Caring for Orchids after Blooms Fade

orchid flowers dropping off

Most of the flowers on this Oncidium orchid have dried and dropped off.

If you received an orchid as a gift this past December, you are probably looking at either the last of the flowers fading away or a very green, flowerless bloom spike.  If so, a few simple steps will prep your plant for new growth and future flowers.

cutting phal spike

Cut spent flower spikes about two inches above their connection to the plant.

One of the first things that should be done is to safely remove the flower spike. Flowering uses a considerable amount of energy from the plant’s reserves. Removing the flower spike will cause the plant to enter a period of rest that is needed before active growth starts again.

Find where your flower spike originates (could be from the crown or base of the plant). Measure one to two inches away from the spike’s origin and cut the the spike off at this point. When the remaining section of spike is dry, it can be cut away closer to the base or crown if wished. Don’t ever try to snap a green or dry spike off close to the crown/base. This could leave a hole inside the crown that can be detrimental to the plant’s health.

You should also check the roots of the orchids after flowering is over. Some of the orchids sold in stores arrive potted in moss in a clear, transparent plastic pot that are then slipped into a decorative pot or plastic sleeve. If the orchid is in a clear pot, look to see if the roots look plump and green which indicates healthy roots. If they look wrinkled, papery, or are a gray or brown color, then the plant should be removed from the pot to see if there are any healthy roots remaining. Repotting in a smaller pot may be necessary until the plant begins growing new roots.

Most stores receive orchids planted in either bark or more likely in moss. Both are good mediums to grow the orchid in, but they have different requirements when it comes to the watering of the orchid.

Bark, lasts a long time and when properly saturated, will hold moisture while allowing excellent aeration for the roots. Growing in the wild, orchid roots are nearly completely exposed to the air, and a bark mix is full of air spaces that allow the roots to breath. The disadvantage of bark is that it can be hard to rehydrate if it completely dries out and it doesn’t hold onto nutrients from fertilizers very well.

Moss is a great media for most orchids. Moss doesn’t last as long as bark, so orchids in moss will need to be repotted more frequently. Moss also holds onto water and fertilizers much longer than bark. They require less fertilizer, but need to be watered more carefully. When moss is saturated with water, it’s fibers swell and the air spaces around roots are reduced or eliminated. Your plant’s water needs will depend largely on the temperature. When it is warm, evaporation and the water needs of the plants will rapidly dry the moss which causes air to enter the pot as it shrinks. When temperatures are cooler, it is easy to over-water your orchid. Roots standing in saturated moss, surrounded by more water than air and are prone to rot.

orchid pot lip

In Taiwan, they use a simple method of watering orchids planted in moss that keeps the plant adequately watered without causing it to rot its roots. They purposely leave at least an inch of  space between the top edge of the pot and the surface of the moss. The plant is watered just long enough for the the water to touch the top edge of the pot. While not usually enough water to drain completely through the pot, it is just enough to moisten the moss without losing all of its air pockets allowing the roots to breathe.

By Glenn Bryant.  Glenn is a longtime member of the Alabama Orchid Society and a past president of the Northeast Alabama Orchid Society. The Alabama Orchid Society meets each month at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

4 thoughts on “Caring for Orchids after Blooms Fade

  1. Hello Margie,
    What you did by cutting the flower spike off below the location of the first flower to open, but an inch or two above the node is exactly the technique used to extend the flowering season with most Phaleanopsis orchids. The node is the ‘backup bud’ in case the original flower spike gets broken or grazed upon. After the flower spike is cut above the node, fertilize your orchid with a fertilizer that has a high middle number and try to place the orchid near some brighter light if possible. If your fertilizer ratio is usually 10-10-10, look for one that has a higher middle number, for example, 10-30-10. The higher middle number, as well as the higher light levels, encourages bloom. There are two things you should be aware if you decide to go for an extra bloom spike.
    One – Make sure your plant is healthy and mature enough (i.e. large enough) to pull off a second flowering. Producing flowers for an orchid takes quite a bit of its energy reserves that the plant has been storing all through its active growing season. A small, immature plant might possibly be able to flower once a season, but not more than two times. An orchid can be detrimentally exhausted if encouraged to bloom too many times in one season.
    Two – Be aware that the second round of flowers may have fewer blossoms and can be smaller than the flowers on the original spike.
    Three – After the second spike has dropped its last flower, cut it completely off and make sure you ‘baby’ the plant with good growing culture until it recovers and starts actively growing again.

  2. I’m asking about the Phalaenopsis Orchids. I just read an article about them & it stated a different method to make sure these Orchids re-bloom.
    Well, I read somewhere to cut the streams down to where the very 1st bloom flowered to insure re-bloomed orchids. I’ve tried doing this after my sisters 3 Phalaenopsis Orchids after the last bloom dies & falls off & I already have beautiful re-blooms. Normally, she just has me throw these Orchid plants away but this time I was determined to find a way to help them out. Has anyone elsa tried doing this after their blooms have died & look as though the life of these beautiful plants look like they’ve all but died? If so, PLEASE let me know what you did & what your end results were of these awesome looking Phalaenopsis Orchids were. I’d appreciate any more information on these beauties as I can read up on.
    Thank you so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *