Anyone who knows me would say that orchids are my favourite flower, and they would be right. They grow wild in my country of birth, Brazil, they provide prolific and long-lasting blooms, and they offer the owner a good challenge. This gorgeous pot of four phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, was given to me as a gift back in early February, and is still in bloom.
Most often I notice people leave the flower stems on the plant until they become a brittle dead branch. It seems to be the biggest mystery – what do I do when the flower stems start dying? The main answer is, don’t throw the plant away!
You can see in the middle of the shot above that there are a few blooms fading. Here is another view of the fading stem that hasn’t died all the way back yet.
The plant is still feeding the stem, and is using energy to push nutrients and water all the way up to the dying flowers. Cutting a stem when it is fading can redirect the energies and force out a new flower shoot. Cut it above a healthy looking node that still looks alive. This one is the second from the bottom, being cut with my uber-sharp Masakuni shears.
With a little luck, you will soon have a new flower shoot like these two examples below. But if not, don’t be disappointed. If the stem dies all the way back, cut it to the bottom and with good care you will get another shoot from the base of the plant, although it can often take a few months.
It is helpful to remember that in their natural habitat, orchids grow in trees under a canopy and obtain their water through the air. That goes a little way to help explain the various things to keep in mind when growing orchids:
– orchids love bright but, crucially, indirect sunlight
– they like a permanent home, so may be unhappy at first – resist moving often
– they should be planted in bark and never soil, which rots the roots
– orchids want moisture, but never to be waterlogged – water sparingly
– there is no hard and fast watering rule, as conditions vary so much
– when watering, allow water to run freely through the pot, or mist regularly
– orchids require feeding, but sparingly – read the orchid food label
– exposed roots are okay, but re-pot if bark breaks down or plant outgrows pot
– a slight drop in evening temperature over 2-4 weeks can trigger new flowering
This is certainly not an exhaustive study on orchid care, and it is biased towards the phalaenopsis family as it is the easist to grow and most prolificly sold. Orchid care varies by family and for anyone interested in more information I would recommend The Orchid Expert, an inexpensive and simple guide to growing orchids.