For most orchid species and varieties, after bloom care starts with removing the flowering spike at the base. The exception to this rule is the common phaleanopsis or moth orchid, a popular gift orchid easily found from greenhouse growers to grocery stores.
When your orchid produces flowers is determined by its inherent bloom cycle. For most varieties the annual growth cycle begins as the weather warms up in spring and continues throughout the summer. Flowers may follow in late autumn, early winter or early spring, depending on variety. Adding to the problem of figuring out the bloom cycle is that commercial growers often force the plants into bloom outside of their natural habit.
Keep a monthly checklist of maintenance tasks for orchids based on the species you have. Knowing your species and variety is key to establishing the best care routine and encouraging rebloom.
Care After Your Orchid Blooms
Once your orchid has finished blooming, it's time to restart the plant's annual cycle. But don't expect to see new leaves and stems appear immediately. A lot of energy is needed to produce the delicate exotic flowers, so most orchids need a period of rest or dormancy to build up vigor. This doesn't mean that you can leave your plant to manage on its own. Orchids thrive on regular, consistent care and respond dependably when correct growing conditions are maintained for the variety.
Cut the Flower Spike
The first step is to cut the flower spike back to it's base. The base is the place on the plant's main stem or, in some cases, pseudobulbs or keikis, where the spike initially appeared. Some growers recommend allowing the spike to die back and fall off naturally. Others claim that this practice can create opportunities for bacteria and pests. Most agree that a clean environment is critical for orchid health. Always use a sharp sterilized tool such as scissors or a razor blade to remove the spike.
The Phaleanopsis Exception
The phaleanopsis is the only orchid species that will set a second bloom on the same flower spike. While the flowers will be fewer and smaller, this will extend the bloom period by several weeks. Instead of cutting the spike to the base, cut it back to the first two or three nodes. Continue to provide the correct conditions including adequate light, water, and fertilizer. The nodes may produce new flowering stems.
Orchids grow best when they fill the pot and rarely require potting up. However, most growing media is depleted of nutrients after a year or two which makes repotting with fresh material a necessary step for good orchid care. Right after the bloom period has ended is the best time to repot your orchid.
A feeding of high phosphorous fertilizer, such as one with a 10-20-10 NPK, can help the orchid settle into it's new pot. Keep in mind that the plant is moving into a cycle of rest or dormancy at this point so one treatment should be sufficient after which fertilizer and water need to be reduced or withheld.
How to Know If Your Orchid Is Ready to Bloom
With good care and adequate conditions your orchid should bloom at least once annually. Some varieties, including the phaleanopsis, can produce flowers twice or more during the bloom cycle. In most cases, regardless of variety, you will be able to enjoy the extraordinary and often fragrant flowers for six to ten weeks. There are several steps to help your determine when your orchid variety should bloom.
Research Your Variety
Read up on the orchid variety you are growing. Learn how the plant is structured so you know where to look for spikes and buds that indicate blooming is imminent. Understand the plant's growing requirements by finding out where and how it grows naturally in the wild. Orchids can bloom in fall, winter or spring according to variety so knowing when your orchid should bloom will help you recognize signs.
Watch for New Growth
The appearance of a new leaf, thickening stems, and accelerated growth are all signs that your orchid is coming out of dormancy and ready to direct energy into reblooming. Check it daily for signs of emerging flower spikes.
it can be difficult, particularly with epiphytic orchids, to tell the difference between a new aerial root and a flower spike. A spike most often appears between the leaves or opposite a leaf on the main stem while roots emerge from the main stem, itself. Spikes also remain green with a flattened tip while roots tend to turn silvery or gray.
Baby the Buds
The flower bud is the most sensitive part of an orchid and bud blast or buds dropping before opening is an all too common and disappointing occurrence. When buds have set, take the greatest, gentlest care when tending your plant. Moving it into a slightly sunnier spot can encourage the buds to open but avoid bright direct light and big fluctuations in temperature. Water carefully and avoid wetting the buds and flowers after they open. Provide plenty of humidity and adhere to recommended fertilizing for your variety.