9 Tips That Will Help Your Orchids Rebloom
Are you struggling to get your orchid to bloom again? Encouraging them to bloom again is a mystery to many gardeners. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss takes you through nine simple steps to maximize your chances of getting your orchids to rebloom beautifully once again.
So, you bought or were gifted a colorful orchid in bloom, and you’ve enjoyed every minute of those gorgeous exotic flowers. Like all plants, though, all orchids inevitably lose their blooms, and thus begins the year-long process of anticipating the development of a new flower spike.
Orchids have a reputation for being difficult to care for, and with good reason. For an orchid plant to produce blooms, there are several conditions that need to be met, in very specific fashion. Knowing what type of orchid you are dealing with is a great place to start.
Some orchid owners get lucky and find the perfect spot and care routine with their first orchid. This, however, is a rarity, and different types of orchids commonly need slightly different care routines to induce bud formation.
Since there is little room for experimentation in orchid care, there are some common factors that will help keep your orchid alive, while you experiment with light and location to induce a new flower spike. Here are some important factors in what an orchid needs to survive, as well as what leads an orchid to produce blooms. Following these guidelines, you can achieve your goals and reap the benefit of a beautiful, reblooming orchid plant.
Prune the Flower Spike
After your orchid’s flowers have fallen from the spike, there is the question of what to do with that bare stem. The short answer is that it should be cut back, but there are a few factors that influence how and how much should be trimmed off.
The most important factor when pruning is the use of clean, sharp tools. Orchids are quite susceptible to disease and fungus, so you want to make a clean cut. Clean cuts heal faster and therefore, create less of an invitation for fungus or bacteria to get in.
If your orchid has a single flower spike, and the spike is still green and healthy, you should prune it back conservatively. Start at the base of the spike and move upward until you find the first node. This will look like a small, slight ridge around the stem. Cut the spike one inch above the node and treat by dusting with cinnamon or powdered sulfur to prevent infection.
Keep in mind that home remedies like cinnamon shouldn’t be used to treat disease. But it can be used as a powerful preventative treatment.
If your plant has two flower spikes, trim one back to just above the node. The other spike should be trimmed back to its base. If your orchid has only one spike, but it has turned brown and dried out, there is no reason to leave any part of it. Cut back brown stems all the way to the base of the plant.
Trimming off the spikes allows the plant to redirect nutrients and energy toward building stronger roots. A strong root system means a healthier plant overall. A healthy plant in turn, will produce more flowers.
Leave Pseudobulbs Intact
Sympodial orchids such as cattleya, cymbidium, oncidium and dendrobium all grow horizontally along a central rhizome at the base of the plant. New growth appears in the form of pseudobulbs. From each pseudobulb, one or two leaves will form. Each pseudobulb will produce, in general, one flower stem.
For most cattleya orchids, each pseudobulb only produces one flower, but they are so beautiful, it’s worth the effort. For other sympodial orchids, a pseudobulb will produce a flower spike that will produce multiple blooms, ranging in number according to the species and variety.
It may be tempting to remove the spent pseudobulbs, knowing that they will never produce another flower, but this is not recommended. The reason being, these structures contain valuable nutrients, which they have stored to help support new growth.
It is recommended when propagating a sympodial orchid by division, that you should wait until you can divide the plant such that each new plant has 4 at least pseudobulbs.
The exception to not removing pseudobulbs is that each year, the life of one or two pseudobulb/leaf structures will naturally run its course, turning yellow and then brown. This means that the structure has completed its mission toward supporting the plant’s new growth.
It is perfectly fine to remove these as they are no longer needed. Just be sure to keep an eye on new growth to make sure that the plant is not being affected by a more serious issue like root rot.
Repot if Needed
If your orchid is newly purchased, there is a good chance that it came in a pot with very little ventilation, and a potting medium containing a lot of moss. They need a lot of air circulation around their roots. They are very susceptible to root rot, so it is important that the roots do not sit for long periods of time in a damp potting medium.
Never repot during blooming, as this will dramatically shorten the life of the flowers. Rather, wait until the blooms fall, trim the stalk, and repot in a proper container with a potting mix made especially for orchids.
Orchid potting mix is a combination of primarily bark, mixed with a bit of charcoal and pumice or sponge rock. A bit of sphagnum moss can be added for orchids that prefer a bit more moisture, but in general, you want a potting medium that dries out between waterings and allows air to flow around the roots.
Orchid pots come in several forms. My personal favorite are wooden orchid baskets. These do a great job of mimicking their natural habitat, which is epiphytic. This means that they grow on trees, so their roots are constantly exposed to air.
There are other types of specialty pots, made from terracotta, and ceramic. These pots have holes in the sides and bottom to allow for maximum air flow. The right container can make or break an orchid, so this is an important factor.
Provide the Right Amount of Water
The single fastest method of killing a healthy plant is overwatering. Orchids like moisture, but they don’t like to sit in water. They are very susceptible to root rot, and root rot is almost always a death sentence.
When potted correctly, an indoor orchid should be watered once per week. There are several methods of watering, all of which can be used successfully to keep your plant thriving. The key is consistency and regularity.
The Ice Cube Method
Once a week place three ice cubes on the surface of your potting mix. The ice will melt, gradually allowing water to the roots of the plant in a way that they are able to absorb most of the water and not sit in a damp pot.
I prefer this method as I know that my orchids are getting enough water this way. This can be disastrous if your plant doesn’t get enough air circulation though, so make sure you’ve potted it properly. Fill a sink or basin with room temperature water and submerge just the pot and roots in the water, not the leaves. Water pooling in leaves can lead to leaf rot. Allow the pot to sit for several minutes, then remove it from the water and allow it to drain completely.
From the Top Down
Orchids can certainly be watered from the top down, provided that water isn’t allowed to collect and remain in the leaves. The only issue with this method is that the plant doesn’t have time to absorb much water in this fashion, so be sure to let the water flow over it for a minute or two.
Watering once per week should keep your indoor orchid producing new growth and aid in the formation of new buds.
Orchids need to be fertilized quite often. If you are watering once per week, you should apply fertilizer with every second watering. This is another reason I favor the Immersion Method of watering, as it is simple and convenient to mix fertilizer in with the water.
Specialty fertilizers are widely, commercially available, and if you are diving into orchid ownership headfirst, they work very well. However, any balanced fertilizer, for instance a 20-20-20 formula, can be diluted to about ½ -1/4 of its recommended strength.
Skipping the fertilizer will not kill an orchid. But if you want to see more healthy blooms, don’t skip it. They love regular fertilization and will reward you with more growth when they get it.
Provide the Right Lighting
Orchids don’t love direct sunlight. Their leaves are vulnerable to sun scorch, and that can lead to leaf and ultimately whole plant rot. Too much sun is not an orchid’s friend, but not enough sun and they simply won’t produce flowers.
If your orchid is producing new growth that is darker in color and hasn’t produced a flower spike by the following season, there is a good chance that it is not getting enough light. Ibe careful not to overcompensate by setting the plant in direct sun. This isn’t a game of catch up, it must be a gradual change, or the plant will suffer.
The best spot for most orchids is near a bright, sunny window, but with no more than a couple hours of direct sunlight. This is especially true of phalaenopsis orchids. I speak from experience here. Not long ago I brought home a lovely phalaenopsis orchid and set it on my back porch for repotting.
Well, time got away from me and it was the next evening before I could get to it. Just one day in the intense afternoon sun had scorched every one of those shiny green leaves. The plant, ultimately, did not survive. The moral of the story is, don’t try to play catch up, just move the orchid to a spot with more, indirect light, and let it catch up naturally.
Provide Enough Humidity
Orchids need a lot of humidity. 60-80% is the range that most orchids fall into with many doing just fine at the lower range. Vanda orchids need a lot of humidity though, so trying to raise one indoors, inside of a house, is going to be very challenging. This species tends to do best in hothouses.
For most orchids, there are things you can do to increase the humidity to their liking. Because they grow aerial roots (roots that grow above the potting medium) they need to have a high level of ambient humidity. These roots absorb water and nutrients from the air around them.
A humidity gauge is a helpful tool in determining if the room has enough moisture in the air. I find that the kitchen and bathroom are the best homes for orchids inside the home. There are a few ways to increase the humidity around your plants.
The first is with a humidifier. This will certainly be effective, but high levels of humidity can damage other household items such as paint, wood and wallpaper, so keep an eye on those things. Another effective tool is to place a dish of water under the pot. Make sure you place some stones in the dish to elevate the pot, as an orchid’s roots should never sit in water.
Misting is another option, but you must do it consistently, several times a day, to give your plant enough moisture, and you run the risk of leaf rot if water droplets pool in the leaves. Misting works well for outdoor orchids on drier days, but indoors, it’s not the most effective method.
Cool it Down
Orchids bloom predominantly in the spring and summer. This means that their buds form during the cooler months. While they can’t withstand freezing, they do need a bit of a chill to induce the formation of those buds.
If you are keeping them inside, when the weather gets cooler, move them close to a window that is away from a heat source.
A few weeks of cooler temperatures at night will let the plant know that it is time to start forming those buds. Make sure that you are fertilizing adequately during this time, as well.
Take it Outside
If you have a space for them to be outdoors, it’s a great idea to move them outside when there is a perceptible cooling at night. This will go even further in encouraging the formation of buds than a cool window spot indoors.
As the daylight hours shorten and the sun is less intense, they may need a little extra exposure to get those buds forming, which can be difficult to achieve indoors.
Moving orchids outdoors for a few weeks to a month, in the fall, before there is any chance of freezing, will mimic the natural weather change in the tropics. While they live in climates that rarely experience freezing weather, the temperatures still cool in the winter months, particularly at night.
A little extra light and those cool evening temperatures will let your orchid know that it is time to get those buds forming. Don’t forget to keep up your watering routine. Sometimes out of sight means out of mind.
Orchid potting mix will dry out faster outdoors, so unless you live in a very humid climate, you will likely need to increase your watering to twice a week while they are outside.
The right balance of environmental and care factors will greatly influence your orchid plant’s ability to form and support new blooms. While it may seem daunting at first, understanding your plant’s specific needs is a great place to start.
Mimicking their natural environment is the key to flower development. Once you are familiar with the balance of light, humidity, water, and fertilizer your particular species of orchid likes, you should be seeing the fruits of your efforts before you know it!