Getting Your Orchids to Bloom Again and Again in New Mexico

April 14, 2018


Question:

The orchid I got in February has dropped all of its flowers. I clipped the flowering spike just above a lower node, but what else should I be doing to keep it alive and make it bloom again?

- Mario M., Albuquerque, NM

Answer:

Google suggests watering orchids with three ice cubes per week. Guess what, that’s not going to cut it in New Mexico. In fact, that may be a quick way to kill an orchid in these parts. Like many plants, growing an orchid in our dry climate can be a little tricky, once you get the hang of it. People who have gotten theirs to rebloom will tell you it is worth the effort.


Image of a distressed orchid plant
Figure 1. Familiar sight? Find out how to encourage your orchid to rebloom (photo credit M. Thompson)

When I visited Los Alamos County Extension Agent Carlos Valdez this week, I noticed he has several beautiful orchids blooming in his office. I asked Carlos to share his tips for getting various orchid species to bloom again.

Recommendations:

  1. Orchid pots with large holes in the sides work well.

  2. The planting mix of bark bits and sphagnum moss depends somewhat on the size of the orchid and the size of the container holes. For smaller plants, finer bark bits can be used, but you may have to repot more often. For bigger orchids like Cattleya and Cymbidium, use a more coarse mix.

  3. Water weekly by submerging the pot in water and letting it soak for about 2 hours in the sink or a bucket and then let it drain completely on a rack. Try different amounts of time and frequency to test moisture retention with your pot-mix-orchid-lighting combo. Do not leave soaking overnight.

  4. Be sure to cut the rate of fertilizer recommended on the label. For example, if label rate is 1 tsp. per gallon of water, cut to ½ tsp. per gallon. For every 2–3 soaks with fertilizer, water once without any fertilizer to help leach salts.

  5. North-facing and east-facing windows provide lighting without burning the leaves. In a south-facing window, use sheer curtains for diffused sunlight.

  6. If you find evidence of cottony mealy bug pests, isolate the orchid from other plants and treat by dabbing the leaf crevices with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Some orchid species are easier to care for and bloom more frequently than others. The most commonly sold orchid is Phalaenopsis or the moth orchid. If you do everything right you could get your moth orchid to rebloom as much as two times per year. Others, like lady slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum species), may bloom as often as every four months.

Part of the orchid conundrum for many people may be the temperature and humidity fluctuations in the growing environment. The New Mexico Orchid Guild offers great

advice for getting the correct relative humidity depending on the species of orchid you are trying to grow. Visit www.NMSUdesertblooms.blogspot.com for helpful links.

The New Mexico Orchid Guild is hosting a 3-day “Orchids in Wonderland Spring Orchid Show and Sale” at the Albuquerque Garden Center (located on Lomas, just west of Eubank) from 1–6 pm on Friday, May 11, and from 9:30 am–4 pm on Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13. There will be lectures on orchid growing, repotting services, an awesome orchid display, and sales of orchids. Got an orchid that needs repotting? Bring it! They will be offering repotting services. Got an orchid that looks a little poor? Bring that too and they will help you figure out what is wrong with it! This group seriously loves orchids and wants to help you with yours. Free admission for all.


Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

Links:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!