How to get an orchid to bloom?
May 29, 2006 6:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I get an orchid to produce blooms? It is a healthy plant that just keeps producing more green leaves, but no orchids.
posted by sushrob to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How long have you had it? Has the orchid ever bloomed since you have had it?
posted by anathema at 6:34 PM on May 29, 2006

Well, that depends on what genus of orchid you have. The"garden-variety" phalaenopsis will bloom when exposed to cool (about 55 to 60 deg F) nights and warmer days for a few weeks.

You might also want to try laying off the fertilizer if you're giving it any, since the high nitrogen content can make plants produce leaves but no flowers. Once the plant spikes (produces the stem the flowers will grow on) try giving it a "bloom booster" (high middle number or phosphorous content) which may result in more lush blooms, though there is some debate about this.
posted by Lycaste at 6:46 PM on May 29, 2006

There's a bunch of stuff online you can read. Search for "how to grow orchids," and you'll be faced with enough bathroom reading material to last a lifetime.

Having friends who've spent considerable energies trying to get their orchids to bloom, and having tried myself, I can only offer this piece of advice: demonstrate neglect.

Only after abandoning my efforts and essentially telling the damn orchid to fend for itself in the harsh environ of my rented domicile did the stupid thing bloom. After it produced flowers, I tended to it carefully whereupon the flowers all fell off. Then I gave up again, and POW! Six more buds and six more flowers. Then more green long bits, and BOIOIOING! More buds, more flowers.

I haven't repotted the plant despite its roots going gangly all over the place. I don't use anything but tap water, and there's no schedule to watering. It's in a clay pot, and it gets pretty darn dry. It sits by a window, suffers temperature extremes and gets a lot of sun during the daytime.

The more I've given up on it, the more it has thrived. I don't understand it.
posted by herrdoktor at 6:53 PM on May 29, 2006

The guy I used to buy orchids from--who grew primarily the phalaenopsis, but had a nice selection of cattleyas and some intergenerics (man-made hybrids, usually with a strong oncidium strain)--would second most of the advice above: benevolent neglect, cool nights, withholding fertilizer. Think of it this way (if a little anthropomorphizing is acceptable): if you were getting all the food and water you needed, why would you need to put out blooms to attract pollinators so you could procreate?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:21 PM on May 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've had some success getting phalaenopsis orchids to bloom by giving them as close to a tropical environment as I could create in my home. A sunny window in a bathroom (and lots of steamy showers) has worked for me, as has plenty of sun and frequent misting with a spray bottle of water, when a suitable bathroom window wasn't available. Good luck.
posted by Buzz at 8:39 PM on May 29, 2006

I would also argue for benign semi-neglect. Look at it occasionally - if the leaves develop spots or dark strips, it's probably getting too much sun; if the leaves look dead, it's not getting enough water. I keep a couple of spray bottles at hand, and spritz them while I'm on the phone in that room.

I've potted most of my orchids in african violet pots - they contain a well of water they leach in through the walls of the inner pot over time. I also use volcanic stones around the roots (except for the orchids that really really prefer bark) that suck up water and the roots suck water from them. This means I can be less diligent than I supposedly should be and the orchid takes the water it needs on its own schedule.

It really does depend on the orchid. Some of mine bloom once every year or two years; others pop out a new stalk 2 or 3 times a year. Once you get blooms, and the blooms fall (and no new buds appear on that stalk), cut off the top part of the stalk (where it's still green) - that'll prompt the plant to pop up a new stalk with new buds - and sometimes inspires a bud on the lower still-connected part of the stalk.
posted by julen at 9:26 PM on May 29, 2006

Best answer: Oh! the heartache I've had with orchids. My favourite flower. I've always bought them with blooms on them. Once those flowers have gone, I have never. ever. once. managed to get another flower. I have bought books and sought advice from nursery staff, but nada, nothing. I've tried keeping them inside, outside, and a combination of both. I can second-hand the neglect advice though. My sister has given up on cultivating orchids inside (she buys blooming ones and just chucks the rest of the pots in the back of the garden). They do magnificently, but she's afraid of bring them in and killing them.
posted by tellurian at 12:09 AM on May 30, 2006

tellurian's answer says it all, and neatly sums up the thread responses. Benign neglect, let it dry out now and again. I have mine near the kitchen sink in full sunlight. When I gave up reading and assiduous watering, hey presto, blooms!!
Almost all flowering plants throw up flowers if they feel conditions are likely to be dry, it's a survival thing.
The one addition I have to the above is to try to ensure it is not in a draft.
posted by Wilder at 2:32 AM on May 30, 2006

Got a couple of orchids a few months ago - inevitably in bloom. After a while I thought it would be a good idea to give them some plant food - there was one kind of costly special orchid food for plants in bloom and another for the rest. They got the bloom food and the blooms withered and fell off within a couple of days. Bastards!

I would therefore definately subscribe either to a stratey of cruel neglect. It can also be fun to surrepticiously switch a non flowering plant with an identical looking flowering one that you have just got from the shop. Then make up a random story about some miracle solution you came up with and see if people will buy it.

In fact this is a good general strategy for maximising enjoyment of house plants.
posted by rongorongo at 4:56 AM on May 30, 2006

IIRC, and I may not, orchids are one of those things you can coax into bloom by stuffing it in a plastic bag with a piece of ripening fruit. The ethylene gas given off by the fruit will make it set buds, if anything is going to. I think apples were customary. Watch it doesn't get too wet inside the bag.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:01 AM on May 30, 2006

Best answer: I have 51 orchids at home (a relatively small collection) of various types (phals, oncidiums, bulbos, catts, and assorted species), 90% of which I have rebloomed multiple times.

1) Do NOT put it in a bag with ripening fruit. The ethylene gas will blast any buds, and cause currently blooming flowers to wilt.

2) The secret to blooming is light. If you are not killing your orchids by overwatering them, which it sounds like you're not (congratulations, by the way, as this is how most people end up killing orchids). All of the other stuff, like the particulars about fertilization, and shocking the plants into bloom, blah blah blah, are all well and good, but if you're not getting enough light, they're never going to do anything.

You can graduate a plant into more light - if this thing is living indoors, chances are, it's not getting enough light. That stuff in growing guides about how phals need shaded dim light is advice for people who live in the equator or grow in greenhouses - if your plants aren't jammed up against a window that gets full, unshaded light, for at least 8 hours a day, your plant isn't getting enough of it, and won't bloom.

Another secret to whether or not you're getting enough light is gauging exactly what color green your leaves are. Are they dark green? If the plant is getting enough light, the leaves should be like Granny Smith Apple Green (for the most part, this can vary, although I am assuming you've got a phal).

Start putting it outside - if it hasn't been getting a lot of light, you'll need to graduate it to more, but if you start putting it outside and gradually exposing it to more light for longer (otherwise it will burn, which you can tell because it looks like light round spots where the leaf matter kind of goes mushy, and it can also go black and crispy looking), and just remember that your watering schedule will need to change accordingly with the heat, air movement, and increased light that it is getting outside, you'll see results.

Also, most orchids bloom yearly, so if you've only had it for a couple of months, give it time. I usually get through the waiting by buying another one (see the 51 plants).
posted by mckenney at 11:26 AM on May 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

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