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What to Do With an Orchid Plant After It Blooms

By Molly Dugger Brennan ; Updated September 21, 2017
Oncidium 'Sweet Sugar,' an old hybrid but still a favorite because of its sunshine yellow petals
orchid image by SSGuess from Fotolia.com

Orchids provide months of bloom time, making them an enjoyable, showy houseplant. Many retailers are hoping that once an orchid has finished blooming, you'll toss it out and buy another plant. If instead you'd like to keep your orchid plant and grow it on to bloom again year after year, there are just a few simple rules to follow.

To Trim the Stem or Not to Trim

A cymbidium orchid, which is grown for cut flowers as well as enjoyed as a potted plant
maroon orchid,orchid,maroon,showy,flower,beautiful image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com

Some orchids, such as the popular phalaenopsis or moth orchid, can bloom multiple times on the same stem. On this type of orchid, trim the stem no more than halfway back after all the flowers have dropped off. Doing this will maintain structural integrity by not letting the stem get so leggy that it snaps from the weight of the flowers. Also, trimming the flower spike often initiates the growth of a branch that will put out buds.

On other types of orchids, the stem will progressively turn brown and dry after the bloom cycle is complete. Do not cut the stem until it is fully dry. Let the plant pull all the nutrients back out of the stem before you remove it. These types of orchids bloom only once per stem and will grow a fresh one to bloom anew.

Feed Your Orchid

A phalaenopsis orchid hybrid, found in many stores and very popular for its lengthy bloom time
Orchid image by Yigal from Fotolia.com

Your orchid does not go dormant; it just does things that are less fun to watch. It is important that you help your plant build up the energy to rebloom by feeding it, giving it the right amount of light, and watering the plant properly. The potting medium used for orchids is generally very light and airy so that it will drain well. It is also nutritionally deficient. Feed your orchid at least once a month with a balanced plant food; twice is even better. "Balanced means that the numbers on the label should be close in value, i.e., 20-20-20, 6-8-7 or 10-12-10. If the fertilizer you find is not formulated especially for orchids, you must dilute it to half the usual strength. Orchid roots will burn easily. If it is an orchid-specific food, then it has been formulated to be safe for orchid roots and no extra step is necessary.

Water Your Orchid Properly

Dendrobium orchids are sun-loving plants, enjoying their spot on this window sill.
Orchid image by GeorgeT from Fotolia.com

The majority of orchids available for purchase are epiphytes. That means that their natural orientation is to grow caught up in the branches of trees and cascade freely. Gravity pulls excess water away from the roots of the plants, so even though they are tropical, they are accustomed to being well drained. Overwatering an orchid is the fastest way to kill it. Let the top of the potting mix dry out between waterings. Remember that all plants will bounce back from a drought, but none come back to life if they've been drowned.

Give Your Orchid the Right Amount of Light

A member of the cattleya family in full, fabulous bloom
orchid 9 image by Cesar Andrade from Fotolia.com

Orchids must get the right amount of light to rebloom. The right amount of light is dependent on the type of orchid. Some are happy in full sun; some love shade. If you give them too much light, the leaves will sunburn and stress the plant. If you give them too little light, the leaves will be a dark green, storing too much chlorophyll and never getting the trigger to initiate a bloom cycle. Know what type of orchid you have and what it requires.

 

About the Author

 

Molly Dugger Brennan has written professionally since 1982 as a technical author in Washington, D.C., producing proprietary analysis for her clients. She has also written on horticulture and orchid care and has lectured on orchid culture at garden shows since 2001. She won two American Horticultural Society gold medals for her orchids.