I’ll admit the title might be a little misleading. “Professionals” is a bit of an exaggeration because professionals have degrees in horticulture and greenhouses with temperature controls and light regulation that make fiddling with flower timing eerily precise. This post is filled with Barb’s at-home hacks for altering flower timing when you don’t have fancy equipment.
Healthy orchids tend to flower at the same time every year. It’s crazy, I know, but weirdly true. If you buy a flowering orchid in March and raise it well, it will most likely flower again the following March. However, you can fiddle with the timing a bit, particularly after the bud spike has begun growing.
Getting back to orchids, this temperature dependence is the same reason we can alter bud spike development by changing the temperature. Cooling your orchid down will slow down bud spike development because the chemical processes that need to happen to create the bud spike slow down. Conversely, increasing the air temperature will speed up those reactions and get your plant to flower faster. The key here is to make small changes. Nothing too crazy. Sudden, drastic temperature changes will overstress your plant, possibly to the point that it drops the bud spike entirely.
Speeding Up Flowering:
When it’s needed: If you need a plant to bloom earlier.
How it’s done: Barb had to do this recently because a plant she entered in the Philadelphia International Flower Show was not open the day before she had to take it down to Philly for judging.
The bud was nearly open, so to give it an extra nudge, Barb set the plant on a heating pad the night before. That photo on the right is what she woke up to the following morning! Some important things to point out: (1) The heating pad was on its lowest setting. The goal is just to warm up the plant a bit, not bake it. (2) The orchid is not sitting directly on top of the heating pad. Barb just flipped a dry tray upside down and set the pot on top. That way, she was only heating the air around the plant rather than cooking the pot and the roots. (3) This worked overnight because the bud was already very close to opening. Tighter buds and less developed bud spikes will require more time.
Slowing Down Flowering:
When it’s needed: If you have an orchid that is already flowering and you want to extend the life of those flowers. Or, if you want to slow down bud development to delay flowering.
How it’s done: To slow down flower development, just cool the plant down. Barb has a couple methods that she uses depending on how long she needs to stall development. For small changes, she just uses a bow window in her living room, pictured on the left. The glass surrounding the plant on three sides cools it down more overnight than sitting further away from the windows. Barb also turned a spare bedroom into another cool room for orchids. She partially closed the heating vents in this room and keeps the door shut so the room stays ~5F cooler than the rest of the house. The room still gets excellent evening sunshine. I’ll give you the same warning as with warming the plant up, you don’t want to make any drastic changes to temperature. Most orchids can stand temperatures down to ~50F, but they don’t like sudden changes, like from 70F to 50F in two minutes. If you are going to move an orchid to a cooler temperature, do it incrementally. For instance, Barb may inch a plant closer to her bow windows over the course of a couple days. Or she may leave the spare room’s door open to warm the room up before she moves the plant into the room. Then, she’ll slowly close the door to cool the room down while the orchid is in to allow the orchid to acclimate.
Jen Schmidt is a graduate student at Cornell University who, with the help of her mother (Barb), is turning into a crazy plant lady at a young age.