If you have an orchid where the flowers have fallen off and you don’t know what to do, read on.
Chances are your orchid is a Phalaenopsis, or phals for short in orchid circles, since it is the most common available commercially. You have two choices: Throw the plant out, or follow the instructions for encouraging it to rebloom. I confess that I have thrown my share of orchids on the compost heap because they sat there flowerless for months and didn’t seem to be doing anything. After consulting with a college friend, Carrie Buchman, who has become an expert amateur orchid grower and president of the North Jersey Orchid Society, I learned that Phalaenopsis orchid care is quite simple. These orchids are not as demanding as their reputation would suggest, but it is important to follow some basic steps to get them to rebloom.
Orchid reblooming is stimulated by a day/night change in temperature of about 10 degrees. At this time of year, as nighttime temperatures drop, you can set your plant next to a window that doesn’t get direct sun. You’ll get that day/night differential naturally, and after about 4 – 6 weeks, you should see a spike emerge between the leaves. After a shoot forms, you can move it away from the window, but still keep it out of the direct sun to avoid burning the leaves. If you stake the new stem be careful not to break it.
Fall is also a good time to do some general maintenance. After summer blossoms have fallen off, cut old stems back to about ½”. Remove your orchid from the container it came in to check the roots. If they are silvery grey or white, it means your plant needs water. If they’re green, the plant has enough water. If they are dead, they should be snipped off.
Loosen the sphagnum moss, as most orchids are packed too tightly when they’re shipped, and that can stress them and inhibit new growth. Better yet, purchase a bag of high quality New Zealand sphagnum moss and replace the old. Parrino’s Greenhouse and Florist in Pawling sells New Zealand sphagnum moss. I checked, and they have a fresh supply on hand – (845) 855-5415.
If you repot your orchid, use a clear plastic container. Use the smallest size that will hold the roots and put a hole in the bottom for drainage. To determine whether your plant is due to be watered, put your finger in the moss and if it is still moist, don’t water. Only water if it’s dry, usually about once a week. According to Carrie, the number one reason orchids die is from overwatering.
Avoid getting water in the center of the plant or it could cause crown rot, which is fatal over time. If it happens, just take a tissue or paper towel and wick it dry. If you get water on the leaves, wipe them dry as the water can act like a lens and burn them. Carrie advises against the ice cube method of watering. It’s better to water with room temperature or slightly warmer water.
Once an inflorescence, or new stem, emerges, keep your orchid facing the same way toward the light. You want to achieve what is called “tiling,” which is when multiple blooms are slightly overlapping on an arching stem, all facing the same way. If you constantly change the position of your orchid, the blooms will face different directions. It’s not considered pretty and will not win you any awards. One trick Carrie suggests is to mark your container with chalk or a piece of tape so it always lines up in the same place.
Your orchid should rebloom about four months after you put it in your cool window. It will keep its bloom through spring and early summer. Sometimes an orchid will skip a season if it is stressed, and won’t bloom until the following year. Do not despair. With proper care it will eventually rebloom!
If your orchid bloomed really bright blue or really bright pink when you obtained it, it may have been dyed. In that case, when it reblooms it will bloom pure white.
Follow these instructions to have your orchid rebloom:
Cut stems down to ½” above the level of the leaves (or you can leave a partial stem and you may get more blossoms, but that will weaken the plant for the next blooming cycle).
Place your plant in a window that does not receive direct sun. It should experience a temperature differential of 10 degrees or so between day and night.
Check moss about once a week to see if your plant needs watering. If it is still damp, hold off watering.
After 4 – 6 weeks look for a spike (a new inflorescence) emerging between the leaves.
Keep your plant facing in the same direction in order to achieve the best visual presentation for your blossoms.
In about 4 months you should have beautiful new orchid blossoms!
It wasn’t until I visited the New York Botanical Garden orchid show several years ago that I developed an appreciation for orchids. The next NYBG Orchid Show is February 23 – April 28, 2019. I highly recommend going!
For more information, you can watch a video Carrie Buchman made for Womanswork in which she explains how to get orchids to rebloom. You can find the video on our website at Womanswork.com by typing the word “orchids” in the search bar at the top of the page. You can also visit the website of the American Orchid Society at AOS.org for more information on Phalaenopsis and other orchid culture.