A Basic Guide to Buying Orchids

Phalaenopsis orchid bloom and buds

Selecting an orchid to buy can be quite a decision. For those who simply want the instant gratification of something lovely to display in their home, the “Oooh, pretty, I’ll take it!” method works just fine. But if you’re buying an orchid with the long term in mind, there are a few things you’ll want to look for before you head to the checkout counter. Bear in mind that these tips are mainly for Phalaenopsis orchids, but the general principles will work for many other orchid varieties as well.

As always, I’ve included photo examples for your viewing pleasure.

Signs of a healthy orchid are:

  • Firm, grassy green leaves
  • Green or silvery-green roots (it’s best if the plant is in a clear plastic pot so you can see the roots)
  • Fresh-looking flowers and/or plump buds (like in the photo at the top of this post)
  • Any sort of new growth is a plus: roots, flower spikes, leaves
Healthy phalaenopsis orchid leaves
Healthy phalaenopsis orchid leaves
Growing orchid buds
Growing orchid buds
Healthy green phalaenopsis orchid roots
Lots of green phalaenopsis orchid roots

The following are signs that the orchid is not in good health:

  • Limp leaves
  • Yellowing or brown leaves
  • Brown or twig-like roots; hollow or mushy roots
  • Visible mold or bugs in the potting medium
Unhealthy phalaenopsis roots
Unhealthy phalaenopsis roots

You can’t tell just by looking at this last photo, but the roots on that orchid were hollow and dry—not a good sign. When I removed the plant from its pot, the roots reminded me of big spindly spider legs, which kind of terrified me and made me want to chuck it in the garbage. Well, the plant wasn’t healthy and died within a month, so I ended up having to toss it anyway.

If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself geeking out in stores: freakishly picking up every orchid, obsessively inspecting the foliage and invasively poking around in the potting medium to have a look at the roots. You may get some odd looks, but as long as you’re satisfied with the plant you take home, it’s all good!

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  1. Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thanks Nevertheless I’m experiencing difficulty with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting identical rss drawback? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

  2. Hi my plant is growing leaves at the top of the stem and also has what i think is a root, is this normal as its the first one i have had and i rescued it from a shop 3yrs ago, i was given it for free as it looked pretty sick.

    1. Hi there — it sounds like you have a keiki, which is basically a baby plant growing off of the “mother” plant. Congrats! This is a pretty normal thing that happens with some orchids. Once the roots are about two-three inches long, you can remove the baby and pot it on its own. Good luck!!

  3. I read your reply to Tamera about the “keiki” growth. I have 2 baby plants on one stem, about 1.5 inches apart. You said the baby can be planted on it’s own after the roots are about 3 inches long. There are no visible roots underneath my keiki’s. The new palnts are 2.5 and 3.5 inches across with multiple leaves, the larger one is on top. I have the growths supported well, but I’m not sure about where I should cut the stem or if roots will grow from the bottom of each plant. When would I need to plant these new growths and how would I go about doing this?
    Your postings are very informative and I am looking forward to hearing how I might keep my plant alive and healthy. Thank You

    1. Hi Sharon and thanks for your comment. It sounds like you should just leave the keikis growing on the spikes until they grow roots of their own. From my limited experience with keikis, they do sometimes grow for awhile without developing roots. And just when you think it won’t grow roots, they’ll start appearing. As with most things orchids, keikis require patience. 🙂

      Happy growing and I hope you get some roots on those babies soon!

      1. Thank you for your advise, it is very helpful. I have had a difficult time getting information on what it do with the babies, but thanks to your articles I am no longer in a quandry. When the roots finally grow how should I remove the keiki’s from the stalk? Keep in mind that there are two keiki’s on one stalk about 1 1/2 inches apart. Do I need to cut the stalk below each growth, or should I cut the stalk below the bottom growth and just have the 2 plants planted together. Please excuse me for asking so many questions, but I am so excited to have the plant still alive much less new growth.

        1. Hi Sharon, when you remove the keikis you should just slice each one off of the mother spike, leaving a bit of the spike attached to the baby plants. You can apply a bit of cinnamon to the cut spots, which will help keep fungus from developing on them. I don’t recommend potting the two baby plants together—they should do better potted individually. I hope that helps!!

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