Why Isn’t My Orchid Blooming?

Orchids, the exotic beauties that grace us with glorious, long-lasting flowers, can sometimes be particular. If your orchid is not blooming, try adjusting specific growing requirements to bring the plant to healthy flowering. Orchids thrive as houseplants, but their needs differ from those of their potted neighbors. Explore how to get your orchid to bloom (and rebloom!) with garden professional Katherine Rowe.

Close-up of potted orchids on a light windowsill. Moth Orchids have broad, arching leaves forming a graceful rosette at the base. These orchids produce long, slender stems that bear multiple, waxy blooms in a delicate pink color. Each blossom features intricately patterned petals and a lip that is adorned with spots or markings of contrasting dark pink. Some orchids do not bloom due to improper conditions.

Orchids, with their exotic flowers in spectacular shapes and colors, have been bred and hybridized for generations so that these very particular plants grow happily in our homes. These beautiful plants occur naturally across the globe, with the greatest variety from tropical Asia, where rainforest conditions give way to drenching rain cycles and drying out periods.

Orchids can be epiphytic, growing on trees or rocks and absorbing nutrients from rain and the air, or terrestrial, growing from the ground. Many of the popular varieties we find in stores and garden centers are epiphytes. So, mirroring their tropical rainforest canopy climate becomes the gardener’s rewarding challenge.

The reward is the orchid’s lovely flowers and lengthy bloom time, as they bloom for up to eight weeks (and some for months!). While they generally flower only once a year – like many plants – the extended bloom time is unusual and certainly worth the wait. Plus, some easy-care types, like phalaenopsis, can rebloom in optimum growing conditions.

If your orchid isn’t blooming, don’t give up. A healthy plant can live for years, even decades, blooming year after year. A few cultural conditions are primary to healthy growing and initiating blooms. Make slow changes to the growing environment and look for signs of improvement.

The Short Answer

If an orchid isn’t blooming, light exposure is the first consideration. Most types need plenty of bright, indirect light to bloom. Gradually move it to a brighter location (or a shadier spot if the leaves are scorched or stunted and yellow – a sign of too much sun). Other cultural conditions to consider are temperature, water, and space to grow. Orchids need a difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures to bloom. Take care not to overwater – while they are tropical plants, they are epiphytic and not prone to overly damp potting media. Lastly, ensure roots have good air circulation and room in the pot. If the orchid has reached the edge of the pot, try repotting it in a fresh bark mix.

The Long Answer

Knowing the type you’re growing can help hone in on specific care requirements. For most orchids, look to light, temperature, and water as particular flowering needs. Fertilizing, repotting, and post-blooming care are also key considerations in the orchid-growing regimen.

Light

Close-up of phalaenopsis orchid flower blooms on the light windowsill. The Phalaenopsis Orchid, commonly known as the Moth Orchid, boasts large, waxy blooms of white and pink color. The blossoms intricate feature patterns, white petals with intricate vibrant purple-pink veins and deep purple labellums. The leaves are large, elliptical in shape, deep green, leathery, form a lush rosette at the base.
Ensure sufficient and appropriate light conditions while monitoring to ensure your species gets what it needs.

Varying Light Preferences

The most common reason for a lack of blooms is insufficient light. Alternatively, too much light will also prevent buds from forming. 

Different species and hybrids require varying amounts and levels of light. For example, paphiopedilums (lady’s slippers) need no direct light, while cattleyas (cat orchids) benefit from lots of light to bloom. Phalaenopsis (moth orchids) need intermediate light and are relatively adaptable to lower light, making them easy to care for. Finding the right amount of light for your species/variety is the key, and there are indicators to achieving this.

Symptoms of Insufficient Light

Leaf color is the most visible factor in determining whether or not an orchid is receiving sufficient light. The leaves should be yellowish, grassy green, not lush dark green. A light-to-medium green leaf with yellow tones is in its natural healthy state. For most orchids, leaves should also be upright or horizontal instead of long and floppy. Droopy leaves indicate that there is not enough light.

A good marker to look for is enough light that allows the orchid to cast a faint shadow. This shadow indicates light is coming through to the leaves and is enough for most varieties.

Lighting Solutions

If your orchid needs more light, try moving it to a brighter spot, like a windowsill facing a different direction, or outdoors in summer. Move it gradually from shade to a sunnier spot, as leaves will burn and lose chlorophyll with exposure if they experience a sudden shift. If moving to a south-facing window, use a curtain or shade as a filter.

If increased natural light isn’t an option, consider fluorescent or artificial grow lights. Orchids shouldn’t receive more than 12 hours of artificial light daily, as a lack of darkness can prevent blooming. Cycles of daylight and darkness are part of an orchid’s adaptive growing cycle, so give long daylight hours followed by night by switching indoor lights off.

Temperature

Top view, close-up of a woman holding an orchid plant on a blurred background of a light window. The woman is wearing a white dress. The orchid plant produces broad, glossy, elliptical leaves that form a lush rosette at the base. The plant produces a long, slender stem that bears multiple, waxy green buds.
Orchids need cool nights to stimulate bud development.

Orchids rely on changes between daytime and nighttime temperatures to initiate blooming. In the rainforest, temperatures can vary 15-20℉ between night and day.  Phalaenopsis, for example, develops flower spikes in response to a cool period of about two to four weeks with nighttime temperatures of 55-60℉.

After this cool period, it helps to move the orchid to a warmer spot (between 60-80℉) to stimulate flowering. Temperature impacts cymbidium orchids the most, and they need more severe cooling. Move cymbidium outside in late summer/early fall for six weeks to develop flower buds.

Cooler nights allow orchids to set buds. Setting the plant near a cool window benefits it with a nighttime temperature drop, as does lowering the thermostat. A lower temperature, especially in autumn, often initiates the bloom cycle. Keep orchids away from drafts to prevent buds from dropping.

Water

Watering a potted orchid plant. Close-up of female hands spraying an orchid plant with a sprayer, on a light windowsill. The orchid is growing in a translucent plastic pot filled with Orchid Bark Potting Mix. The plant forms a rosette of wide, glossy green, elliptical leaves.
Avoid overwatering and use well-draining pots with bark or moss mix.

With orchids being tropical plants, we sometimes love them to death by giving them too much water. Fluctuations in water, too, prevent them from blooming.

Epiphytic orchids need regular water, but since their roots are adapted to absorb water from rain and moisture in the air, they won’t survive in consistently wet soil. A well-draining pot and bark-based potting mix is essential to plant health. Sphagnum moss is another potting medium sometimes used for orchids, which holds moisture longer. For bark mix, watering about once a week is likely. Water about every three weeks for orchids in moss to avoid excess moisture.

Water thoroughly when potting media feels dry to the touch. If the mix feels dry at one inch below the surface, it’s time to water. Err on the side of dryness rather than overwatering, but don’t allow media to dry out completely.

Fertilizer

Close-up of female hands with translucent rubber gloves pouring fertilizer from a green plastic bottle into a red cap. In the background, slightly blurred, there are many potted, non-flowering orchids in translucent plastic pots.
Orchids don’t need fertilizer to bloom, but fertilizing can provide a boost.

In the wild, orchids receive plenty of nitrogen from raindrops. They also get nutrients from decaying plant material on trees.

As a houseplant with its essential cultural requirements met, they don’t require fertilizer to bloom. It can, however, give a boost for more vigorous blooms. Opt for an organic, balanced houseplant fertilizer and use it at ¼ strength. Apply fertilizer every other week in the warmer months, March through December. Stop fertilizing when the active growing season ends and as temperatures cool. 

Be careful not to fertilize too much. An overload of nitrogen can prevent blooms. A low, balanced fertilizer works well. Once a month, water thoroughly to rinse the roots of any fertilizer salts and deposits.

Repotting

Replanting an orchid on a marble countertop. Close-up of female hands holding an orchid plant with root ball. Next to it on the table is a plastic, translucent orchid pot. The orchid root ball is made up of thick gray-green roots and Orchid Bark Potting Mix Soil. The girl is wearing a light beige apron.
If they are crowded, repot orchids if crowded, trimming any failing roots and adding fresh orchid bark.

Orchids need space and air circulation to thrive. Has the orchid outgrown its pot? If new shoots are at the edge of the pot or trailing over (or even breaking off), it’s time to repot.

To repot an orchid, remove the plant from its pot and potting media. Trim off any brown roots or declining parts of the plant. After trimming, it may not need a bigger pot – just add fresh bark mix and water thoroughly. You can tell the bark mix is new when it’s firm and chunky (bark chips will be aged but shouldn’t be crumbly). Decaying bark drains less readily and can limit air circulation to roots.

Once repotted into a well-draining pot, resume your normal care routine.

After an Orchid Blooms

Trimming the stem of a faded orchid. Close-up of woman's hands trimming the stem of an orchid with wilted pink flowers, using red and black pruning shears, indoors. Orchid flowers are dry, withered, white with a pinkish tint.
After the blooms fade, cut the stem at its base or at least an inch above a node.

Most orchids bloom on new growth. When the blooms fade and drop, the stem will brown. There are two options when it comes to cutting the stem. One is to cut it off at the base, allowing the plant to redirect its energy, rejuvenate, and produce a new bloom spike.

The second method is to cut the stem an inch above the second node on the stem. The stem may regrow and rebloom, although blooms and stems are often smaller than the initial bloom.

Final Thoughts

Healthy orchids will rebloom around the same time each year. Some may even rebloom within the same year. For reliable flowering, you can choose types likely to rebloom, like phalaenopsis or paphiopedilum.  Phalaenopsis is the easiest to grow and is available in a vast array of striking colors.

If your plant isn’t blooming, provide plenty of light, water well and wisely, and give a change in day-to-night temperatures. With a few minor adjustments and some patience, your orchid will bloom happily for years to come.

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