Orchids are well known in the gardening world as some of the most beautiful and exotic bloomers. They are also, sadly, known for being high maintenance and difficult to master. They aren’t nearly as intimidating once you get the hang of orchid care, but it does take some practice.
While you may have a plant that looks like it is thriving, if the plant hasn’t bloomed in a calendar year, something probably needs to be done differently. Keeping orchids is about more than keeping a plant alive. You want your orchid to bloom!
Several factors are involved in initiating and supporting the blooming process. If one of these things is neglected, you could wait a very long time for a plant that never blooms. Here are some ways to help your plant and hopefully get some of those beautiful flowers this year.
Get the Light Right
Most orchids prefer bright, indirect light.
The number one reason that orchids fail to produce flowers is a lack of adequate light. Most orchids do not do well in direct sunlight. It scorches their leaves, which causes stress to the plant. This doesn’t mean they don’t like a lot of light, but how that light is delivered is important.
Some types, like Vandas and Cattleyas, can tolerate more sun than other varieties. These perform well even with some direct sun and will actually do best with a few hours of direct sunlight in the morning.
Many other types prefer for all of their light to be indirect or diffused but bright and plentiful. Creating this environment requires a bit of creativity, but some easier ways to provide this kind of light are with privacy glass, privacy film, or a sheer curtain. These ensure you provide all the sun they need, but in a way that preserves the leaves.
If you keep your orchids outdoors, you can get very close to the same environment they grow in the wild by hanging your plants in trees. As long as there is something of a canopy between the sun and your orchid, it should get enough light.
If your orchid hasn’t bloomed in a year, but there’s been plenty of dark green growth, the issue is a lack of light. Orchid leaves should be lighter green with a yellow tint. Orchids will still grow in low light, but they won’t flower.
Keep a Good Watering Routine
Orchids are sensitive to watering. Avoid overwatering and adapt frequency based on growth stage and location.
Orchids are sensitive when it comes to their watering schedule. Overwatering is a common problem, but it is also easy to underwater your orchid. The trick is to give the plant just the amount of water it needs without overdoing it.
Most Orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow on trees with exposed roots rather than in soil. In cultivation, replicating these plants’ needs can be challenging. How much you water your orchid will depend on where you keep the plant and whether it is in a growth stage.
Orchids growing indoors that are potted correctly should be watered about once per week. More than this, you could end up with a deteriorating potting bark mix and a fast road to root rot.
Outdoor orchids can handle being watered more often. I water mine every two to three days, and they seem quite content with that. The ideal watering routine allows the potting material to dry out almost completely before watering again. It’s better to err on the side of underwatering, especially for indoor orchids.
Look For Pests
Pests like aphids and spider mites can hinder orchid blooming.
Another potential cause of your orchid failing to bloom could be pests at work draining your plant of energy and nutrients. Pests like aphids, mealybugs, scales, and spider mites all like to feed on the sweet sap of orchids.
Look for signs of these pests under leaves and especially in the crown where the leaves originate, as this is a prime spot for an infestation to take over. If you’ve got an infestation draining the life out of your plant, it probably won’t bloom.
Most of these pests can be eradicated with neem oil or insecticidal soaps. If you discover an infestation on one of your plants, make sure to isolate that plant to keep the infestation localized. Treat the plant immediately and again after two weeks to catch the next generation of insects.
Keep Your Plant Disease Free
Orchids are vulnerable to fungal and bacterial diseases, so promptly remove affected leaves for recovery.
Disease is another factor in the health of your orchid, and because of their high humidity and warm temperature needs, orchids are highly susceptible to fungal and bacterial diseases. Many of these diseases are waterborne and transmitted through poor watering hygiene.
Keep a watch on your orchid’s foliage and be aware of any changes so that you can deal with them promptly. Any damaged or infected leaves should be removed from the plant. When a plant part struggles with disease, it directs a lot of energy to heal it.
Removing the infected leaf or leaves tells the plant to redirect that energy to new, healthy growth. Make sure always to use a clean, sharp tool when pruning off leaves, as dirty tools can also transmit harmful pathogens.
Raise the Humidity
Orchids, originating from humid environments, require adequate humidity.
Most orchids are tropical plants, and they originate in very humid environments. If your orchid isn’t getting enough humidity, it is not getting enough moisture. These plants take in moisture from the air around them, as well as by watering their roots.
Different types of orchids have different humidity needs. For example, Vanda orchids and Rynchostylis orchids are best cultivated in greenhouse conditions, with plenty of diffused light and an ambient humidity level of 70-80%. That is quite a bit higher than what you want in your home, so these orchids don’t make great houseplants.
Other types of orchids, such as Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, Cymbidium, and Epidendrum, can thrive in 40-70% humidity, which can be achieved by keeping them in a bathroom or using a pebble tray or humidifier to raise the levels in the immediate vicinity.
Cool Things Down
Orchids bloom in response to temperature changes, with seasons providing natural cues for outdoor plants.
Orchids get the signal to bloom from a shift in temperature. For some varieties, this is triggered by a drop in temperature of about 10°-15°, while a shift toward warmer weather spurs others on. If you keep your orchids outdoors most of the year, they will naturally experience the shifts in temperature as the seasons change.
If your plants are indoors all year, you may have to do some fancy footwork to get them to initiate blooming. You can force this by placing your orchids in a cool, dark place for two or three weeks. This should be enough to signal them to begin the blooming process.
Get Some Fresh Air
Orchids thrive outdoors, benefiting from the natural temperature shifts that trigger blooming.
I find that my orchids are much happier when they are kept outdoors for most of the year. They go out as soon as it is warm enough and come in before any threat of frost. This method ensures they experience the natural cooling and warming cycle that initiates the blooming process.
If you prefer to keep your orchids indoors for your enjoyment, you can use this method briefly just to give your orchid that temperature shift that it needs to bloom. By taking your orchid outdoors when the temperature averages are around 70°F and leaving them until just before the low hits 45°, your plant will understand that it is time to bloom.
Be Careful How You Prune
Remove damaged leaves to enhance focus on new growth and blooming.
Orchids don’t really need regular pruning. They will occasionally drop one or two of their oldest leaves in preparation for blooming or immediately after, as the plant directs nutrients away from this older growth. In the case of damaged or diseased leaves, however, the plant won’t naturally stop supplying that leaf with water and nutrients. Pruning off damaged or diseased leaves frees up your plant to focus on new growth, including producing flowers.
Be careful with sympodial orchids. These are orchids that produce pseudobulbs rather than growing continuously upward. While these pseudobulbs will only bloom once, they continue to act as a nutrient storage space for the plant. Leave this intact until they are dry and brown.
Many orchids bloom annually, typically starting at three to five years old.
Most orchids only bloom once per year, and they don’t commence blooming until they are three to five years old. It can seem like it takes forever when the reality is that your orchid just might not be ready to bloom.
It’s good to familiarize yourself with the type of orchid you have to know what time of year to expect flowers. If you have a very young plant, it may not be ready, or if your plant was propagated by division, it may take another year for the plant to establish healthy roots and produce new growth.
To eliminate a lot of guesswork, find out what type of orchid you have and when it typically blooms. This way, you have a timeframe to look forward to and can keep your normal orchid care routine in the meantime. If you give it the right amount of light, water, and humidity, your orchid should bloom in good time.