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.

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