Thursday, 19 November 2009

Orchids: The Best Kept Secret

Unknown Phalenopsis in flower.
I've already covered the topic of terrestrial orchids for the garden and now I move in to the home.  Orchids are grown solely for their flowers.  We all know that the foliage is the boring part, unless of course the particular species has great leaf colouration, and an orchid which is not flowering is rather uninspiring.  How can we prolong the flowering period and the interest orchids provide?
My tip, and a relatively hidden one at that, is to selectively prune the flower spike in such a way as to promote a second flush of blooms.  This technique is comparable to the practice of "dead heading", which is common practice in general gardening, and to me it makes perfect sense to apply such a practice to our orchids.

Newly developing flower bud on old flower spike.
The usual advise given to all Phalenopsis is to prune the stalk back to the base or leave the flower spike intact.  I have found that if you wait until all blooms have faded it is possible to identify a bud lower down on the flower spike that is easily identified as being slightly swollen in comparison to others.  If you prune the stem just above this bud there is a good possibility that a new flower spike will develop.  And we all know what that means . . . more flowers.
Pictured right is an example of this practice.  This bud is developing quite nicely from the old flower spike and although it is unlikely to produce a show as grand as the last it is welcomed nonetheless.
In the growing season it is also advisable to feed your orchid with a specific orchid fertiliser which will ensure your plant isn't weakened.  This is especially important if you are asking your plant to bloom for a second time.

Large Phalenopsis with two flower spikes.
This practice does not seem to have any adverse effects on this particular specimen.  I have owned this Phalenopsis orchid for over four years now and it has never failed to produce the most wonderful white flowers.  As you can see in the picture not only has it developed a bud on the old flower spike but it has thrown up a new, much larger, spike too.
I think that this is proof enough that this plant is actually quite happy in its growing position, on my kitchen windowsill, which is East facing and perfect for this orchid.
We wont talk about the need for repotting just yet.  That will be discussed in a future article I'm sure.
Have you found this article useful?  Have you tried this yourself?  What advice would you give to orchid growers?


  1. Interesting. I never knew this! Now if I could just get my orchid to bloom....


  2. These have such beautiful and long lasting flowers Ryan. Came home earlier today clutching one for a friend who is recently out of hospital - much better value than a bunch of flowers :)

  3. I love Moth orchids, they are just so easy and flower their socks off year after year. I can't resist them :o)

  4. Very informative post! I have always wanted to try to grow them and thought they just look to delicate and hard to grow. I am going to have to try one out...they are beautiful!

  5. I did not know this! I learn something everytime I come here! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great tip. Am I right in thinking you have a penchant for orchids in the same way that I'm mad about aeoniums?

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  8. Thanks for all the comments!

    Fern and Janie: I'm glad you learned something new. It's a simple but handy tip!

    Rothschild Orchid: I know. When I got my first Orchid I thought it would be a battle to get it to flower but it's the best houseplant I've ever had. Reliable and pretty low maintenance.

    Amy:In my part of the world Phalenopsis (moth) orchids are extremely easy to grow. An east facing position and some moisture and they are happy.

    Anna: Completely agree! I always prefer to give a plant, especially an Orchid as a gift. Flowers average two weeks and Orchid up to 6 months!

    Martyn: You would be right in thinking that I have a small penchant for Orchids. Have several inside and out! I also share the Aeonium passion! Where do you stand on orchids?

  9. Ryan, Great tips, thanks for posting this & for your kind comments at SWG. I was thinking of this article yesterday when I was in IKEA eyeing the dendrobiums -- so small and beautiful. I wonder if your pruning technique would work on those, do you know? I'm wishing I had bought one, they were tiny but perfectly formed!

  10. Hi Stopwatch Gardener,

    I'm not entirely sure to be honest. I know that blooming varies depending on whether it is deciduous or evergreen. More complicated than the Phalenopsis.

    I have two Dendrobiums and the care needed for each is quite different. Maybe there's a post in there somewhere?


  11. I'm from the "there's no point growing it unless you can eat it" school of gardening and being an intolerable pedant wish to point out that orchids are grown not just for their flowers. How many people can boast home grown vanilla pods ? Try it, mind you you'll need some space, best described as an untidy climber.

  12. Great post, Ryan. I pruned my orchids back to a bud but neither of them threw up a new spike. In the end I cut the old spikes right back to the base and both of them threw up a new spike almost straight away. They're now blooming away happily. Looking forward to your post on repotting as one of my orchids is in dire need.

  13. I got the same advice recently--not to be too fast to cut the whole spike back and I agree with it. I've gotten several new buds and flowers on the same spike. It takes a long time, but the flowers bloom a long time, so I guess that's the trade-off.

  14. Thank you so much for this wealth of information it was so informative blog I like what you post here because I love orchid so much.



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