How do I look after a Zygopetalum Orchid?

posted in: Gardening | 35

I often get asked, “How do I look after a zygopetalum orchid?” I decided to write a blog post as it would be the easiest way to communicate this specialist advice. Moreover, my customers would be able to refer back to the information I verbally gave them at their own leisure.

This is the Zygopetalum ‘Lousiendorf’  orchid that I tend and nurture. Over in the UK, it is commonly known as the Ladybird Orchid though I don’t know the reason why. It has the most beautiful markings of brown and green on the petals that look like a tiger print and a white with purple streaked labellum.


What’s In The Name zye-go-PET-ah-lum?

how do I look after a zygopetalum orchid?
It derives its name from the greek word “Zygo” which means “yoke”.

Sir William Hooker (world famous orchid collector and specialist)  in 1827 was given this orchid by John MacKay who found it in Brazil.  Sir William thought that the way the petals were connected to each other reminded him of a yoke that oxen used around their necks and the “petalonbeing the petal and “petalum” being the plural for petals.

Just one of these plants can fill a whole room with a wonderful aroma and the warmer the room the more intense the fragrance becomes. The fragrance is quite heavy and reminds me of the scent of a hyacinth.


How to look after a Zygopetalum Orchid – Position

I find it easy to grow as watching the colour of its leaves helps you decide whether it is in the right position or not.  If the leaves are dark green it needs a little more light and yellow leaves mean that it needs to be moved to a shadier location as it should ideally have light green leaves. In the UK it does well on a bright windowsill but away from direct sunlight.

It doesn’t like a temperature lower than 12°C during the wintertime but it also doesn’t like prolonged temperatures higher than 27°C as that might prevent it from setting flower buds.  Its ideal daytime temperature range is approx 18-24°C.  Just keep it away from drafts and radiators – any houseplants worst nightmare!


How to look after a Zygopetalum Orchid – Watering

Like most orchids, it doesn’t like wet feet and cold water will shock its roots and the roots will stop growing.  It loves to get a good soaking especially when it is actively growing so that any salt build-up from the last watering gets rinsed through the pot. Rainwater is best but I never use it.  Far less water is needed when the temperatures are low but never let it dry out.

My Zygopetalum likes to get misted too – but I always do that during the mornings so that the leaves have time to dry during the day.  Just make sure that when you do mist the leaves that it’s not sitting in direct sunlight as the water droplets can burn the leathery leaves. Never let the pseudobulb (a swollen stem at the base of the plant) become wrinkled as that puts stress on the plant and it may not flower again for you. It does like to sit on a pebble tray especially in a centrally heated room to keep the humidity levels high.


How to look after a Zygopetalum Orchid – Feeding

I find the easiest types of orchid food to use are those that are suitable for when the orchid is in bloom and then a different one specifically for when its in green growth. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions. But personally I’m not too good at remembering to feed my orchids.

Repotting a Zygopetalum

It likes to be repotted once every 2 years but not during the summer months as it upsets their growth pattern and possible bud formation.  The secret to success with repotting any orchid is to make sure that the compost is dampened before you pot it on and then give it just a little water over the next few weeks so that the roots can settle again – and no feeding is required during this time.  There also needs to be 4 pseudobulbs in each pot so that it will have the strength to reflower again.

Most orchids when you buy them in shops/garden centres have been grown in the same bark compost for a long time and the bark is probably starting to decompose. When bark starts to decompose it draws in any available nitrogen – so your orchid should probably be repotted just after you purchase it.



This blog contains a series of posts on houseplants that you find for sale in UK garden centres. Here’s a list of plants I’ve covered … but more are to follow very soon:

How to get  a bromeliad to flower?

How to look after a Calathea crocata?

How to look after an Oncidesa Sweet Sugar Orchid?

Let me introduce you to Masdevallia ‘Rosie Nixon’

How to look after a Poinsettia at home

How to look after a Phalaenopsis * blog post coming soon

How to look after a Cymbidium * blog post coming soon

How to look after a Denrobium * blog post coming soon

Follow Rosie Nixon:

Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh.

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35 Responses

  1. Meredith

    Rosie, it's just beautiful, and I'll have to imagine the scent. I stopped growing orchids years ago (I think I have a brown thumb indoors), but I'm sure glad I get to enjoy yours vicariously. 🙂

  2. maiaT

    You know so much about orchids and I see they like to be in your care.
    I am still afraid to buy one, though I love them very much.
    Welcome to Macro Flowers Saturday!
    Thanks for joining.
    Have a great weekend!

  3. jodi (bloomingwriter)

    What a beauty, Rosie. Thanks for demystifying yet another orchid…I'm thinking, based on your post that I could have a go at one of these too, as my house temperatures would suit nicely. Will have to see what my friends have for sale…

  4. Curbstone Valley Farm

    A lovely orchid Rosie. As a favor to orchids, I don't grow them any more, as those I've tried to give a home in the past, have languished in my care. I'm always impressed by anyone that can get them to grow, and especially bloom!

  5. azplantlady

    I do love orchids and have enjoyed growing my first two. I appreciate the tips on how to grow them. I have found with most plants grown indoors that placement is probably the most important thing, besides water :^)

  6. Edith Hope

    Dear Rosie, What a lovely orchid. I am afraid I have no idea why it has its common name.

    I do hope that you are having a very happy Mother's Day.

  7. Carol

    Hi Rosie, Wonderful post! Your photos are stunning and I love to imagine a warm room fill with the fragrance of your Ladybird… I have no clue how it got it's name… Happy Gardening to you!

  8. Diane AZ

    Fabulous images of the beautiful and unusual Zygopetalum! Interesting how it got the name too.

  9. maiaT

    Your orchid is very beautiful, I may need your advise for care, when I decide to buy one.
    About the rose chafer, there are plenty in your parts too, they are considered to be plant pests and you probably have a clean garden.
    Honestly, I just noticed them after I began photographing.

  10. noel

    aloha rosie,

    these are one of my favorite orchids and the scents are just amazing aren't they 🙂 alot of people grow their orchids on trees here in hawaii and just leave them to nature to nourish….but i love how you take care of them indoors – its even more special to cherish something not in its typical environment and to get them to rebloom….congrats!

  11. ruma2008

    Thank you for showing wonderful scenery.

    It is a beautiful sign of the spring.

    From the Far East.
    Best regards.

  12. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress

    Wow is it ever pretty! It's just amazing the colors that nature puts together. I would never put the two color patterns together that are on this flower in clothing, but on this Orchid it's gorgeous!

  13. Kimberly

    Beautiful! It looks like it's laughing, to me. What a cheerful bloom! And the scent…mmmmm!

  14. Hélène Glehen

    Hello Rosie,
    The orchids are beautiful either with their shapes and colors but they do not have perfume and for me these flowers have something "unfinished".
    Thank you for stopping by my blogs and for leaving a comment.
    You are right. The top right rose is Ballerina.
    Have a nice week.
    Hélène –

  15. leavesnbloom

    @maiaT Start with a phalenopsis Moth Orchid. They are the easiest to look after. Neglect is best for them. Too many water them too much and kill them.

  16. leavesnbloom

    @Curbstone Valley Farm Sometimes its the conditions inside the home that prevent the orchid from flourishing – conditions that none of us have much control over no matter how good a gardener we are. I only grow the popular ones – there are others I stay clear off!

  17. leavesnbloom

    @noelI would love to see your terrestial orchids – I did over on your blog but there's nothing quite like seeing them for real is there