Caring for Orchids in Your Home


Here’s the scenario: you take great pride in your orchid plants, and have started to build up a sizeable collection. You’ve situated them perfectly according to their needs, some in cool shade, others in warm sun, and you’ve developed the knack of knowing just when each needs a drink of water, a dose of fertilizer, or a change of position for the season.

Then, one morning, in the midst of making the rounds and checking on each of your charges, you notice a wet, brown spot on a leaf here, or a dark streak in the crown of one of your Phalaenopsis there, or, you’ve just come home from a two week vacation and the neighbor in charge of “taking care of things” has decided to make life easy: you find half your plants submerged knee-deep in trayfulls of water. A quick unpotting reveals that root rot has begun to set in, and—horrors!—aphids have decided to infest your favorite Oncidium.

Many home orchid growers shun commercial pesticides and fungicides for good reason: there may be children or pets in the house, and the fumes from some chemicals can often be overpowering and dangerous indoors. What to do? Are your sick plants doomed for the compost pile?

Do not fear! We asked the members of our OrchidTalk forums what, if any, home remedies were available for orchid plants which had fallen victim to an ill wind, and we received many excellent responses. As it turns out, you can fix up your ailing orchid plants in no time at all using various items commonly found around the house.

For insects: Scale and aphids are common miscreants on orchids, and if you catch them before they multiply into full-blown infestations, a cotton swab dipped in plain rubbing alcohol takes care of them. If you haven’t caught them in time and need a spray, you have several choices.

  • * Murphy’s Oil Soap, diluted as per manufacturer’s instructions. Spray liberally, making sure to hit the undersides of the leaves as well as the tops.
  • * 1 cup *regular* 409 cleaner (not the “degreasing” formula!), 1 cup rubbing alcohol, 6 cups water. Mix, and spray away.
  • * If you enjoy cooking, try this: in a blender, puree: 6 jalapeno or habanero peppers, 1 garlic pod (not clove—the entire pod), and 4 cups water. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow to cool. Add 1 tablespoon mild dishwashing liquid and one additional cup of water. Mix well, but do not shake. Pour into a handheld sprayer, and go get ‘em!

Mites can be discouraged by placing a sprig of eucalyptus on top of your potting medium.

For fungus and bacteria: Rots commonly make their appearance on orchid leaves, often showing up as brown spots or blotches that grow in size as time goes on. These need to be dealt with quickly. Using a sterilized, single-edged razor blade or other sharp, sterilized implement, cut away the affected area by cutting into the healthy plant tissue surrounding it. Then, try the following:

  • * Cinnamon, dusted liberally around the cut. Cinnamon will not only dry away any fungal infections, it has bactericidal properties as well. Be careful not to apply cinnamon to sensitive orchid roots, as its drying effect can often kill them.
  • * Listerine, used full strength as a spray, works wonders for bacterial infections, as does Neosporin ointment, applied directly to the affected area.
  • * Household bleach. Be *very careful* with this: chlorine is extremely toxic to, and can kill, orchid plants. Mix *no stronger* than one teaspoon per gallon of water and spray the plant completely for a highly effective bactericide, fungicide, and algaecide. Twelve to twenty four hours later, flush the plant and its pot with clear water! Do not forget this step!
  • * Hydrogen peroxide, applied full-strength to leaves or poured directly into a plant’s “crown” or growing center, effectively kills the fungus responsible for crown rot.

For root rot: Using sterilized scissors or shears, prune away any dead, dark brown and “mushy” roots. Dip the remaining roots into a bowl filled with 2 parts hydrogen peroxide, 1 part water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Transfer the plant to a bowl filled with the fertilizer solution you normally use. Let stand for 30 minutes. Soak a wadded up paper towel with water. Place the plant and wet paper towel into a Ziploc bag, being careful not to let the paper towel come into contact with the plant. Seal the bag, and place in a deeply shaded, out of the way spot for up to six weeks. The rot will have been eliminated, and new roots should begin to form.

If you don’t like using poisonous plant chemicals on your orchids, you can still keep them healthy and cared for using commonly available household products, even when the inevitable pest or disease strikes from out of the blue. So never despair!

The RVO OrchidTalk Orchid forums serve as an excellent source of grower information for orchid hobbyists of all levels, experts and novices alike. Registration is free, and the community couldn’t be friendlier. If you have questions about your orchid plants, I urge you to register on OrchidTalk and post!

Good Growing!

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