Orchids are exotic plants that create beautiful blooms. With the right care, most orchids bloom at least once per year. Every orchid species has slightly different needs in order to thrive and bloom, but the variables are all the same – light, temperature, water, potting material, and humidity. By adjusting the environment for your particular species of orchid and providing a few seasonal triggers, you can get your plants to bloom.
1. Providing the Right Growth Environment
Make sure the light intensity is correct for the species
There are many species of orchids, but Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis) are the most common and easiest species to grow. This is the kind that is sold in most florist shops and nurseries. Placing them on a sunny windowsill will usually make them happy. They like bright light, but not direct sun.
Provide the right amount of water
The Phalaenopsis orchid likes to be watered once per week during its resting period (when it experiences no growth or blooms) and twice per week during active growth. It prefers to be kept dry between waterings. This means you should only water it when the potting material (which is usually a free-draining blend of fir bark) appears dry, or else the orchid could die. If the bark looks damp, it's too soon.
- Water your orchid early in the morning.
- Most indoor orchids should be watered every 5 to 12 days, depending on the species and season.
Maintain a humid environment
Most orchids are tropical plants, so they prefer a humidity level that they probably aren't getting in the average living room. During the winter, a 30 percent humidity level is average for a home. The Phalaenopsis orchid likes 40 to 70 percent humidity. Most other orchids prefer 60 to 80 percent humidity. By adjusting the humidity for them, all orchid species will grow a little better. If you group your plants together in one growing area, this will create humidity.
2. Triggering Blooms
Consider using full-spectrum lights
When an orchid refuses to bloom, the reason is usually because it isn't getting enough light. If you are unable to provide the right amount of natural light for your orchid, look into setting up full-spectrum lights indoors. You can purchase these lighting systems at nurseries or order them online.
Use a fertilizer formulated for orchids
Feeding an orchid the right fertilizers can stimulate it to grow faster and bloom sooner. Look for orchid food that contains nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). It should also include trace elements like iron. Always read and follow the instructions of your orchid food carefully. Orchids should be watered thoroughly before fertilizing them.
Fertilize your orchid once per month during the active growing season
The active growing season for orchids is approximately March through November. Don't fertilize from mid-December until mid-February. If you fertilize it less than that, its growth may become stunted and blooms won't appear. If you fertilize it more frequently than that, you risk burning the roots and leaves of the plant.
Drop the temperature by 10 degrees at night
Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) are temperature sensitive. In nature, their blooms are triggered when fall arrives and the temperatures drop at night. If an orchid doesn't experience a period of cooler nights, even an indoor orchid, it may refuse to make buds or bloom. If your orchid is sitting in a window, it's probably experiencing natural temperature drops coming from outside to some extent. However, this may not be enough to trigger blooms. Before you go to bed each night, turn your thermostat down by 10 degrees.
- One to two weeks of nightly temperature drops will usually trigger an orchid to bloom, as long as it's the right time of their growth cycle.
- For Phalaenopsis orchids, provide night temperatures of 60°F (15.5°C) and day temperatures of 80°F (25°C).
Diagnosing Your Orchid
Pay attention to the season
Each species of orchid has a growth season – a time of the year when it will naturally bloom. If it currently isn't the orchid's growth season, it isn't going to bloom. Most orchids, including the Phalaenopsis orchid, will experience the growth of new leaves during the summer months. Spikes and flower buds will appear in late fall and soon after it will bloom. It will continue to bloom until spring. The blooming season usually ends around mid-February.
Check the leaf color
If an orchid isn't blooming, the reason is almost always because it's not getting enough light. One of the best ways to figure out if your orchid is getting enough light is to check its leaf color. A healthy orchid getting the right amount of sun exposure will have bright green leaves. If the leaves are dark green, your orchid isn't getting enough light. Move it to a brighter spot, like a south-facing window. If the leaves are reddish-green, the orchid is getting too much light. Move it to a less sunny spot, like an east or north-facing window.
Check the stems and leaves for signs of dehydration
If the stems and leaves appear wilted or shriveled, your orchid needs more water. You will always need to water more frequently when the orchid is actively blooming. During the resting period (when there are no blooms), water your orchid about once per week. During the active blooming phase, water it twice per week.
- Increase watering when you see new shoots and roots appear on your orchid.
- Too much water can kill an orchid quickly. Never allow your orchid to sit in a soggy, water-logged pot.
Evaluate the potting material
Most orchids, including Phalaenopsis, do not grow in regular soil. They need a growing medium that provides fast water drainage and good air circulation. A free-draining blend of fir bark (sometimes referred as fir bark nuggets) is the most popular potting material for moth orchids. If you can't identify your plant's current growing medium, re-pot it in fir bark.