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How to Select an Orchid

Paul Wood, Dakota County Master Gardener

Have you been intrigued about orchids but don’t know where to start or how to keep them alive? Or, are you already an orchid grower but want some expert tips? This article on orchids is the first of three by orchid expert, Paul Wood. The first article provides great advice about how to choose the right orchid for you. Read on to learn how you can begin to be an orchid grower – and lover!

How to Select an Orchid

Orchids are the most popular potted indoor plants. The most popular type of orchid, by far, is the Phalaenopsis or, as it is commonly called “The Moth Orchid.” Advances in cloning have enabled commercial orchid growers to bring literally millions of Phalaenopsis orchids to market each year. Phalaenopsis plants (or Phal) can be found not only at garden centers, but at big box stores, grocery stores, and even farmer’s’ markets.

As with any house plant you buy, success begins with buying a healthy plant that will thrive in the location you picked for it; orchids are no exception. It is the gardening mantra: “Right Plant, Right Place.” Phals are low light orchids and that is one reason they do well as an indoor plant.  Here a few tips on how to select a healthy orchid using a Phal as an example.

First look at the plant. Are the leaves firm, plump, nice and green, and spot free? Limp leaves or yellowing leaves usually mean the plant is not getting enough moisture and that can mean root problems or that the orchid has not been cared for by the retailer.

Next examine the planting medium. Is the orchid in sphagnum moss or bark and is the medium moist? If the medium is really dry it means the orchid has not been tended to by the retailer and that lack of moisture can cause the roots to die. 

This brings us to selection introspection.  If you are a person who tends to over water, look for an orchid that is in bark because it helps drain the extra water. Conversely, if you tend to ignore your indoor plants, consider an orchid that is in sphagnum moss because the moss will retain moisture and you will only have to water maybe once every three weeks.

Now take a look at the roots. Orchids sold in retail stores are packaged in ceramic pots, however the orchid itself is in a clear plastic pot inside that pot.  Simply tease the plastic pot out and take a look at the roots. A healthy orchid will have lots of green roots, and maybe some slate grey roots. If the roots are mostly brown, put it down! Brown roots are dead roots.

Finally, examine the flower stem. Look for stems that are bright green and laden with flowers and lots of buds.  The flowers should be alive and the buds plump.  Fading flowers means the orchid is nearing the end of its bloom cycle and dried buds are not going produce any new flowers. 

Phals, with a modicum of care, will easily bloom for several months or more, so your selection goal is to maximize the bloom time. Never buy a Phal that is fully bloomed because you have no idea when the bloom cycle began, so you might only get a few weeks of show before the flowers begin to fade.

Selecting an orchid is not that much different than selecting any other potted plant; you want a healthy plant. With the Phals you not only want to select a healthy plant but also a plant that will allow you to fully enjoy their long bloom time. This is achieved by buying buds not blossoms.

!!!!!! WARNNG- Orchids can become addicting!!!!!


GrowingBestPhalsPart_I.pdf (

Selecting an Orchid (

Orchids for Everyone: The Most Popular Orchid Genera and How to Identify Them (

Photo Credits:

Troy David Johnston; (1), Paul Wood (2,3)

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