Garden Fundamentals - Learn about plants and gardening

Blooming Orchids

In a previous post, Orchid Care, I provided general orchid care information. Once you know how to grow them it is time to learn how to flower them. Blooming orchids is very easy and I’ll show you exactly how to re-bloom them here. The main focus of this post is on the phalaenopsis orchid, but most of the advice also applies to other orchids.

Blooming Orchids - Phalaenopsis

Blooming Orchids – Phalaenopsis

Blooming Orchids – How to Make Orchids Bloom

Step one in blooming orchids is to grow healthy plants. An orchid that has lots of healthy leaves and roots will bloom quite easily. If it has rotting roots it won’t bloom. If it is not growing large new leaves it won’t bloom. Or if it does bloom, it does so in desperation before it dies.

A healthy phalaenopsis orchid will have 3 to 5 leaves. In the home they rarely have more than 5 and 4 is more common. Once it reaches this mature size new leaves will grow while at the same time an old leaf falls off.

The size of a mature leaf depends on the cultivar. Orchids with larger flowers usually have larger leaves. Orchids with smaller flowers have smaller leaves. That is all controlled by genetics and you can only do so much to get bigger leaves.

Given this limitation, you can still influence the size of the leaves. Good culture, especially higher light, will create bigger leaves – within the rage generics allows.

Follow these steps to make your orchid bloom

Light

Give it lots of light. Moving it to the south window will give it extra light and this may trigger blooming. Even if it doesn’t, it will grow a stronger plant.

Consider putting them outside for the summer. This will give them much higher light and they are more likely to flower in fall.

To get them outside, move them into sun very slowly over a couple of weeks so they can get hardened off. Too much sun right away will result in sunburn – black areas on the leaves. They prefer a part sun location, especially in hotter climates. Once conditioned to the sun the leaves will get much lighter in color showing that it is getting maximum light – that is a good thing.

Temperature

Orchids like a drop in temperature at night. This is especially important to get orchids to bloom. Many phalaenopsis start making the flower spike in fall (in the northern hemisphere) because they get lower temperatures at that time of year.

Move the orchid close to a colder window so it gets a natural drop in temperature. At night you can move it to a fruit cellar or unheated porch – but that is a lot of work and is not usually necessary. A cooler window works well.

If they are outside for the summer a few weeks of cold weather will not harm them and usually triggers flowering. They can’t take frost.

Fertilize

Do not start fertilizing more to make the orchid flower. If you have been following my orchid care suggestions, they are getting enough fertilizer.

Do NOT use bloom boosters. Firstly, they don’t work for orchids or any kind of plant, provided the soil for the plant is not deficient of a nutrient – which is usually the case. Secondly, too much fertilizer makes orchids grow weak leaves which rot easier.

Water

Don’t water more. You will just encourage rot at the roots or worse, in the crown of the plant.

Instead of watering more, try watering less. Orchids flower better if they are stressed a bit. Don’t water for a couple of weeks and watch the flower spike shoot up.

If you are concerned about not watering for a couple of weeks have a look at this experiment; Orchids – Do They Need Water?

Have Patience

Flowering takes a lot out of an orchid and it will normally not flower right after finishing a set of flowers. It is normal for it to take 6 months or even a year before flowering again. In temperate climates the orchid is probably not getting enough light in winter, so they tend not to bloom in spring. Blooming is more likely after a summer of more light.

If it has been 6 months and still no flowers, go through the above list and stress the plant a bit. More light, colder and withhold the water. Then wait.

I Just Bought An Orchid – Now What?

You just brought your baby home. What do you need to do?

Follow my Orchid Care instructions. That will give you a healthy plant. But there are also some things you should be aware of to help the plant flower better.

Phalaenopsis flowers open in succession, one after the other, along the flower spike. They always open to face the light. Why is this important? If you don’t face the plant in the right direction the flowers will open incorrectly and the display will be spoiled.

If there are more buds on the flower spike, position the plant so that the open flowers are facing the light. DO NOT turn the plant as the buds develop. This will ensure that each bud opens facing the same way.

The problem with these instructions is that the plant is probably not facing in the direction you want for best viewing. In that case you have to make a decision. Position it for best viewing and accept that new buds will open in the wrong direction, or set the plant as described above. The plant does not care – either option works for the health of the plant. The choice only affects aesthetics.

Orchid Finished Blooming

The show is finished and all of the buds/flowers have dropped off. What should you do now? To answer this it is useful to understand what the plant is doing – think like the orchid.

Flowering takes a lot of energy out of a plant, any plant, not just orchids. The plant is now ready for a rest. The orchid usually does not do much right after flowering at least as far as you can see. It might not starting growing new leaves for a while. Right now it needs light, fertilizer and water to replenish the food that was used to make the flowers. It needs to regenerate itself. Follow regular care and it will do just fine.

What about the old flower spike?

Different orchids behave differently. Some, usually the larger flowered ones, will NOT make a side branch on the current flower spike. Others, usually the smaller flowered types are quite likely to make a side branch which will then grow and make more flowers. You have two options. Cut the spike off or leave it on the plant.

Cutting the old flower spike off will give the plant a rest since it won’t be flowering any more.  Aesthetically it also looks much better.

By leaving the spike on you are hoping for a side branch to form, which will give you more flowers. The orchid will decide what will happen next. If the spike gets brown it will not make a side branch and you should cut it off. As long as it stays green there is hope for more flowers.

When you do cut the flower spike off, cut it close to the bottom of the plant. You can leave a small stem – it will not harm the plant.

New Roots vs New Flower Spike

If you are new to orchids you might find it difficult to distinguish a new root from a new flower spike. They do look quite different once you know what to look for. If you are new to this – just wait and see what happens. In either case treat the orchid the same way.

Roots will be darker green at the tip, shaped round in cross section and tend to point down. A flower spike is lighter green, flatter and tends to point up. You can usually see overlapping sections on the spike.

Orchid roots and flower spike

Orchid roots and flower spike

Care of the Flower Spike

Once the flower spike starts to develop, treat the orchid in the same way as before. No extra water or fertilizer.

The only difference in care is that you now encourage the spike to grow in the direction you want. As it gets longer, it is a good idea to add a stick into the pot and tie the flower spike to it. The flower spike will try to grow towards the light and you can force it to grow in a more upright position. Once buds start to form, allow the stem to curve a bit. This will make for a better display once the flowers open.

Flowering orchids - supporting flowering stem, by Robert Pavlis

Flowering orchids – supporting flowering stem, by Robert Pavlis

I like to use wire as shown in this picture. As the flowering spike elongates, the top of the wire can be bent into a curve to hold the stem where I want it.

Flowering orchids - clip for supporting flower stem, by Robert Pavlis

Flowering orchids – clip for supporting flower stem, by Robert Pavlis

This picture shows how the wire is attached to the pot. It is just a loop that fits over the edge of the pot.

Once buds start to form stop turning the orchid. Remember, buds always open towards the light and you want them all facing in the same direction.

References:

  1. Photo source for palaenopsis collection; Marise Caetano
Robert Pavlis
Editor of GardenFundamentals.com
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Fundamentals an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

19 Responses to 'Blooming Orchids'

  1. Tina Mcintosh says:

    hello robert … i’m new to orchids having been given one for my birthday 2 years ago. once it’s then flowers fell off, it has gown 3 more leaves (=9!) all looking very healthy. 1 water about every 10 days by pouring through the roots and draining before returning to it’s spot facing south with bright lighting. it is just putting out it’s first new root. there no rotting of trouble with the roots…but doesn’t bloom! i’ll try stressing more and putting in a cooler room at night….any other suggestions? i know some just don’t. thanx in hope…

  2. Naushmi says:

    I have few orchids in tamilnadu India. Little hot temperatures and did regular watering etc etc but no blooms and no roots

    • With no roots – there is not much reason to water, and you won’t get blooms. Focus on growing roots. Try to provide higher humidity until they show. If no roots develop the plant will die.

      • Naushmi says:

        But how to grow roots

        • Just wait – it takes time. There is really nothing you can do to speed up the process.

          • Just bought a “large bloom orchid a week ago and only have the sun from the east br.and evening hot sun in the kitchen. I had it on the dinning room table and recently switched it to the east room w/morning sunlight. I’m slowly trying to move it closer to the east window , but the blooms look sad. I watered it on the 8th day and poured old water out of the outside pot. Mine also says water every week w/ 3 ice cubes. However I was afraid to do that so I put about a shot and 1/2. water , using a shot glass – used cold water and 3 small chips of ice. My blooms look so sad. I don’t want to lose them after having for only 1 week – my Mother’s day gift for myself. Please HELP me!!!!

          • Follow these instructions http://www.gardenfundamentals.com/orchid-care/

            It should be completely dry before watering again.

  3. sandra says:

    thankyou!

  4. Lodi says:

    I have been extremely lucky with my current orchid, which has been in bloom for just over 2 years! 😊

    Sadly, the last flowers dropped off this week. I have cut back the stem to the last flower branch and coated the ends with cinnamon.

    I’m going to attempt to re-pot it next week – does it need a larger pot or just new bark?

    It has 7 mature leaves and another growing, which looking at some of your posts, seems a lot? Is this a good thing and should just be left?

    This is the first orchid that I’ve had any success with, so I’m keen to get her going again!

    • Congratulations on two years of flowers. The orchid could use a rest so I would cut the stem right back to the leaves.

      Seven leaves is also very good – about the best you can expect.

      Size of pot depends on size of plant and mostly its root system. If it is a mature plant it does not need a bigger pot and a pot that is too small is never a problem. If the root system won’t fit back into its current pot, then increase the pot size slightly. You never need more than a 6 inch pot.

      • Lodi says:

        Thank you for your reply. The stems still have buds on them, which I haven’t quite given up hope with. They started and then stopped and have been in that state for some months. I thought it was because there was so much activity they couldn’t be sustained. If they are not brown, should I leave them and hope for the best?

  5. Mary says:

    Robert, I NEVER leave comments, but I was so impressed with your columns and the quality of your info, that I had to let you know. I have had several orchids over the years and have managed to kill every one. Thanks for the internet, and thanks for the information. I am still a little shaky on the when to water routine, but hopefully I will learn before this orchid is in danger.

  6. Margaret Rose says:

    Excellent articles, thank you. I have an ex-blue orchid..now a much prettier white with at least five whole leaves. Two new flower shoots just starting and several new roots. I now have the courage to repot and feel I know what to do. I did put it outside (Scotland) one summer but the slugs enjoyed the leaves .. the remains are still attached to the plant!

  7. Robert,I just wish we lived close enough to visit….

  8. Loved the article,have a mini orchid and it is due to bloom so found all the information i needed right here. Thanks so much.

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