Phalaenopsis Orchids: flower spikes

This is the time of year that Phalaenopsis orchids should start to produce flower spikes. The cooler temperatures signal that the orchid can put energy into creating flowers for reproduction. The flowers do not take very long to develop, can last for months, and vary in colour, shape and size.

But what happens when our Phalaenopsis appear to be doing very little? You may have bought an orchid which lost its blooms and now does not seem to want to do anything. Commercially grown orchids like the Phalaenopsis are encouraged to bloom at specific times of the year by companies for profits. This can sometimes work against the orchids natural annual cycles.

Most of my Phalaenopsis orchids were purchased during the summer months when the orchids should really be thinking about growing new roots and leaves. Most Phalaenopsis hybrids will start to think about blooming in winter. When the temperature drops by a few degrees, this is normally the signal the orchid needs to know it needs to start growing a flower spike.

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A friend of mine asked me why her orchid is not doing anything at the moment. All other signs suggest that the orchid is healthy – the leaves and roots are green – but there is no activity otherwise. I would suggest this is because the orchid may have already been in bloom for a long time and now needs some time to recover and focus on growing roots or leaves. Most of my Phalaenopsis orchids are now at a stage where their growth and flowering cycles follow their natural pattern. I can expect them to be blooming right about now and indeed, I have 4 out of 8 doing just that. The others are new to my collection and require time to adjust to my environment (plus they are small and were stressed when I bought them!)

Orchids become stressed if something in their environment is not right for them. There is normally an adjustment period required when you bring your orchid home because it has to get used to temperature, humidity, light, water etc. If in the last 6 months something has changed in your orchids’ environment, it is likely that it was stressed it so it will not necessarily bloom (unless it thinks it has little chance of survival and tries to produce flowers to reproduce).

If you are concerned your orchid is not doing anything or you’re thinking it might be time to chuck it in the bin, stop! There are a few things you should do to check there is nothing wrong first.

Check the growing media. Most Phalaenopsis orchids come in clear plastic pots, so you should be able to see what type of media your orchid is planted in. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that sphagnum moss is not my favourite media. It absorbs moisture so well, it can hang on to it for days. This increases the chance of root rot which can affect your orchid. So if you have sphagnum moss in your pot, it might be worth changing it. If there is a funky smell coming from the media when it is wet, this is also a very good indicator that it needs changing. As a general rule, I repot my orchids every 2 years, or earlier if it starts to smell like mushrooms (bark seems to smell like this to me when it starts breaking down).

Secondly, check the roots. Do they turn green when watered? Are there many roots in the pot? One of my Phalaenopsis orchids, has so many roots I can hear them cracking from the sides of the pot every time I pick it up to water it (the cracking noise is simply the roots detaching from the sides of the pot). If the orchid has limited roots and wrinkling leaves, this might be a good time to repot as it could have root rot which is causing the plant to dehydrate.

Thirdly, check the leaves. Phalaenopsis orchids have thick fleshy leaves and should be fairly firm if you try to gently bend them. If they are wrinkling or easily bent, then the orchid is dehydrating. Water the orchid first, then repot if it doesn’t recover a little.

If the orchid is healthy and doesn’t appear to be losing leaves, smelling bad when watered or has few roots, it should be ok. Your orchid uses more energy to produce a flower spike than any other structure, and it may now be taking a break to recoup. This is perfectly normal. I mentioned in a previous post that one of my Phalaenopsis orchids hasn’t bloomed for 18 months but is now developing a flower spike. Just keep watering your orchid regularly and providing good amounts of light (not direct sunlight in the warmer months – they won’t thank you for that!). Your orchid is focusing on growing so you could also provide some growth fertiliser to help them out.

Clare

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