health, but yellowed leaves are a clear sign your orchid is getting too much light.

Here are a few more great resources:

How To Grow Orchids Indoors

Orchid Care Tips

Orchid Care – Things to Consider

Any of you ever had an orchid rebloom for you?  Any of your spouses possess a level of talent you can never achieve?  Do share.




  1. Oh, I absolutely love orchids. Along with calla lilies, they are my favorite flowers. I wanted to learn how to take care of an orchid I had gotten for my birthday so I went to a local florist shop and I was told all about the ice cube trick and the minimum feed trick and I have been growing orchids now for more than five years! They’re so beautiful and delicate at the same time. I actually wrote a children’s book (not published, yet!) about an orchid, too. Thanks for this post!

  2. I kid you not, we have an orchid hospital here in Raleigh, NC. You drop it off half dead, they keep it alive for a few bucks a month and you pick it up when it blooms! My mom always has a few in the hospital…

  3. My dad has started referring to me at the Orchid Whisperer since I have gotten 3 of his to bloom in the last few months. Their house is just to dark and I think he watered too much. So now, our home is “the greenhouse” and when one starts blooming, it goes to their house for the month or so it blooms. Now if I could just keep some of my other house plants alive…

  4. I don’t think you are alone in this. Every orchid I buy dies as well. They are considered a disposable item in my eyes but I would like to change that. These are great tips that I will definitely try.

  5. Living in South Florida, I have now become quite the orchid hoarder! When they drop all of their blooms, I put them outside, sometimes ignore them, sometimes water them and then watch in amazement when they start to bloom again. I move them back inside to enjoy them and then start the process all over. I have even tied them to trees where they will bloom over and over and over. For the most part, when they are inside, I just spritz them with water every couple of days and maybe once a week, pour a little water into the pot. Other than that, I don’t do anything special.

  6. Your little wine glass terrarium in the 4th picture is the cutest thing ever!!
    P.S. your posts aren’t showing up in my google reader, as they do normally. :( Did something change?

  7. Oh, I have a friend who has more than thirty of them! In a deep bay window they sit, in their glory, all leafy and beautiful. And they bloom! Often, no less. Both she and her husband are amazing–two Ph.D.’s with a passion for growing these maddening (for me) plants. Some of her many varied orchids are over ten years old! Huge, fleshy green masses that send up spikes as I turn green with envy. As for every other plant… I have never killed anything–except a few dozen orchids. Let’s start a club…

  8. You know, I can keep most types of orchids alive except phals… I have killed two phals now. I think the key is knowing when you need to water. With phals, I can’t ever tell. I am glad you have thriving orchids now!

  9. This is timely as I have a dormant orchid sitting out. I’ve avoided buying them b/c I didn’t know what to do, but I’ve always loved them. Now I have a clue what to do, and I can wait to repot it and see what happens! And when I do, I’ll post on my blog with all the credit to Matt! I’m excited!

  10. My oldest sister is the Queen of Orchid Whisperers. Her thumb isn’t green–Her whole arm is! She has over 20 orchids in her sunroom, all of which came from someone unfortunate enough to have brought it close to death’s door. She is miraculous. I am like the anti-christ of plants. I have had a “money tree” in my house for almost a month now and am flabbergasted at how long I’ve been able to keep it alive! Congrats to your hubby for having the whispering gene!

  11. Thanks for the tips. I have 3 orchards in my living room. They are growing new leaves which is wonderful, just no flowers. I already do the ice cube trick. I’ll try the fertilizer around the outside edges and the misting.

  12. I killed a cactus once. I feel it’s better for all living beings involved that we not have plants indoors due to my very brown thumb. :/

  13. Finally, something you were not good at, then again, You proved me wrong! ha! You are just so talented and determined in everything you do, that you have managed to yet again, conquer a “weakness” for you – kudos, congratulations, and God bless you and your orchid! :-)

  14. My better half bought me an orchid a while back and it bloomed twice and died. I was sad and i didnt understand why and your post is such a great guideline! Thanks for sharing Kate!

    When I was in Thailand, we visited an orchid/butterfly farm and it was by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, all the different types of orchids that i didnt even know excited are so gorgeous! You should totally consider visiting there, I think you’ll love it as much as I did :)

  15. Like you, I’m an orchid killer, too… From the moment an orchid was given to me, because ALL of my orchids were Mother’s Day gifts, I knew it was only a matter of time before they died. It also made me feel like a failure, because I love them. They’re absolutely beautiful and so elegant.

    Recently, I purchased an orchid (just like the one you’ve pictured in this post). It had gorgeous blooms when I bought it. Once the blooms fell off, I was worried it would die, but was determined not to over-love it and kill it. Every other week I place three ice cubes in it’s pot. I placed it at a window, with a blind, that gets indirect sunlight. I don’t fuss with it, but leave it to be admired from afar.

    It’s getting little buds. The problem is, the buds never bloom. They remain tiny and nothing ever happens with them. I will try what’s been suggested in your post, but does the ‘orchid whisperer’ have any idea why my buds won’t bloom? I’d greatly appreciate any ideas.

    • Great question Canne, I’d love to know why they’re not blooming too… I’ll ask the mister, but perhaps consult an expert?

  16. I love orchids too! But I’ve been too afraid to get one because I’m an all indoor plant killer :-( I will keep these tips handy tho and I will attempt it again, thanks for sharing!

  17. Thanks for the tips! I looooove plants, and I love putting them in and seeing how they brighten my yard. And then I kind of forget about them. (blushing) I am one of the few people who can kill a wave petunia. Those things can withstand nuclear blasts (not really, but I love to exaggerate), but they can’t stand a summer in a pot on my deck. Pinning this post for future reference. :)

  18. i love this! I saw a cute little orchid for $10 at home depot (didn’t buy it, but I want to go back for it) now I know how to keep it alive :)

  19. I am also an Orchid Killer! I usually enjoy mine until the flowers fall off and then give them to someone more deserving to rehabilitate :)

  20. Thanks for the tips Kate! I’ve killed too many to count – didn’t know I needed to repot. I’ll be trying this very soon.

  21. Wow, I am obsessed with orchids but I too found it a bit difficult to keep them for a long time. This is a very informative post and I am sending my husband out on a favor to buy me a flower the next time he sees one. Thanks so much!

  22. Im so glad Im not the only orchid murderer around here. Seriously– I buy them healthy and striving and after the blooms fall off its all downhill from there. AND I use the ice cube trick, but after reading this I think the re-potting my be the secret to success. You have restored hope to me that I too can have thriving beautiful orchids. Thank you! and thank your hubby for me too!

  23. I am so glad you did this post!! I always just throw them away when they are done blooming. I guess my problem is what to do with them while they look bad and waiting for new blooms???


  24. Perfect timing. I was just staring at 2 bare orchids I have last night and wondering what to do with them – one with dried out stem. It kind of makes me feel better to know I’m not alone. I was debating whether to even keep buying them with the results I’ve been having. Thank you SO MUCH for these tips… they are now on my “to do” list for the weekend. BTW…. really love your blog and decor style.

  25. Are you kidding me Kate, this could not have come at a better time, I received for Mother’s Day 3 plants and they look so bad…….they were so pretty !! I am going to give your tips a try….

    Thanks so much….

    Kathy :)

  26. I had one or two that re bloomed once or twice before they died off, but that was years ago. Ever since then I have been a killer to them and haven’t bothered buying any in some time.
    Did your husband replant in moss or bark?
    Any tips on what to do with bare dry stems?

  27. I absolutely love orchids and decided many years ago that, in the long run, they are much cheaper than store bought flowers. I have had an orchid bloom for over 5 months! I can’t say I know what I’m doing tough, I just happen to live in a city (Miami) were the weather is perfect for them. What I do now is I buy them, have them inside while they are in bloom and then attach them to my trees outside and they bloom again and again! This way, I usually have orchids in bloom inside and out! Thanks for the tips though, I hope to revive a couple of the ones that for some reason have not made it.

    • That is amazing Diana, I’m so impressed they grow in your trees!!

  28. This is a great post. I’ve had an orchid for years – it grows new leaves, but it’s never rebloomed. I’m going to get a new orchid pot and orchid food asap.

  29. I use to have orchids around the house that looked so sad and wouldn’t bloom much, but when I placed them by the window in my kitchen, facing SE, a miracle happened. They started blooming year after year, without me doing anything other than watering them now and then, when I think of it.
    A couple of months ago the last blooms fell and I thought “Oh well, that’s the end of it”, but after ignoring it, it now has 33 blooms. No kidding. I am in no way an expert, but I feel that the right light and not fussing too much over them, is a big factor in keeping those lovely orchids happy & blooming.

  30. I grow orchids, and I have to say that I disagree with both the ice cube and light advice that the woman gave you. Orchids naturally grow in the tops of trees, exposed to full sunlight (not down in the depths of the jungle like people think). They can usually take as much sunlight as you can give them. For phals, I water mine about once a month, with a good soaking in the sink that lasts in the moss. Orchids like water to be the same temperature that you do, so the ice cubes are too cold for your tropical plant.

    Once your blooms fall off and the stem turns brown (can take a month or so after blooms end), trim off the stem at its base. Wait several months and another stem (called a bloom spike) will gradually appear. Orchids sometimes bloom 3x a year, sometimes more, sometimes less. Don’t rush them! As long as the leaves are green, your plant is alive and will bloom again with sun and not too much water. Just be patient. They are on their own timelines.

  31. Love this post…I currently have two (well, four actually, as both came double in the pot) that have lost their blooms, but the leaves continue to grow and thrive. I will try repotting, I have everything on hand, just need new pots. We shall see! My daughter has managed to keep her first one alive in her apartment! Thanks for sharing the tips. Will let you know what happens.

  32. Confessed orchid (and other house plants) killer here as well. Even more frustrating when I walk into my parents’ house and see the gorgeous blooming orchids, cacti, and other beautiful plants. My mom actually has an African Violet from when she was pregnant with my brother, 38 years ago! My dad grows all kinds of roses and beautiful outdoor plants. Shouldn’t I have gotten some of those genes?

    Thanks for the tips. Everyone will fall out in shock if I can keep one alive. P.S. Please share if you find any African Violet tips.

  33. I was soooo happy to see this post today! I got an orchid for my birthday about a month and a half ago, and have never had one before, so when the blooms started falling off I thought it was dying and felt terrible for killing a gift from someone! I did figure out on my own that they will bloom again, but it’s great to see these tips all in one place for easy reference. I’m really hoping that I can keep it alive and get flowers again!

  34. Don’t feel so bad Kate, my mother-in-law used to have the most beautiful orchids. She was great at gardening in general, but I found out her secret. She took the orchids to someone once a year and they did their magic. I guess they repotted it just like you describe. Admittedly though she did have to do the watering thing correctly which she must have had down because of the gardening. When I initially heard that she took the orchids to someone I thought this is definitely not a plant tht I want… too high maintenance. They are so lovely though! You are so great at so many things. We just have to appreciate our specific talents and let someone else do the rest. As always love your blog and your Better Homes and Gardens site. Thanks!

  35. Hmm the Orchid Hospital is something I will need to investigate…not as the Chief Physician, I think plants commit suicide thinking I would be the one caring for them. The Hubs has 2 green hands. I use to be a Miracle Grower back in the day, I had hostas that were almost 4′ tall, throw a twig of ivy down and it would grow and pine trees taller than the old maples in our back yard. The Hubs received his indoctrination of all things green while we were dating. Good thing too, I was diagnosed with RA he has taken over all the gardening and tending to the house plants. Now I am green with envy……..

  36. Love orchids but never bought one cause I knew eventually I would manage to kill it..They look so delicate and I didn’t want to kill something so beautiful..Now I may get brave and give it a try..Thanks Kate and Matt !!

  37. I wish I had seen your article just a little sooner! Recently threw out four phaelenopsis orchids after babying them for about a year. I got nothing but roots, and finally just trashed them because I was tired of no return on my investment. Oh well, maybe I’ll try again.

  38. I have two orchids that have miraculously stayed alive (probably because they like their humid home in the bathroom) but they have NEVER rebloomed. Your husband’s success has given me hope — and today I bought orchid pots. I’m headed down to re-pot right now. I sure hope Matt didn’t keep Tip #6 to himself! Here goes …

  39. this could not have come at a better time…I literally received an orchid as a gift yesterday!! While I was so grateful, I also thought to myself…this poor thing is a goner! I am so excited to read your tips and hopefully keep my lovely gift alive :) thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  40. I am so sad when my orchid losses it’s blooms. So, I poke one beautiful “faux” stem down in the mulch, in between the leaves. Because the leaves of the real orchid are so green and lush, the orchid fools everyone. I can have a beautiful blooming orchid all the time.

  41. I did the same thing as Ruthie, with the faux stem haha. I’ve killed quite a few orchids, but I finally got one to rebloom. Just a little water once a week and mist it now and then. The one I killed the fastest was the one I watered with ice cubes…. I agree this is not the best. The key is that the roots are “air roots”… they get their moisture not from the soil but humidity in the air! That’s why misting works, and having something moist in the vicinity (bark or moss) works… the moisture from the bark will evaporate into the air around the roots.

  42. Great post! I absolutely love orchids and cannot keep them alive either. My old boss (who was male) had them all over our office and he was the one who took care of them. I miss him…

  43. This could not have come at a better time. My orchid’s last flower fell off two days ago and I was just going to throw it away, because I thought it would be too hard to take care of. Thanks Kate!

  44. I was given an orchid plant for my birthday in June – its starting to look a little sickly & the flowers are starting to expire, so thanks for the tips! Fingers crossed I can keep it alive :)

  45. I love orchids and honestly thought I was one of the rare orchid killers, so thank you for taking one for the team and posting this! Orchids are in countless home decor shoots, at least half of them anyway, so I assumed most people kept their orchids alive no problem or else they wouldn’t use them so often. But, after reading this, it sounds like I’m in good company : )

    Thank you for the tips!!!!!

    Ohhh, and your backyard grass looks amazing!

  46. Perfect timing, the last flowers of my gorgeous little oncidium fell off today and I was just wondering if I could ever get it to flower again. Thanks to the orchid whisperer!

  47. I find that lighting is key. I can do the same thing to orchids in different parts of the house, and the ones in the windows facing the same way thrive while the others wither and die. They’re N facing windows, and I have 3 rebloomers about to go right now, one I rescued from my mother who HAS a green thumb…but not with orchids ;) So: LIGHTING!

  48. Well my18 year old daughters orchid came with instructions which she failed to keep, I found her plant in her bedroom window dying and decided to try and save it. I did however, it never bloomed until I found instructions on another one in the store. I watered it once and placed it into a dark area of the house for 30 days, then placed it in the window and began watering it once a week, then darn thing bloomed and after the blooms died I started the hole process over again and it is about to bloom for the second time since I have owned it… My daughter now wants it back… I said good luck with that I’m keeping it now!

  49. Hi Everyone
    My name is Jill and I am an ORCHID KILLER. I will follow the intructions to the letter when i get one this week and let you know how it works out.

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