orchid bloom problem

Asked January 28, 2020, 2:41 PM EST

I receive a lovely orchid with many blooms as a sympathy gift about two weeks ago; but have been distressed to watch the blooms first wilt and now drying out, despite numerous calls to the garden center who delivered it for advice and following same. I've looked up websites for help as well but to no avail. Is this the usual course of the flowering? It appears they are almost lost, and was looking forward to enjoying them. I have been taking pictures and will try to forward them via text if there is a way I can do so. I'm not very technical otherwise. Thank you for your attention.

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

Until the pictures come in, we can make some educated guesses as to the cause. (You should be able to attach picture files in the question submission form.) You can also compare sample photos from the web of some of the orchid types listed below to see which seem to match best in shape. It's likely, though, that for the moment, type won't matter; for long-term plant care, however, it can be important.

The most commonly-available orchids are Phalaenopsis (a.k.a. "moth orchids" because, we suppose, their blooms look a bit moth-like to whoever named them) and sometimes Oncidiums ("dancing ladies" is a common name...they tend to have yellow or red in their flower colors and have many, smaller flowers than Phalaenopsis) or Paphiopedilum ("slipper orchids," because their flower lip is a pouch, like a slipper).

When in the home, orchids in general like high humidity and moderate temperatures. In other words, don't site them near a heat vent, drafty window, or above a radiator or fireplace that's used often. Light levels depend on type - Oncidium like brighter light, and the other two types mentioned above need less. Orchids are popular for their long-lasting flowers, but it's possible that either this plant has been in bloom long enough that its flowers are aging, or that environmental conditions are triggering bloom drop.

The most important thing to keep orchids happy is not to keep their roots too wet. Often, orchids are sold or gifted in decorative pots (outside of the pot they are actually growing in because it looks nicer), and sometimes these do not have holes in the bottom. It is very important that the orchid pots be allowed to drain each time they are watered. If the pots do have drain holes but sit on a saucer, make sure that saucer is emptied right away. The material used in orchid pots is meant to not hold much water, or for very long, so don't be alarmed if most of the water you pour in flows right back out of the bottom of the pot quickly. Because of this, it's easiest to do your watering over a sink.

Orchids are different from our typical houseplants because, in nature, few of them grow in soil. They grow glued on to tree trunks and other places above-ground, where they get lots of air circulation and don't stay wet for long. They have come up with alternative ways to store the water in their tissues. We grow them in pots for our convenience - both so they can be moved around and displayed and so their roots don't dry out too fast in our homes that don't have outdoor humidity levels. Oncidium-type orchids like to get flushed with a good dose of water and then allowed to get fairly dry between waterings. How often this happens depends on several factors, like light levels, household humidity, temperatures, and how full the orchid pot is of roots. The other two orchid types mentioned above like to be a bit more consistently moist.

If a plant is stressed by being too wet or too dry, it will shed either leaves and/or flowers. Also, if the plant is being displayed near ripe fruit, the gas ripening fruit naturally gives off can actually influence the orchid flowers and cause them to drop prematurely.

While sometimes orchids are treated as disposable blooming plants, some can re-bloom on the same flower spike (stem). Orchids can be slow growers, so this bloom may take patience. In general, orchid plants are long-lived and will re-bloom in their season of flowering for years. If the flowering stem stays green, it may flower again in time as the plant stabilizes. If the stem dies back and turns dry and brown, that's fine; clip it off near the base and the plant may bloom again on new growth as it gets older. Some orchids only flower at certain times of the year; others can bloom almost anytime. If you find out what kind of orchid you have, there are good guidelines online to follow to care for it. Some people find that orchid care can actually be less demanding than some other houseplants if you can find the right spot for them. The American Orchid Society is a good place to start looking for information on how to keep different orchids happy; they do have a website.