Frequently Asked Questions About Orchids

In our continuing efforts to provide education to our website visitors, we have created a list of what are some of the most commonly asked questions for beginners and experienced orchid growers alike.  If there are any other orchid topics that you would like to see covered, contact us and we will try to oblige.

Our current topics:

What do orchid temperature terms equate to?

How do I repot?

Can I repot when my orchid is in spike or bloom?

Why do you recommend urea-free fertilizer?

Why won’t my orchid plant bloom?

How often should I water?

Why are my plant’s leaves wrinkled?

What is this clear sticky substance I have on the spikes and leaves?

Why are my buds turning yellow and falling off?

My Phalaenopsis has stopped blooming and gone dormant. What do I do?

I'm doing the same things I've always done, but this year my plant didn't bloom. What's wrong?

Do I cut the spike back when my orchid is finished blooming?

My orchid has dropped some leaves. It is ok?

I've got black spots on my leaves, what could this be?


What do orchid temperature terms equate to?

You will find the orchids on our product pages displayed with recommended temperature range terms of cool, intermediate, and warm. The following table details what temperature ranges these terms equate to:

Temperature Category Nighttime Minimum Daytime Maximum
Warm 62-70°F   (17-21°C) 75-95°F   (24-35°C)
Intermediate – Warm 60-65°F   (16-18°C) 78-83°F   (26-28°C)
Intermediate 55-60°F   (13-16°C) 73-80°F   (23-27°C)
Cool – Intermediate 52-58°F   (11-14°C) 68-75°F   (20-24°C)
Cool 50-55°F   (10-13°C) 62-70°F   (17-21°C)


How do I repot my orchid?

There are several different ways to repot, and different orchid varieties can require different repotting techniques and potting materials. We recommend that you visit our Orchid Care section for more specific information on different genus of orchid.

In general, most orchid plants that are growing in pots will break down the medium within one to two years. When repotting, remove the old mix from the pot, being careful not to break or crush too many roots. Hollow or mushy roots to the touch are considered dead and can be trimmed off. Roots that feel solid are generally the living roots. Rinse the root system thoroughly as this makes them more flexible, and cleans off the old potting medium so you can have a clearer look at the roots. Put the plant in a new pot (plastic or clay, depending on what type of orchid you have) carefully bending the aerial roots into the pot.

All orchids enjoy being rather root-bound, so make certain that there is only an extra inch or so for the roots to expand to in order to become root-bound again. You will likely crack some roots when you tuck them into the new pot and fill in with new medium.

This is inevitable and the plant should recover within a couple of weeks. In the case of using a bark medium (We highly recommend our Traditional Orchid Bark Mix), tap on the sides of the pot to help the medium settle into the pot. This reduced how much you need to press down on the medium to stable the plant. Having the plant being stable in the pot is essential for healthy growth. If the plant is loose and/or wobbly, it will most likely not grow well and should be reset into the pot.

For those using New Zealand sphagnum moss, we recommend using slightly damp moss and wrapping it around the roots lightly before placing it into the pot. This way you don't have to worry about air pockets in the bottom of the pot. After repotting, the plant sometimes needs to adjust from shock. One tip we recommend is not to water the plant for about 3 to 5 days. This will give the roots a chance to recover.

Can I repot my orchid when it is in spike or blooming?

Yes and no. It really depends on the condition of the plant and if it is necessary or not. First of all, we must confirm the difference between the phrases "in spike", "in bud" and "in bloom".

If an orchid is "in spike", it has produced a stem that will eventually form buds and flower.

If an orchid is "in bud", flower buds have emerged from the spike and could be anywhere from a few days to a month to bloom. Some orchids form the spike with buds emerging almost simultaneously.

If an orchid is "in bloom", the flowers have emerged and are blooming.

Make sure to remember to browse our beautiful In-Spike/Bud/Bloom orchids.

If your orchid is in spike, you can repot as long as you are careful not to damage roots while repotting. There may be a couple of reasons that you want to repot while your orchid is in spike. These same reasons can apply to plants in bud or bloom.

The plant could be in drastic need of repotting. If this is the case, carefully clean away the old medium and try to avoid damaging roots. If the plant has a very poor root system to start out with and it is clearly suffering from stress, it is best recommended that you remove the flower spike as it is draining energy from the plant that could be used to help it recover.

You might want to repot it into a decorative pot before the plant blooms. If this is the case, to avoid shocking the plant, simply remove the plant and set it into the new pot without removing the old potting medium. This way you will avoid shocking the plant and it will continue its flowering schedule as usual.

If your orchid is in bud, you can repot it for the same reasons as if it was in spike. However, the risk of some (or all) buds being shocked and falling off is high. Orchids are much more forgiving if you repot when the buds have just formed and are "tight". For the most part, you should avoid repotting when in bud if it is not necessary.

If you repot when your plant is actually blooming, it is normal for the flowers to drop faster than normal, sometimes almost immediately. Only repot when blooming if you feel it is absolutely necessary.

Why do you recommend urea-free fertilizer?

Urea requires microorganisms to break it down and convert it tonitrogen. Orchids are in soilless mixes so there are not enough microorganisms to do the job. Ammoniac and nitrate nitrogen are immediately available to the plant. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, how much sunlight you receive and what your temperatures are, you may be able to get by with a urea based fertilizer. However, people we know who have switched to urea-free have all said they get much better results. (Urea has been linked to pseudomonas disease in Phalaenopsis orchids.)

These days, we recommend our very own fertilizer called Green Jungle™, which has been giving fantastic results and blooms to hundreds of our hobbyist customers!

Why won’t my orchid plant bloom?

The most common factors are as follows:

- Not enough light

- Poor root system due to old potting medium or over watering

- Not enough temperature fluctuation

- Using a poor water source

Generally speaking, if you are not providing sufficient artificial light (read about LED lighting technology), plants need to be close to a window, no more than 3' away at most. Plants see light from above, not sideways, and if you grow your plants too far from a window you will notice new growths becoming smaller and the leaves much narrower. They will not be able to store the energy they need to bloom.

Poor root systems are caused by over-watering, or forgetting to repot when the medium is broken down. If this happens you will have to repot is as soon as possible in order to re-establish the root system.

Temperatures should fluctuate below 65° Fahrenheit at night (preferable 60°) to above 65-75° during the day. Generally a 7-10° temperature fluctuation is needed to initiate decent flowering for most orchids.

Water should be clean. We always recommend using rain, distilled or reverse osmosis water. Soften water has too many minerals and will most likely slow down, damage, or kill root growth in orchids.

How often should I water my orchids?

Orchids need to dry out somewhat between watering. In general, most orchids in a 5" or larger pot size will require to be thoroughly watered once per week. Smaller pots often dry out faster, and can require water two to three times per week. Do not attempt to put your plants on a watering schedule. Check your plants every 2-3 days. Are they dry down in the mix and well as on top? If so, you should water. Every grower's plant environment is different, and you will become familiar with your plants watering needs over time.

One trick to help measure moisture is to take a sharpened wooden pencil and jam it down into the mix. Pull it out, and if the color of the wood exposed at the tip turns dark, you can be assured that there is moisture in the mix. You can also use a plastic label. The weight of the pot becomes lighter as the mix dries out. If in doubt, don't water. Wait a day or two.

If you happen to have an epiphytic plant that is being grown on a slab, you should be watering on a daily basis or have very high humidity in order for it to grow.

Why are my orchid’s leaves wrinkled?

Wrinkled or pleated leaves are caused by a lack of moisture reaching the vegetative part of the plant. This can be caused by not watering enough, or watering too much. If you can’t figure out what you’ve done, tip the plant out of the pot and examine the roots. If they are white or tan, firm, and spread throughout the mix, you need to increase the frequency of watering. If the roots appear brown and mushy, trim them off, repot into a new mix, and decrease the frequency of watering. Always remember, orchids should never stand in water!

What is this clear sticky substance I have on the spikes and leaves of my orchid?

This is normal for most orchid flower spikes. It is simply a sugary secretion. You can mist it with lukewarm water to dissolve it off.

Why are my buds turning yellow and falling off?

This is referred to as bud blast, and can be caused by the following conditions:

The plant has been too dry between watering, causing it to withdraw moisture from the buds.

There may be some wide swings in temperature, where it may be too hot in direct sun, or the plant may be too close to an air conditioning or heating vent.

There may be some fumes in the air caused by paint, natural gas leaks, or other chemicals. Flowers naturally create their own methane and collapse after pollination to save energy for seed production. Certain forms of methane or ethylene may trigger bud or flower collapse.

Cattleyas in particular are sensitive while in bud to overwatering, causing the buds to actually turn black in the sheath.

All plants need an adequate amount of light in order to flower correctly. Placing a plant in the center of a room, on a coffee table for example, is fine for display during an evening of entertaining, but to maintain proper growth and flower development it is best to keep the plant in its growing area (near a window or under lights).

My Phalaenopsis has stopped blooming and gone dormant. Now what do I do?

Phalaenopsis orchids never really go "dormant". When they aren't blooming, they put energy into making new leaves and roots. Continue to provide good light, water, and fertilizer.

I'm doing the same things I've always done, but this year my orchid didn't bloom. What's wrong?

Things to consider:

Is it time to repot? We recommend repotting every 1-2 years as the mix breaks down, usually in the spring or early fall. See our potting mix and orchid repotting video. Weather conditions? Long periods of cloudy days, cooler or hotter temperatures than normal can change when blooming will occur.

Has the plant been moved to a different location?

Do I cut the spike back when my orchid is finished blooming?

This is a very common question that really depends on what type of orchid you have. In general, once orchids are finished blooming you can remove the spike with a scissors. If you do not remove the spike, the flower spike will dry up and turn brown over time. There are some orchids that can re-bloom off of the same flower spike more than once.

Certain species of Oncidium such as the papilio can bloom off of a broken or cut back spike. The most commonly re-blooming flower spike is that of the Phalaenopsis (moth orchid). If your Phalaenopsis is of mature size such as 12" or more in leaf-span, cut it half way back just above one of the nodes (the little notches on the flower spike). It should branch out in 90-120 days with a new spike. Generally we recommend trying this only once per flower spike. Trying it a second or third time will result in less flowers. Cutting the flower spike completely off will give the plant more energy in order to produce a new flower spike with more flowers.

My orchid has dropped some leaves. It is ok?

Almost all orchids drop leaves as they grow. Phalaenopsis orchids bottom leaves will turn yellow and fall off when it starts to produce new growth. Common white and purple Dendrobiums often drop all their leaves on each cane after they have finished blooming. With most orchids, old leaf growth naturally drops once new growth starts to emerge. The only time you should be concerned about leaves dropping is when the new growth or large and mature leaves turn yellow or fall off. This usually indicates a bacteria or fungus problem (you may want to try a bactericide/fungicide spray). We have a few different Pest and Disease Control products to choose from.  Unless you have a deciduous orchid that has resting periods where it may drop all of its leaves, if an orchid has no leaves it is most likely dead. Examine the plant carefully if the largest leaves or new growth are changing colors.

I've got black spots on my leaves, what could this be?

This is generally a leaf rot caused by types of fungi that are commonly classified as Cercospora or Colletotrichum. Many times this rot will start out as yellow spots, gradually turning to a brown or black color. Note that certain plants such as most Oncidium hybrids often get several small black spots on the leaves due to the sun. In this case it is natural spotting and will not harm the plant.

The best kind of treatment for this problem is to use a bactericide/fungicide spray such as Physan 20. After treatment, examine to see if the spots are increasing in size or number within a week to 10 days. If you have successfully rid of the problem, the spots should dry up and turn brown. If there are still signs of new rot, repeat treatment. Leaves that are heavily covered in rot should be completely removed. Make sure you sterilize whatever tool you may use to remove the infected leaves with as it can spread the disease to other plants.