Orchid Blooms: How long do they last?
This month’s question is one that we get asked quite often. It is hard to say what an orchid will do in every home since bloom time will always depend on the conditions in which you keep your orchid. These times are therefore estimates:
Phalaenopsis Orchid spikes- with their blooms’ sepals and petals resembling a butterfly or moth in flight—will typically last from 6 to 12 weeks, sometimes even longer. Because the spike often does not mature all at once, it is very common for the first flowers at the spike’s base to begin to wither even while new buds are still forming at the tip. Once the plant’s flowers have all opened and finally dropped, you can cut the remaining spike back to within an inch of where it emerges from the “stalk” of the plant.
Phalaenopsis will re-bloom on the same spike if the spike is cut farther up, 3 or so “joints” up from the base, by growing a branching spike out from the main one. This practice, however, should only be performed once before cutting the spike all the way back, since the blooms on these “artificially” created branches are typically not as large as the ones on the original inflorescence.
Cattleya Orchids, the plants most commonly associated with orchids because their huge, ruffled blooms are most often used in corsages, last only a few weeks, but the show is splendid. Once the flowers drop, the short spike and associated sheath from which the buds emerged can be cut back to the leaf axil.
The blooms of Ladyslipper Orchids, the Paphiopedilums with their central pouches, typically remain in bloom for a good four to six weeks, sometimes longer, depending on the genus. If the plant is a multi-floral and sequential bloomer, flowers will develop at the tip of the same spike again and again, sometimes for months on end. These spikes should not be cut back until the entire spike itself has browned and died, at which point it should be cut all the way down to where it has emerged from the center of the growth. Old growths and growths which have already bloomed will never bloom again: only the new growths that will emerge from the base of the old will produce more flowers.
Dendrobium orchids also produce flowers that can last a good eight to ten weeks, sometimes more, and mature plants with multiple canes and flower spikes are real eye-catchers when in full bloom. Again, wait until all of the flowers have dropped from a spike before cutting it all the way back to where it emerged from the cane.
The warm growing Oncidiinae alliance such as Oncidiums and Brassias, along with their intergeneric cousins, produce blooms from the base of their pseudobulbs that can last between six to eight weeks, sometimes even longer. Mature plants often have growths which develop at different times, so when one growth is through blooming, another may just be sending up a flower spike. Keep an eye out for new spikes emerging on new growths, as these plants can provide a gorgeous show that lasts all throughout the growing season. Cut spikes all the way back once flowers have all dropped.
There are, of course, many genera of orchids which don’t fall under any of the above categories, and some of those plants have blooms that last only a few days, so that blooming shouldn’t be missed!
Here are some tips to keep your orchid blooming for as long as possible:
- —Use a blossom booster fertilizer on your plants as soon as you notice a spike or sheath first begin to develop, and continue using it until the spike’s last flower has fully opened. If your plant has multiple new growths which may spike, use the blossom booster throughout the growing season, until all of the growths’ spikes have produced.
- —Be careful when watering or misting not to wet the orchids’ flowers. Wet flowers reduce their lifespan and can contribute to Botritis, a fungus that leaves black spots on the petals and sepals.
- —Don’t keep your flowering orchid under a heating or air conditioning vent: this dry air will wilt orchid blooms much sooner than air with about 40 – 60% humidity in it.
- –Finally, don’t water more frequently than normal just because your plant is in bloom. Root loss may occur and your entire plant, not just the flowers, will suffer.
In the last analysis, the length of time your orchid will remain in bloom depends on the type of plant, and your growing conditions. However, with regular, minimal care, most orchids commonly grown for sale will bloom for weeks and weeks on end, giving you many times the pleasure you would otherwise get from regular cut flowers in water, flowers that will, inevitably, only last a few days before withering.
Good orchid growing!