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Sun, Light and Orchid Plant Care: Everything You Need to Know

June 23, 2023

Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, marks a season of longer days and brighter sunlight. If you live in a hot and humid area, this may feel like home to your orchids. After all, their ‘ancestors’ lived in the tropics! 

Since Phalaenopsis orchids are indoor plants in most of North America, there are some care steps and precautions you need to take based on the seasons, the orchid’s life cycle and your current indoor environment to ensure your orchid gets the right amount of light. 

Let’s explore everything you need to know about sun, light and your orchid!

The Dance of the Seasons: Adapting Orchid Care to Nature's Rhythms

Both plants and animals, including humans, fare much better when they live according to nature’s rhythms. The amount of sunlight and heat your orchid is exposed to affects its growth cycle and how much water it needs.

Summer Fun: Embrace the Light But Use Sunscreen

Light is a vital ingredient that fuels your orchid’s growth and brings forth their breathtaking blooms. With summer’s gift of longer days and brighter light, your orchids have the opportunity to soak up those glorious rays.

But how much sunlight do orchids really need? Six to eight hours of indirect sunlight each day is ideal for Phalaenopsis orchids to thrive. 

Be careful: Exposure to direct sunlight can cause your orchid to become sunburned! A sunburned orchid will have white spots surrounded by dark rings. While we haven’t figured out how to make sunscreen for orchids yet, the best protection is filtered light, such as a sheer curtain. 

Keeping it in a north- or east-facing window will provide added protection from direct sunlight. What if you lack access to north or east-facing windows? Keep your orchid several feet back into rooms with south and west facing windows. This prevents your plant from being hit by direct sunlight, but still allows plenty of diffused light to reach your plant.

Light and Watering Your Orchid

Although we recommend watering our premium orchids with three ice cubes or one quarter cup of water once a week, your orchids may need a little bit more hydration if it has been extra hot within the last week. 

Excess indirect sunlight can cause phalaenopsis orchids to use their water more quickly, leading to dehydration over a period of weeks if left unaddressed. Put in human terms, a hot orchid is a thirsty orchid and will drink more water! Checking your orchid’s roots to see if your plant is getting enough water is a good practice to develop. 

What Your Orchid's Roots Can Tell You About Watering

Healthy roots are bright green and don’t need water quite yet. Silvery roots are still healthy, but they are now ready for water. Tan, white and shriveled roots are dehydrated, while dark brown, black or mushy roots are rotting! The leaves might also become withered if your orchid is not getting sufficient water.

When is it best to water your orchid? When all the roots throughout the pot are silvery green but still plump. While watering weekly is a good general rule, the roots are the best indicator since all environments vary. 

Light in Winter: Special Orchid Care Considerations

As summer transitions into fall and winter, the sun is lower on the horizon and the days grow shorter until winter solstice, the longest night of the year. We recommend reducing daily indirect sunlight exposure to four to six hours during winter.

With weaker rays, cooler temperatures, and less light per day overall, re-evaluate your orchid’s location to ensure it’s still getting adequate sunlight. 

Orchids are tropical plants and thrive in humid environments. Keep your orchid away from vents as the dry heat blowing on your plant can cause dehydration. To add humidity, create a humidity tray by filling a shallow dish with pebbles and water and then rest your pot on top of the pebbles. You can also mist regularly or keep other humid-loving plants nearby and invest in a humidifier for that area. 

Do not mist the orchid’s blooms, just its leaves and roots. Water droplets left on these flowers can lead to a fungal issue called Botrytis, which appears as small brown spots on your orchid’s blooms. 

Beware of overwatering, as well, as colder temperatures can prolong drying times. In fact, overwatering is one of the biggest mistakes owners of indoor plants make! 

Spring and Fall: A Time of Balance and Restoration

During fall and spring, when light and darkness are more evenly distributed, your orchids can continue to luxuriate in their daily dose of six to eight hours of indirect sunlight. 

These seasons provide the perfect opportunity for your orchids to rejuvenate, store energy, and prepare for their next grand display of beautiful blooms, which is why they’re also great times to repot your orchids.

Pro Tip: As a general rule, you should repot your orchid every one to three years, depending on how rapidly the plant is growing and how quickly the potting medium breaks down. If your orchid’s roots are starting to poke through the growing pot, it’s time for a bigger pot!

Orchid Lifecycle in Spring Vs Fall

In spring, your orchid will sprout new leaves. In fall, after the blooms have dropped, expect to see a bloom spike from which blooms will reappear in early spring. No, your orchid is not dead! As long as the roots are bright green and its leaves are happy and healthy, it’s alive! 

When your orchid loses its flowers, this means it has entered the vegetative or ‘resting’ stage, which is a normal part of its lifecycle.

During the vegetative stage, you’ll need to make adjustments to your plant care routine. For example, this is a great time to trim your orchid’s spikes to encourage reblooming. Regardless of where your orchid is in its life cycle, it will still need sunlight and water! 

Note: Since orchids in North America are typically grown in greenhouses, including the orchids here at Just Add Ice, they don’t always follow traditional blooming cycles.

Signs Your Orchid Your Orchid Is Getting Enough Light

Learning to ‘read’ your plant will help you develop the plant parenting skills necessary to ensure your orchid thrives. Knowing the signs of getting enough light vs too much or too little will give you the information needed to make the proper adjustments before it’s too late!

Signs of a Healthy Orchid

If your orchid is getting enough light, its leaves should be a vibrant or emerald green. Also look at the roots and the flowers if it’s still in bloom. As mentioned earlier, healthy roots are plump and bright green. Healthy blooms have good structure and are vibrant in color that is fairly uniform.

Symptoms Your Orchid is Getting Too Much or Too Little Light

Rather than being bright green, too much light will cause them to turn a yellower shade of green. As mentioned above, too much light can cause sunburn as well as bring about indirect symptoms due to the heat that often accompanies bright, direct sunlight, mostly in the form of dehydration. 

Other Considerations Regarding Light and Orchid Plant Care

Each week, we get questions about this topic from customers, and while we can’t address all of those questions in one blog post, here are some of the most common ones related to orchid care and light:

Should I use grow lights during the darker months?

In most cases, grow lights are not necessary. However, they are not necessarily bad for the plant! They can be an excellent supplement to dimly lit areas. However, short of industrial setups, grow lights generally cannot account for all the light an orchid needs. 

If you choose to invest in a grow light, we recommend shutting it off during the night. A grow light running 24/7 will interrupt transpiration. Instead, let the plant have a normal day/night cycle.

What do I do with a sunburned leaf? 

In most cases, leave it until the plant naturally trims it off. If the leaf starts to rot or become infected, we recommend that you trim it right away. 

Should I move my orchid regularly to keep it in the sun? 

No. Excessive movement can stress the plant. Try to select a location that gets the right amount of sunlight without the need for movement.

My air roots are silvery green, is my plant dehydrated? 

Not necessarily, check on the whole root system to have a clear understanding of your orchid's hydration levels.

We hope you feel more confident about light and caring for your orchid. If you want more information about orchid care, be sure to visit the resources section of our website or download the guide below. As always, we’re happy to hear from you and to answer any questions you may have!

Your Complete Guide for Every Stage of Orchid Life