How to Get Orchids to Bloom More

Robert Pavlis

In a previous post, Orchid Care, I provided general orchid care information. Once you know how to grow them it is time to learn how to flower them. Blooming orchids is very easy and I’ll show you exactly how to re-bloom them here. The main focus of this post is on the phalaenopsis orchid, but most of the advice also applies to other orchids.

Blooming Orchids - Phalaenopsis
Blooming Orchids – Phalaenopsis

Blooming Orchids – How to Make Orchids Bloom

Step one in blooming orchids is to grow healthy plants. An orchid that has lots of healthy leaves and roots will bloom quite easily. If it has rotting roots it won’t bloom. If it is not growing large new leaves it won’t bloom. Or if it does bloom, it does so in desperation before it dies.

A healthy phalaenopsis orchid will have 3 to 5 leaves. In the home they rarely have more than 5 and 4 is more common. Once it reaches this mature size new leaves will grow while at the same time an old leaf falls off.

The size of a mature leaf depends on the cultivar. Orchids with larger flowers usually have larger leaves. Orchids with smaller flowers have smaller leaves. That is all controlled by genetics and you can only do so much to get bigger leaves.

Soil Science for Gardeners book by Robert Pavlis

Given this limitation, you can still influence the size of the leaves. Good culture, especially higher light, will create bigger leaves – within the rage generics allows.

Follow these steps to make your orchid bloom

Light

Give it lots of light. Moving it to the south window will give it extra light and this may trigger blooming. Even if it doesn’t, it will grow a stronger plant.

Consider putting them outside for the summer. This will give them much higher light and they are more likely to flower in fall.

To get them outside, move them into sun very slowly over a couple of weeks so they can get hardened off. Too much sun right away will result in sunburn – black areas on the leaves. They prefer a part sun location, especially in hotter climates. Once conditioned to the sun the leaves will get much lighter in color showing that it is getting maximum light – that is a good thing.

Temperature

Orchids like a drop in temperature at night and it is believed that they need a drop in temperature to initiate flowering. This may be true for some orchids but it is not true for phalaenopsis. I have discussed in detail in Flowering Orchids Is Easy If You Know What Triggers Them?

If they are outside for the summer a few weeks of cold weather will not harm them and usually triggers flowering. They can’t take frost.

Fertilize

Do not start fertilizing more to make the orchid flower. If you have been following my orchid care suggestions, they are getting enough fertilizer.

Do NOT use bloom boosters. They don’t work for orchids or any kind of plant for that matter. But more importantly, the higher phosphorus level in bloom boosters have been shown to reduce flowering in orchids.

Water

Don’t water more. You will just encourage rot at the roots or worse, in the crown of the plant.

Instead of watering more, try watering less. Orchids flower better if they are stressed a bit. Don’t water for a couple of weeks and watch the flower spike shoot up.

If you are concerned about not watering for a couple of weeks have a look at this experiment; Orchids – Do They Need Water?

YouTube video

Have Patience

Flowering takes a lot out of an orchid and it will normally not flower right after finishing a set of flowers. It is normal for it to take 6 months or even a year before flowering again. In temperate climates the orchid is probably not getting enough light in winter, so they tend not to bloom in spring. Blooming is more likely after a summer of more light.

If it has been 6 months and still no flowers, go through the above list and stress the plant a bit. More light, colder and withhold the water. Then wait.

I Just Bought An Orchid – Now What?

You just brought your baby home. What do you need to do?

Follow my Orchid Care instructions. That will give you a healthy plant. But there are also some things you should be aware of to help the plant flower better.

Phalaenopsis flowers open in succession, one after the other, along the flower spike. They always open to face the light. Why is this important? If you don’t face the plant in the right direction the flowers will open incorrectly and the display will be spoiled.

If there are more buds on the flower spike, position the plant so that the open flowers are facing the light. DO NOT turn the plant as the buds develop. This will ensure that each bud opens facing the same way.

The problem with these instructions is that the plant is probably not facing in the direction you want for best viewing. In that case you have to make a decision. Position it for best viewing and accept that new buds will open in the wrong direction, or set the plant as described above. The plant does not care – either option works for the health of the plant. The choice only affects aesthetics.

Orchid Finished Blooming

The show is finished and all of the buds/flowers have dropped off. What should you do now? To answer this it is useful to understand what the plant is doing – think like the orchid.

Flowering takes a lot of energy out of a plant, any plant, not just orchids. The plant is now ready for a rest. The orchid usually does not do much right after flowering at least as far as you can see. It might not starting growing new leaves for a while. Right now it needs light, fertilizer and water to replenish the food that was used to make the flowers. It needs to regenerate itself. Follow regular care and it will do just fine.

What about the old flower spike?

Different orchids behave differently. Some, usually the larger flowered ones, will NOT make a side branch on the current flower spike. Others, usually the smaller flowered types are quite likely to make a side branch which will then grow and make more flowers. You have two options. Cut the spike off or leave it on the plant.

Cutting the old flower spike off will give the plant a rest since it won’t be flowering any more.  Aesthetically it also looks much better.

By leaving the spike on you are hoping for a side branch to form, which will give you more flowers. The orchid will decide what will happen next. If the spike gets brown it will not make a side branch and you should cut it off. As long as it stays green there is hope for more flowers.

When you do cut the flower spike off, cut it close to the bottom of the plant. You can leave a small stem – it will not harm the plant.

New Roots vs New Flower Spike

If you are new to orchids you might find it difficult to distinguish a new root from a new flower spike. They do look quite different once you know what to look for. If you are new to this – just wait and see what happens. In either case treat the orchid the same way.

Roots will be darker green at the tip, shaped round in cross section and tend to point down. A flower spike is lighter green, flatter and tends to point up. You can usually see overlapping sections on the spike.

Orchid roots and flower spike
Orchid roots and flower spike

Care of the Flower Spike

Once the flower spike starts to develop, treat the orchid in the same way as before. No extra water or fertilizer.

The only difference in care is that you now encourage the spike to grow in the direction you want. As it gets longer, it is a good idea to add a stick into the pot and tie the flower spike to it. The flower spike will try to grow towards the light and you can force it to grow in a more upright position. Once buds start to form, allow the stem to curve a bit. This will make for a better display once the flowers open.

Flowering orchids - supporting flowering stem, by Robert Pavlis
Flowering orchids – supporting flowering stem, by Robert Pavlis

I like to use wire as shown in this picture. As the flowering spike elongates, the top of the wire can be bent into a curve to hold the stem where I want it.

Flowering orchids - clip for supporting flower stem, by Robert Pavlis
Flowering orchids – clip for supporting flower stem, by Robert Pavlis

This picture shows how the wire is attached to the pot. It is just a loop that fits over the edge of the pot.

Once buds start to form stop turning the orchid. Remember, buds always open towards the light and you want them all facing in the same direction.

YouTube video

References:

  1. Photo source for palaenopsis collection; Marise Caetano
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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

46 thoughts on “How to Get Orchids to Bloom More”

  1. Thank you so helpful. My father gave me my first orchid last summer 2022. The buds fell off after about 6 weeks. It’s done nothing since! I did repot it and now waiting for it to bloom again

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this information. I still have a question if you have a moment. Do mini orchids have a different bloom pattern than the regular sized ones? I’ve had great luck with the regular ones reblooming, one in particular has done so a few times every year for about eight years. The two minis I have are in the same location as the others, they put out new leaves and roots but haven’t rebloomed in two years. I don’t understand it since they’re all treated the same. I use the Miracle Grow orchid spray fertilizer, they get loads of light and humidity and I water when the pots are dry and light. What am I missing? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Not really. They do tend to bloom longer, and have more branching, but getting them to bloom is the same treatment.

      Reply
  3. My orchids are doing well. One of them have had up to 60 flowers at a time for the past 2 years and has 13 large long leaves. Should I be concerned or be looking out for anything in particular for a plant of this age? I love it. Also, is there a way to get it to give me keikies?

    Reply
    • They can live a long time and don’t need to be treated any different as they age.

      There is a product called keikie paste that contains a hormone that is put on a flower spike and will help promote the growth of a new plant on the flower stem.
      https://amzn.to/3sMZNVp

      Reply
  4. Robert,
    I’ve a 9 leaf orchid with 3 stems, the tallest having 3 offshoots, it’s huge the tallest and biggest I’ve ever had! It recently bloomed and looks spectacular. There have been bad wind/storms recently and I assume it got a cold draft. One flower fell and one flower is limp. The other 40 blooms still look spectacular. Am I going to loose the plant? Bit worried that a flower has fallen and one limp as it only recently bloomed.

    Reply
  5. I have a small yellow phalenopsis that has nice spikes and flowers but some of the small buds are turning yellow and fading. What causes this?
    They have good light and we’re repotted this year by a local orchid grower.

    Reply
    • I think you are describing bud blast. It can be due to being too dry, or to a sudden change in the environment. I also think some of the smaller orchids produce too many buds and at some point they drop some of them.

      I moved one from lights in the basement to upstairs this year and it also dropped some buds.

      Reply
  6. THANK YOU so much for all this information. It has special importance to me. My beloved husband brought home a beautiful bright pink Phalaenopsis (I looked it up!) and because it was for Valentine’s Day, I MUST not neglect it or kill it. I have gardened in various climates and landscapes for 60 years and I have never kept an ORCHID. But I knew where to go for help: A Garden Professor! Your instructions and cautions were easy to understand and made perfect sense. I WILL find the right planting mixture… even if I have to make it myself: We live in British Columbia. I have 5 acres of trees with BARK. I WILL NOT over water this beautiful plant. I WILL give it sufficient water. I WILL place it where it can receive extravagant sunlight! I WILL NOT mist it (though in movies you always see the orchid enthusiast, often a brilliant villain doing just that). I will NOT overfeed or underfeed it. I WILL be patient and caring even when she is not in bloom. I feel so fortunate to have an orchid in my life. The only other time was when the wild ones grew along the muddier shoulders of our pond…in the sub-arctic. On stems 8″ tall were the tiniest green orchids, which I could photograph with a closeup lens. Orchids for fairies… they were so small. Platanthera aquilonis, Northern Bog Orchid.

    Reply
    • Excellent blog with lots of actionable information. I sure learned a lot. One question that isn’t raised: what do I do when my orchid sends out a shoot (like a flower shoot) then starts to grow another orchid plant with leaves and roots? Do I just cut it off and plant it? If so how long should I wait until I cut it? Mother plant has 5 leaves and baby has 4.

      Reply
      • This is called a keiki (pronounced kiki). Wait until it has a couple of roots 3″ inches ling and twist it off. Or you can cut the flower stem just above and below it and plant it with the stem.

        Reply
  7. Thank you for all.of this info. I think I’ve found what I needed. I only have one orchid but can’t wait to choose
    another.

    I am awaiting a new stem and it has wonderful new healthy green leaf. I’m.just about to place on the cool.window sill to.stress a little.

    Wish me luck 🤞

    Reply

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