Before you throw that orchid in the trash, here’s everything you need to know.

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It happens all the time. Someone gives you a Trader Joe’s orchid—or you buy one for yourself—and you love it. The hearty blooms on your Phalaenopsis or Dendrobiums look like moths or butterflies in flight, and they last for weeks. (Or maybe you love your orchid because it’s the flower of the year?)

But eventually, the flowers wither and drop off, and you’re left with a plant that you don’t know what to do with. Should you compost it? Keep it? Most importantly, will it ever grow a flower again? The answer is yes, as long as you treat that baby right.   

“The two biggest questions I always get are, “How did I kill my orchid? And why won’t it bloom?” says Brandon Tam, the orchid curator at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. “I feel like most of the time, if somebody buys an orchid, they kill it by mistake.”  

Below, here’s what you could be doing wrong, and how to do it right. 

1. Water Wisely 

Usually, people give their new orchid plant too much water. “If you overwater your orchid, it will drown the root system and then there’s absolutely no way of saving that plant,” Tam says. “That’s mainly because you’ve killed the roots.” He thinks this may happen because people think of orchids as a tropical plant that will therefore love water. “In fact, they’re epiphytes that grow in trees, and the humidity in the air is enough to make them happy,” he says.  

E. Spencer Toy

Another thing to consider is what kind of media your orchid is potted in. If the soil is covered with sphagnum moss, which happens often at stores like Trader Joe’s, it acts like a sponge and holds a lot of water. If that’s the case, water your orchid about once every three weeks. If the orchid is potted with bark, on the other hand, it will dry out faster, in which case Tam recommends watering approximately once a week.  

In general, you want your orchid to go dry between waterings, but not bone dry. Tam adds that it’s better to under-water than over-water, that way at least the plant will begin to wilt and tell you it’s time to water again. 

2. Give It the Right Light

Where you keep your orchid will determine how well it will thrive—and how fast it will dry out. “The main thing to remember is that if you want your orchid to bloom again, you need to give the plant enough light, because the plant needs to photosynthesize, which in turn gives the orchid enough energy to produce those gorgeous blooms you love,” Tam says.  

Potted Orchid Plant

natalie_board/Getty Images

Overall, orchids love bright but indirect light—but keep in mind that the brighter the light, the faster it could dry out. (An orchid in the bathroom, for example, won’t dry out as fast as one in a brightly lit living room.) 

Meanwhile, most people don’t realize that if they keep their orchids in the kitchen the flowers could fall off faster. “If you have ripening fruits in the vicinity of your orchids, they will produce ethylene gas, which decreases the blooms’ longevity,” Tam says.  

3. Be Careful With Fertilizer

Fertilizer is not a cure at all,” says Tam. “It won’t bring an orchid back from the dead.” He recommends fertilizing between the months of March and October every other week at half strength because that’s the orchid’s growing season. 

4. Be Patient

Now that you have the right amount of light and are giving your orchid the perfect amount of water, it’s time to play the waiting game because most orchids only bloom once a year, in the spring. Yes, it’s a long time to wait, but the payoff is big—orchid blooms last way longer than cut flowers after all. “Besides,” Tam points out, “most plants only produce flowers once a year. But orchid blooms last eight weeks or more—that’s the fantastic thing about them.”  

Lego Orchid

Courtesy of Lego

And if you still can’t keep your Trader Joe’s orchid alive? Well, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, you may want to try one from Lego instead.

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