Betta Fish Care & Aquarium Tips

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When it comes to aquariums, betta fish are a popular choice for many people. There’s a good reason for this: in addition to their vibrant colors and large fins, they can be relatively easy to care for. When properly cared for, betta fish can live 3-5 years in captivity. But caring for a fish isn’t as straightforward as throwing a fish in a bowl of water- there’s a lot more to it. Although this post focuses on caring for betta fish, it has information which may be helpful for anyone looking to setup a freshwater fish tank!

My Experience with Betta Fish

I got my first betta fish when I was a sophomore in college. Long story short: I was very depressed at the time, and thought that having an animal that was entirely dependent on me would motivate me to get out of bed (it actually did, but that’s a topic for another day).

My initial setup may sound familiar to some of you: a small (<1 gallon) fish bowl with marbles and a couple of fake, plastic plants. I wasn’t great about changing the water as often as I should, and didn’t have any kind of filtration system. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find a picture of the initial setup

My junior year, I decided that my fish (Smaug) needed an upgrade. I switched to a 2.5 gallon filtered tank with live plants. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I lost the first couple of plants before finally getting a hornwort to survive. There was also a snail (named Gary). I honestly thought I was doing an amazing job at the time.

In hindsight, I know that I made a LOT of mistakes with Smaug, and I’ve always wanted another shot at a planted aquarium. I’m currently in the process of establishing a new 5 gallon planted aquarium (see details below). I am planning to get a betta fish once my aquarium and plants are fully established.

About Betta Fish

Like many houseplants, I’ve always found that understanding what a species is like in the wild makes it easier to care for in captivity.

Betta fish (aka Siamese fighting fish, Betta splendens) are freshwater fish native to southeast Asia, especially Thailand. They live in canals, marshes, rice paddies, and floodplains- shallow bodies of water with abundant aquatic and floating vegetation. Because these types of habitats are prone to low oxygen levels, betta fish have a labyrinth, a lung-like organ allows certain fish to gulp air from the surface. They often feed on zooplankton, crustaceans, and aquatic insect larvae.

In the wild, betta fish are drab colors: olive green, brown, and grey. The spectacular colors and fin shapes you see in the pet store are the product of selective breeding (aka artificial selection– a topic for another post).

Sad fact: they’re not doing great in the wild, primarily as a result of pollution and habitat degradation. Betta splendens is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN red list.

Reproduction and Bubble Nests

If you’ve ever had a betta fish, you might be familiar with bubble nests– clusters of bubbles on the surface of the water. Bubble nests play an important role in reproduction. After mating, the male will place the fertilized eggs in a bubble nest, which he will guard carefully as the eggs incubate (also see this paper). The bubble nest helps keep the eggs aerated and protected from potential predators.

By understanding their ecology, we can glean a few things about caring for these fish:

  1. Males are aggressive and territorial: most betta fish that you see sold at the pet store are male, so it’s not necessarily a great idea for a betta fish to have a “tank mate.” You might be thinking, “but what if he gets lonely??” Let me share my experience: when I had Smaug, I impulsively decided to try adding an African dwarf frog to his tank. It was fine for a while, until the frog took a bite of Smaug’s fin. Thankfully I witnessed this happen (and was able to intervene), otherwise that frog probably would have died at Smaug’s hands (…er, fins). Male betta fish are known kill other bettas (including females). By contrast, if you want female betta fish, they can coexist in small groups of up to 10 females. There are some small fish species that can coexist in a community with a male betta (especially in a large tank with adequate hiding places). If you’re just starting out, it is probably easiest to treat bettas as a single-aquarium fish.
  2. They like warm water. These fish are from the tropics, so they’re adapted to warm water temperatures (between 75 and 82 degrees F). You’re probably going to want to get a water heater, otherwise your fish may be chronically stressed (which is bad for their immune system and overall health).
  3. They like to have shade. Most aquarium kits come with an LED light. While this isn’t a bad thing (especially if you’re planning to add live plants), a fish that is adapted for highly vegetated ecosystems isn’t gong to be crazy about being stuck in bright light all the time. In the wild, betta are accustomed to floating plants which they use for shelter from predators (amongst other things). In other words, without some kind of cover, your betta may be stressed, bored, or both. To that end, it’s good to provide some shade- especially in the form of floating plants or structures.
  4. They like vegetation. Because bettas involved in highly vegetated habitats, they enjoy getting to rest and move through vegetation. They do best in a tank with plenty of places to rest and hide (especially silk or live plants). Just make sure there is space for the fish to be able to swim around.
  5. They can get bored. In the wild, bettas spend time actively foraging, monitoring and defending their territory, etc. Giving them a sizable, complex tank (with plenty of vegetation and such) will help them stay occupied.
  6. They can tolerate harsh water conditions. The natural habitat of betta fish is prone to a) low oxygen and b) sudden, extreme changes in water availability, chemistry, and temperature. This is part of what makes them fairly decent pets- they won’t die immediately if the water quality isn’t perfect.
  7. They are mainly carnivorous. Their diet should consist mainly of animal protein. They aren’t adapted to digest carbohydrates like corn and wheat. It’s best to feed protein-based pellets, flakes, or invertebrates (such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia).
  8. They are prone to over-eating. This isn’t necessarily unique to bettas- most wild animals will capitalize on food whenever they can, since they don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. It is best to feed bettas at most once a day to avoid over-feeding.
  9. Bubble nests are a good thing. If you think about it, the production of a bubble nest by a male is an indicator that he thinks the habitat is suitable for reproduction. In other words, if he makes a bubble nest, that’s a sign you’re probably doing something right.

What You’ll Need to Care for Betta

Something that is important to remember about setting up a fish tank: you’re basically setting up an enclosed ecosystem. It can take time, but also requires some more considerations for the environment than other pets in enclosures.

Water Chemistry & The Nitrogen Cycle

Fish are different from most terrestrial animals- which typically eliminate nitrogenous (nitrogen-based) waste as aurea or uric acid. Instead, fish produce ammonia, a toxic compound which they excrete into the water. Under normal circumstances, ammonia would be a) diluted in large bodies of water, or b) be broken down by bacteria into nitrite. In a fish tank, ammonia can build up and reach dangerous concentrations for your fish. It is very important to monitor ammonia levels and treat with chemical products that remove ammonia if necessary. Establishing a healthy bacteria population can help, since they’ll convert ammonia into nitrite. Nitrite is *also* toxic, but can be converted into nitrate (not toxic) by bacteria. (The conversion of ammonia to nitrite to nitrate is generally referred to as the nitrogen cycle). With any fish tank, monitoring ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels is critical to the health of your fish.


  • A 5+ Gallon tank. One of the biggest mistakes most people (including me) make with betta fish is using too small of an aquarium. Often, you see them in the pet store in small plastic cups and think that anything would be an improvement…right? In reality, male betta fish should have a minimum of a 5 gallon tank. This allows them to exhibit normal swimming and hiding behaviors. If you’re wanting a smaller tank, you might want to consider a different fish. Can they survive in a smaller tank? Sure. But they won’t be living their best life.
  • A way to monitor ammonia and nitrite levels. I’ve been using API test strips as a quick way to check nitrite and nitrate levels while I get my tank set up. I also have a more precise freshwater test kit, which I plan to use as I get closer to adding my betta.
  • A way to detoxify ammonia (either by establishing bacteria or using a product like Ammo-lock)
  • Substrate (pebbles, marbles, etc.)- if you’re going with live plants, you’ll want to do some research on this one.
  • Decorations– especially Shelter and/or silk plants. I can tell you from experience- decorations and plastic plants with sharp edges can tear betta fins. If you don’t want to go all-in on live plants, look for silk artificial plants instead.
  • Protein-based food
  • Dechlorinated water. In case no one has told you this: most of our tap water contains a small amount of chlorine. While this works fabulously to prevent transmission of water-borne diseases, it’s not great for fish. If using tap water, you’ll want to use a water conditioner that removes or neutralizes chlorine first.

Things that may be helpful:

  • Quick start bacteria (to jump start bacteria in the nitrogen cycle)
  • Water pump and filter. It’s not a requirement, but getting a water filter will reduce how often you need to do water changes. Most aquarium starter kits will come with a pump and filter.
  • LED light
  • Water heater. Okay, this isn’t absolutely a requirement- a betta can survive without one. But heaters aren’t terribly expensive, and they definitely make things better for your betta.
  • Water siphon (this makes water changes SO MUCH EASIER)

Things which are totally extra (and not necessary):

  • Live plants (and everything that goes with that- grow lights, fertilizer, root tabs, tools for pruning, etc.)
  • Snails or other invertebrates
  • Live prey and treats

If you’re just starting out with a fish tank, I would recommend starting with the essentials. You can always build up and upgrade over time as you gain confidence for caring for fish.

My New Setup

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t have a new betta fish (yet), but I thought it would be worth mentioning what I’m doing for my new tank.

For the tank itself, I decided to use the Marineland Portrait 5 Gallon Aquarium kit. It includes an aquarium, lid, LED light, filter, and pump. By choosing a tank with a relatively small base, we thought that the aquarium would be more versatile in our small apartment. We chose 5 gallons because I wanted to make sure it was big enough for a betta, but didn’t want to get over my head or take up too much space. I also like that the water pump and filter are hidden out of sight- it gives a very sleek, organized look.

When it came to substrate, I wanted to choose something that was designed to promote healthy bacteria growth. I ended up going with a white Imagitarium aquatic substrate (partially because that’s the best option I could find at my local pet stores because I wasn’t patient enough to wait for shipping). For decorations, I wanted a natural and organic look, so I went with a small piece of driftwood and lava rock. I have had some fungal growth on my driftwood- allegedly this is harmless, normal, and will go away with time, so I will address that in future updates.

I never used a heater in Smaug’s fish tank. This time around, I got a heater designed for fish tanks under 6 gallons which maintains my tank at 78 degrees F (this is good for my plants too, since most aquarium plants are also tropical and do best in warmer water temps). I strategically placed it behind the driftwood so that you can’t see it from the front of the tank.


Here’s a picture of my aquarium from my Instagram (if you click to show the second image, I’ve labeled each of the plants with their common names)

For the plants, I tried to do a bit of research (instead of grabbing whatever looked cool at the pet store, which is what I did the first time around). I opted to buy most of my plants in person, since I had concerns about shipping in the middle of winter. I also wanted to go with several different species just in case the conditions in my tank didn’t end up being suitable for one of them. Currently, my tank has the following plants:

  • Java fern (Microsorium pteropus)- this was the one plant I knew my tank needed. These plants are fairly tall, have large leaves and are supposed to be beginner-friendly (aka easy to care for).
  • Asian water fern aka el Nino fern (Bolbitis heteroclita): this was somewhat of an impulse buy. There weren’t a ton of healthy looking java ferns to choose from, so I did some quick Googling in the middle of Petsmart when trying to decide what other leafy plants I could get.
  • Needle leaf ludwigia (Ludwigia arcuata)- I got this plant as a bit of a challenge- it needs moderate to high light, so it tends to be harder to care for than the other plants I chose. So far, it looks like they’re putting out new growth, so I’d say it’s going well!
    • If you look closely at the setup of my tank, you’ll notice that the floating plants are on the opposite site of the tank from the ludwigia. This was deliberate- I wanted to make sure it was getting as much light as possible.
  • Cryptocoryne wendtii “Green”: I wasn’t initially searching for this one, but came across it at Petco and decided to look it up. It is supposed to thrive in all light conditions and be easy to grow. (Can confirm- all 4 that I purchased have put out a fair amount of visible root growth in the last week.)
    • Rookie mistake: I didn’t read the instructions carefully before I started setting up the tank. Unlike most other plants (whose roots should be buried in substrate), this plant does best when placed on top of rocks or other surfaces. Over time, its roots grow to hold it in place. Had I realized that before I began setting up my tank, I would have glued these plants to the driftwood and lava rock in my tank. Instead, I had to awkwardly wedge them between the rock and sides of the tank to hold them in place. They’ve come loose several times, so these aquascaping tools have definitely come in handy.
  • Floating plants: I wanted to include floating plants for a couple of reasons: 1) to capitalize on the height of my tank, and 2) to create shade for the betta fish. My tank doesn’t have a ton of clearance between the water and lid, so I ended up choosing Amazon frogbit (Linobium laevigatum) and water spangle (Salvinia minima), which both have flat, lily-pad shaped leaves and long roots. These were the only plants that I ordered off the internet instead of purchasing in person, and I was really impressed with how healthy the plants were when I received them.

When it comes to floating plants, it’s not uncommon for them to completely cover the water surface of an aquarium, which can prevent other plants from getting enough light. As a way to balance the needs of my future betta with the other plants, I created and secured rings using airline tubing and suction cups that serve as enclosures for the floating plants. I can’t take credit for the idea- it’s based on something I saw in a YouTube video a while back, but it seems to be working extremely well.

Floating plants in my aquarium. I chose Amazon frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum) and water spangle (Salvinia minima) because of their small lily-pad esque structure and long roots. Both sets of plants are enclosed by a short length of airline tubing, which are secured to the sides of the tank with suction cups.

One of the big changes I made this time around was adding a grow light (in addition to the LED light that comes with the tank). Not providing enough light is a common problem when it comes to planted aquariums, so getting an LED grow light isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Like all of my grow lights, this one is plugged in to a outlet timer (so I never have to worry about turning it on or off).

Because plants require additional nutrients, I’m fertilizing my aquarium twice a week with Aqueon aquarium plant food. When I initially set up the tank, I also used a handful of root tabs. I don’t think these were actually necessary for the particular plants that I purchased, but I figure that they couldn’t hurt (especially since I didn’t choose a substrate designed to provide nutrients to plants). I haven’t had any issues with algae yet, but I’ll update this post if/when I deal with that in the future.

I recently added a Nerite snail. There’s a few reasons I’ve decided to go with a Nerite snail- for one, they eat algae and waste (but not live plants). However, unlike other snails (which can be real aquarium pests), Nerite snails can only reproduce in brackish water (a mixture of salt and freshwater). In other words, one Nerite snail will stay one nerite snail. I’m 90% sure that Gary was a Nerite snail, and he and Smaug seemed to work very well as tank mates.

The Nerite snail I recently got for our aquarium. Let me know if you have any name suggestions! (Not Gary. I’ve already had a snail named Gary).

The tap water is EXTREMELY hard where I live. To try and balance this out, I’m alternating between distilled and (dechlorinated) tap water for water changes. I’m testing the water chemistry regularly using API test strips, which measure water hardness, pH, nitrite, and nitrate levels. I’ve been writing down the values each time I use the test strips so that I can monitor how the water is changing over time.

Final Thoughts

I plan on doing future updates about how to deal with aquarium algae, as well as my aquarium progress.

If you’re interested in starting a freshwater fish tank, I hope you found this post helpful! Let me know if you have any thoughts, insights, or questions in the comments.

The Best Way to Propagate Spider Plants

If you follow my Instagram, you know that I own a *lot* of plants. A few weeks ago, I was handed down my grandmother’s spider plant. I’m not one to say no to a free plant- besides, how hard could it be?

What is a Spider Plant?

Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are a common houseplant which are allegedly easy to care for (I just got one, so I don’t have much firsthand experience to back that up). These plants are native to tropical and southern Africa, and tend to do best indoors with bright, indirect light.

This is the spider plant I received from my grandma. It actually consisted of several plants together in a single large pot. You can see tendrils extending from the plant with a handful of young “plantlets”

What makes spider plants unique is their reproductive strategy- they produce long tendrils which produce small plantlets, which are basically tiny plants with their own roots and leaves. What makes spider plants fun is that these plantlets are easy to remove and grow into new plants, aka propagating. (Disclaimer: it helps if you wait until the plantlets have begun developing roots).

When I received my spider plant, it had A LOT of plantlets. I removed 33 which had already begun to develop root nodes. Since I had so many (and had never attempted propagating this plant before) my husband and I thought it would be fun to try three different propagating methods: damp paper towels, water propagation, and soil propagation.

The Experiment & Methods

On November 23, 2020, I removed 33 plantlets from the mother plant, dividing them equally into three groups of 11 (each with a variety of plantlet sizes). These groups were then assigned to one of three propagating treatments:

  • Damp paper towels: I placed 11 plantlets into two bowls lined with paper towels. I heavily misted the plants/towels with distilled water until the towels were thoroughly damp. I repeated this at least every morning.
  • Water propagation: I divided the 11 plantlets among 4 small glass containers, which were filled with tap water until the roots were submerged. If water levels got low, I would add more until the roots were submerged again (once or twice a week).
    • Tip: For containers, I use a variety of glass containers that I’ve acquired over time. I find shot glasses to work especially well for propagating.
  • Soil propagation: I divided the 11 plantlets into two 3.5 inch nursery pots containing soil medium (Miracle Gro potting soil). I ensured that the roots were below the soil surface, and lightly packed the soil down. At the initial planting, I watered thoroughly with tap water until water drained out the bottom. In the following days, I would periodically spray the soil every couple of days (the goal was to keep the soil damp, but not saturated).

All 33 plantelets were placed in a northeast-facing window, which recieves bright, indirect light for 8-9 hours a day.

The experimental setup. The “Paper Towel” group is in the white bowls on the left, the “water propagating” group is in 4 glass containers at the top of the image, and the “soil propagating” group is in the two pots in the bottom right of the image.

The Verdict

The Loser

Propagating the plantlets on damp paper towels did. not. work. for. me. As of December 1st, there was no visible root growth and the leaves were beginning to wilt. At that point, I decided to terminate that treatment and shifted the plants to water (where they quickly recovered and began growing roots). I *might* have been more successful if I had attempted to create a small greenhouse using plastic wrap- but since there were other clearly effective methods, I didn’t feel like it made a lot of sense trying to make it work.

Aside from the fact this method did *not* work for me, there were some clear cons- the most obvious being that I had to water these every. single. day. Possibly more than once a day, as the towels often dried out in a matter of a few hours. Even if this method worked, the upkeep made this technique far inferior to the other two (in my opinion).

After 8 days, there was no visible root growth on the paper towel group. (Any new growth on the roots would be visibly white)

The Winners

Both water propagating and soil propagating worked very well. Let’s break down what happened for each one:

Remaining plantlets in the soil and water propagating groups as of December 9, 2020.

Water Propagating

With the water propagating treatment, plantlets began growing new roots within 24 hours. I simply left the plants be, checking the water levels about once a week. I’d say that within 14 days the plantlets were ready to be potted in soil.

Personally, this might be my favorite method since it is easy to gauge root growth. It was low maintenance and it worked. What’s not to love?

1. Easy and low maintenance
2. Can easily view root growth
3. Easy to assess when more water is needed
1. water lacks nutrients, so it is not sustainable long-term- you will want to eventually move the plantlets to soil
Pros and cons of water propagating

Soil Propagating

The progress of the soil propagating group was harder to assess. All I really had to go on was whether the plantlets felt stable (from well established roots). I had no idea how they were really doing until I pulled one up on December 9th to compare it with the water propagating group. I wasn’t a fan of the fact there wasn’t an obvious indicator when the soil needed more water. (Unlike the water propagating group, where you can see if the water level is getting low).

1. Easy
2. Plants have access to nutrients
3. No re-potting necessary
1. Cannot view root growth
2. More difficult to gauge when water is needed
Pros and cons of soil propagating

Something I wasn’t expecting was how different the roots grown in soil looked from those grown in water. The water propagated plantlets had long, healthy roots, but the soil propagated ones were much more…robust.

Root growth after 16 days for soil propagating group (bottom) and water propagating group (top)

Why do the roots look different?

At maturity, spider plants produce fleshy, tuberous roots. These tubers are enlarged roots that help store nutrients that can sustain the plant in times of hardship (sort of like our body fat, which helps store energy for future use- more on that in another post).

These are the roots of the mother spider plant. You can clearly see the enlarged tubers compared to the normal roots. These sections of root store energy and nutrients for future use.

I was having a hard time finding any research to explain the different root results between the propagating methods, so here’s my best guess: spider plants need access to nutrients in order to store nutrients (e.g. produce tubers). The plantlets that were propagating in water didn’t have access to any nutrients, meaning there was nothing to store in tubers. On the other hand, the soil propagating group *did* have access to nutrients. The enlarged size of the soil propagating plantlet roots makes me think that they were beginning to form tubers. I’m not sure what difference (if any) this will make in the long-term success of the plantlets.

Final Thoughts

Something to consider: the ultimate goal is to eventually move your plantlets to soil. At this point, I can’t say whether the differences I observed in root growth will impact the plants at all in the long run. (Perhaps I will have to make an update in a few months!)

Whether soil or water propagating works best is probably up to you- would you forget to regularly dampen soil? Do you want to avoid the hassle of moving the plantlets to soil after water propagating them? I’ll leave it up to you which method to use.

On December 9, I moved all remaining plantlets to soil.

Would you like to see me do a future update on the spider plants? Have you ever tried propagating spider plants? If so, how did it go? Let me know in the comments!


Demystifying Orchid Care (based on their ecology)

Orchids are actually much easier to care for than you think.

About Phalaenopsis Orchids

I’m focusing on Phalaenopsis orchids (aka “moth orchids”) in this post because realistically that’s what most people are dealing with.

  • Orchids are technically succulents. Succulents are any plant that stores water in their leaves- including cacti, echeverias, etc. Storing water in their leaves allows succulents to go long periods of time without water. (That’s going to become important).
  • Moth orchids are native to South and Southeast Asia. The species which has been widely cultivated as a houseplant (Phalaneopsis amabilis) are typically found in tropical rainforests with high humidity.
  • Most Phalaenopsis species are epiphytes– meaning that they grow on surfaces like rocks or other plants (rather than the soil).
  • Orchids (and their flower spikes) do not naturally stand upright. They tend to lay on their side and hang downward.
This is the orchid my husband gave me. The left image is right after he bought it in March 2019- you can see how the leaves point upward and a stake has been used to guide the flowers to grow upwards. The right image is a year later in 2020. I did almost nothing to guide the growth of the orchid, and you can definitely tell. The leaves point sideways (which is how they would grow in nature) and one of the flower stalks hangs downward (since it doesn’t have a stake supporting it). The flower spike going upwards is supported by a bamboo stick.

Takeaways for Orchid Care

So what can we learn from understanding orchid ecology?

  • Orchids are succulents: their leaves store water and they do not need to be watered very often.
  • Orchids live in tropical rainforests: there are two takeaways from this- 1) they don’t tolerate cold temperatures well, and 2) they aren’t used to getting a lot of direct sunlight.
  • Orchids are epiphytes: they don’t grow in soil, so you don’t want to plant them in normal potting soil! Orchids are grown in a much bulkier, porous medium (termed “orchid bark”), typically composed of pieces of bark and other organic material. They also are used to lots of airflow don’t like their roots to be perpetually damp, which will cause root rot. Additionally, they grow areal roots (which are designed to grab onto things in nature)- these will often sprawl outside of their container.
  • Orchids normally lay on their side: this is important for watering. In nature, if water lands on their leaves, it will drain out the side. However, most cultivated orchids have been manipulated so that the leaves stand upright. If you get water on the leaves, it has nowhere to go. This can lead to crown rot, which is possible (but very difficult) to recover from.

How I care for my Phalaenopsis Orchid

My husband Tom gave me an orchid for our 2nd anniversary in 2019. I almost killed it (which definitely taught me a thing or two!). Here are my tips on caring for Phalaenopsis orchids:

  • Potting Orchids:
    • Potting medium: Orchids need very airy, porous potting medium. I use Miracle-Gro Orchid Potting Mix (coarse blend)
    • Containers: you can find special pots for orchids with holes in the sides- these help mimic the conditions they would grow in in nature by increase airflow and reducing chance of root rot. You can find plastic orchid nursery pots as well as ceramic pots. I currently keep my orchid in a plastic nursery pot nested inside of a normal ceramic planter.
    • Repotting: Unlike most plants, being root-bound is not the main reason you should repot an orchid. You want to repot orchids whenever their potting medium has begun to decompose and break down. When this happens, it will hold more moisture and stay damp, which can cause root rot.
  • Watering:
    • To water my orchid, I soak its roots in a bowl of distilled water for 1 hour, then place it on a rack to drain thoroughly. I never submerge the leaves (to prevent the possibility of crown rot). I don’t water my orchid very often- maybe once or twice a month? I use distilled water because we have hard tap water (e.g. it has a lot of salts and minerals), which epiphytes may not be used to.
    • How frequently you should water an orchid will vary based on light, temperature, and humidity. You can tell an orchid really needs water if the leaves start to wrinkle (that means that it is depleting its water stores). Conversely, if the roots are a pale green, it doesn’t need any water. When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of underwatering than overwatering.
    • The “ice cube trick” – some people recommend watering orchids by placing one ice cube on the roots per week. This works really well for some people. The advantage of using the ice cube trick is that you use a limited amount of water (which can minimize the chance of overwatering). However, there are a couple of disadvantages of using the ice cube trick. I mentioned that orchids don’t tolerate cold temperatures well, so putting a block of ice directly on their roots isn’t optimal. Additionally, the moisture from the ice cubes may become trapped. This is how I almost killed my orchid. Long story short: the way the orchid was potted prevented moisture from escaping- meaning that the roots of my orchid were perpetually damp. So damp, in fact, that it started growing mushrooms! Yikes!! Thankfully I was able to course correct, but that easily could have become an unsalvageable case of root rot.
  • Flowers
    • Part of what makes orchids great is that their flowers are very long-lasting (potentially lasting months!) Most people abandon their orchids once the flowers drop, but wait!! With a little bit of patience and TLC, you can get them to grow new flowers. I have had my orchid since March of 2019, and it bloomed again in January 2020 and is starting to put out a new flower spike now (November 2020).
    • There are a couple of things which help promote re-flowering:
      1. Cool nights
      2. Changing day length
    • Light is very important for re-flowering. Flowers take energy, and plants need sunlight to produce energy. My mom and I have had a lot of luck getting our orchids to re-flower when they are in a eastern facing window (e.g. get a small amount of direct sun first thing in the morning, then bright indirect light the rest of the day).
    • Resist the urge to cut off flower spikes after they drop their blooms. As long as they are still green and healthy, new spikes may grow from the old ones! (If they shrivel up, go ahead and remove them)
    • In my experience, I have found that flower spikes tend to grow towards the light (e.g. towards windows) . You may need to rotate your orchid to enjoy its blooms.
  • Fertilizer:
    • Fertilizer is important for re-flowering because making flowers takes a lot of nutrients.
    • Any time you’re dealing with fertilizer, it will have a description with 3 numbers (ex: 19-8-6). This represents the relative amounts of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium (respectively).
    • Recommendations for orchid fertilizers vary. What’s important to keep in mind is that plants need different nutrients to produce flowers than they need to produce foliage (leaves). Well-balanced fertilizers (20-20-20) are good for plant growth overall. Orchid fertilizers tend to have additional N, which is important for flower production.
    • I honestly haven’t explored different fertilizers much, but I’ve been using this 19-8-16 fertilizer, and it seems to be working out alright. I fertilize my orchid every other watering by dissolving a small amount of fertilizer into the water before I begin to soak my orchid.
    • Tip: you should never use fertilizers at their recommended full strength. It’s best to use them at a lower strength/concentration to avoid burning roots or foliage.
  • Light and Temperature:
    • Orchids do best with bright, indirect light. They can survive with lower amounts of light, but they are unlikely to thrive (or re-bloom).
    • Avoid direct sunlight for extended amounts of time (e.g. west and south-facing windows). Too much direct sun can cause orchids to become sunburned. Remember, orchids traditionally live in rainforests, where tree cover would prevent sunlight from directly reaching them. The exception I would say to this is that my orchid has done well in a northeast-facing window, where it gets a small amount (<1 hour) of sunlight first thing in the morning. I’ve tried it in a southeast facing window (where it gets a lot more light and gets much warmer), and it didn’t do very well there.
    • Orchids tend to do well at normal indoor temperatures. Avoid temperatures below 50 degrees F (remember, they’re tropical plants. They aren’t really built for cold temperatures).

Got any more tips for caring for orchids? Leave them in a comment down below!

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