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I recently received a beautiful orchid from a friend…

Glenda Asked

I recently received a beautiful orchid from a friend. It was full of beautiful shades of blue. I enjoyed it so much. When the blooms fell off, I saved them and placed them around the base of the plant and continued to enjoy their brilliant colors. I have been placing a couple of ice cubes weekly on the base of the plant, as I understand they do not like much moisture.

It has been almost 9 months now and still no bloom has appeared anywhere I can see. What do I need to do differently? Will the blooms come out at the end of the stems where they were before? Any tips you can give me would be most helpful. Does it need any sort of plant food? Other friends and family that have orchids tell me to be patient that theirs have bloomed and mine will, too.

The Gardener’s Answer

I agree with your friends and family, and it’s worth waiting for. The flowers that orchids produce are both lovely and long-lived. The thought of caring for orchids can be intimidating, but these delicate looking plants actually just need a few requirements to thrive. There are many species of orchids and some are pickier than others, but the Phalaenopsis species is the most common one we see sold as houseplants.

Understanding how they live in their native environment is helpful in caring for them indoors. Orchids are considered epiphytes—they attach themselves to tree trunks and live off of the nutrients provided by plant litter that falls from the tree canopy. They survive on moisture that Mother Nature provides. The roots are not buried in soil so it is essential that we use a bark-based potting medium made specifically for orchids. Watering once a week is fine. Adding a water-soluble orchid fertilizer once a month is recommended for optimal blooms. Using a half-strength dose of food is fine. It is always better to under-water and feed than to over-water or to over-feed your orchid.

As for the stem that is still on the plant, go ahead and cut it back to about an inch. It is not common for orchids to produce flowers on the same stem and if they do the flowers are smaller. Removing the stem will allow your orchid to concentrate all of its energy on the roots, foliage, and producing a new stem that will eventually bloom again. It is a process that usually takes 3 to 4 months. If the plant is healthy and happy it can bloom up to a couple of times each year, with the blooms lasting for several weeks. For now, keep your orchid in a space where it will receive bright filtered light. A south-facing window is ideal.

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