Winter Care for Orchids

Changing seasons need you to bring in modifications to the way you care for your orchids. Making small adjustments in your orchid care routine during winter will ensure that you get healthy and beautiful blooms during spring. Read on to know more about the changes you need to make to provide the best care suited for your orchids during the colder months.

The last of the rains have receded and your orchids have been thriving so far due to the increased humidity and goodness of rainwater. There has been a spurt of new growths throughout the season and now, as winter sets in, days tend to get shorter, and slightly warmer and dryer (due to the relative proximity of the earth to the sun in October).  Night time temperatures begin dropping and nights get longer. These changes in the cycles of light and darkness, coupled with cool dry breezes, induce changes in the growth of orchids.

Deciduous orchids drop their leaves when temperatures drop

In nature, orchids, after the rainy season, are subject to lower levels of moisture and humidity, along with cool dry breezes during winters. The orchids adapt quickly to these adverse changes by slowing down their pace of growth or becoming fully dormant. Deciduous orchids shed their leaves and survive using the energy stored in their canes.

What to expect

These climatic changes have a profound effect on your orchid’s growth and development. While the care tips for your orchids vary from season to season, come winter, and you need to regroup your orchids according to their water and sunlight requirement. This modification is necessary since various sub-classes of orchids have varied requirements.

Phalaenopsis orchids need a drop in night time temperature to develop bud spikes

While Phalaenopsis and Oncidium orchids react to the drop in temperature and daylight hours by developing flower spikes, there are others like Dendrobium and Catastinae orchids that go into dormancy during the winter months. Cattleyas and Oncidiums continue to push out new growths, albeit a little slower due to falling temperatures. This prepares them for the spring blooming season, when they begin developing sheaths and buds prolifically as the days grow warmer.

Getting familiar with these changes in different classes of orchids will seem complicated at first, however, being proactive about learning about your orchid’s care requirements will help you organise your orchids in such a way that you will find it effortless to look after your growing collection of orchids.

Making small adjustments in your orchid care routine during the winters will ensure that you get healthy and beautiful blooms during spring. Here are a few pointers that you would need to consider to provide the best care suited for your orchids during the colder months:

Winter care tips for your orchids

Reduced watering and fertilizing

Reduce watering and fertilizing to match your orchid’s growth rate

When the rains recede and autumn sets in, there would be a steady drop in temperature and humidity levels. The dry winter months have shorter days and longer nights. Less heat and shorter days coupled with night time temperature drops means that now the medium will not dry out fast. Hence you need to reduce watering.

Second, you need to watch out whether the orchid is in active growth mode, wherein it continues developing new growths, buds, spikes, roots, etc. If this is the case, then you can water and fertilize the orchid. But always ensure that the fertilizer is half or even quarter of the recommended strength. This will meet your orchid’s needs during these months.

If you continue providing full strength fertilizers, it may lead to root burn and the orchid has a high chance of developing rot issues due to the high levels of fertilizer and moisture being retained in the medium over a prolonged period. Therefore, always allow the medium to dry out before you water the orchid again.  

While orchids thrive in humid conditions, they do not like being potted in wet medium that does not allow the roots to breathe freely. Well ventilated pots with slits and holes along with proper drainage will promote a wet-dry cycle that is conducive for the orchid’s growth.

Seedlings require a moist environment, so maintain adequate moisture during winter

If you have seedlings in your orchid collection, then you will need to ensure they get watered adequately. Do not allow the medium to dry out fully before watering again. They have sensitive roots that need moisture for their growth. Also do not overwater them as this will lead to root rot.

Temperature and sunlight changes

Shift your orchids indoors if you have extreme drop in temperature during winter

If your winters are marked by frost, snowfall and extreme cold conditions. Then you would need to shift your orchids indoors or in more hospitable conditions with sufficient heating and even artificial lighting. This will ensure that they survive, and even grow and bloom, despite extreme climatic conditions outside.

If you are staying in a warm tropical climate like mine, with very little fluctuation in temperature and humidity, then your orchids will continue to actively produce new growths and buds despite slight drop in temperature. In such a scenario, you need not alter your care regimen during the winters. You can, at the most, reduce your frequency of fertilization since there is a drop in pace of growth in the cooler months. Also, the day-time temperatures are pretty high due to the proximity of the earth to the sun in October- November.

So your orchids need to be kept cool, moist, but not soggy, and fertilizing strength should be reduced in order to prevent root burn. I fertilize my orchids every fortnight instead of weekly as the temperatures dip a little beginning November. I resume weekly fertilizing in March as temperatures rise and orchids resume active growth mode. Moreover, I separate out my winter resting orchids and lightly mist them once a week if I find them too dehydrated.

Cool winter rest

My winter resting orchids get an occasional spritz of water that provides minimal moisture

Deciduous orchids like Dendrobium species and Nobiles as well as Catasetums drop their leaves during winter. This is a natural response to the changing season. Since there is very little ambient moisture, the orchid tries to conserve the moisture that it has stored in its canes (rain water and nutrients absorbed during the rainy season plumps up their canes). 

To prevent loss of moisture through transpiration, the orchids drop their leaves and stop further growth. Once the winter months are over, the warmer temperatures promote new shoot and root growth, and the plant prepares for the bloom season in spring.

Some of the orchids that require a cool winter rest are Dendrobium lindleyii, Dendrobium anosmum, Dendrobium aphyllum, Dendrobium nobile orchids, and many others.  Even Brassavolas and Brassocattleyas appreciate a cool winter rest for a good bloom season, although they do not shed their leaves. Their thin, long succulent leaves are structurally adapted to prevent loss of moisture though transpiration.

However, look out for signs of dehydration in the form of wrinkled leaves and shrivelled canes in your resting orchids. Lightly spritzing these orchids once in a while will be sufficient to keep them hydrated. Do not worry about the dehydration too much. Once you begin watering them in spring, they tend to fill out again.

A basal keiki or baby plant developing instead of a spike due to overwatering and fertilizing in winter

If you continue watering these winter resting orchids, then their canes may develop rot issues since the medium remains soggy for long periods. If they survive this ordeal, then they will produce a whole lot of keikis (baby plants or basal growths), instead of producing blooms. This would be real disappointing after all the care you have put in throughout the year. Therefore it is important that we refrain from watering them for at least three months during winters.

Medium

Use pine bark mix or a similar well-draining medium and ensure it dries off between watering

Since there is a drop in temperatures during winter, the medium tends to dry out more slowly than it would during the warmer months. Always water enough to keep the medium moist, but ensure it does not remain soggy. Provide good ventilation by mixing chunky bark with moisture retentive medium. This will ensure the right balance between moisture and aeration in the medium.

Use small size pots or pots with slits or holes on the sides for adequate ventilation. Also ensure that there are drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. In the case of orchids that are mounted on wood or any other medium, you need to ensure they get watered every day, unless they are winter resting orchids.

For more information on this aspect, check out my post on ‘Everything you wanted to know about ORGANIC MEDIA FOR GROWING ORCHIDS

When your orchids have new growths

Water and fertilize your orchids based on their growth rate

With a drop in temperature, there is a slowdown in growth in your orchids until it comes to a standstill in extreme cold temperature. Depending on the temperature drop in your surroundings, you need to observe whether your orchid is continuing to grow or it has slowed down. You need to alter your watering and fertilizing schedule accordingly. Reduce fertilizing if your orchids show a slowdown and stop fertilizing those that show no signs of growth. Continue watering them minimally to ensure they do not get overly dehydrated. You can start watering and fertilizing them gradually in a graded manner as the temperatures begin rising again during spring.

Keeping pests at bay

Mealy bugs are rampant in the drier and dustier months

As temperatures drop, there is reduced humidity. The dryness and dust that settles on your orchids outdoors gives rise to problems of pest attacks. Spider mites, mealy bugs and scale attack become rampant in the drier months during winter.

Keep your orchids clean and dust free by spraying them with a solution of mild liquid dishwash soap. Alternatively, you can gently wipe the leaves with a sponge or dampened tissue. Don’t worry if some moisture enters the crown. You can draw out the moisture using a folded or rolled tissue. Allow to dry fully under a fan or in the open breeze. This will facilitate quick drying and prevent rot issues.

Scale is also a menace during the winters

In case you have any of these pest infestations, isolate these plants and treat them with a suitable solution to eliminate them completely. You can use diluted rubbing alcohol to treat scale and mealy bug infestation and use mild soap solution with a little paraffin oil to keep spider mites at bay.

For more details on identification and treatment of pest infestations in orchids, read my post on ‘How to SAVE YOUR ORCHIDS from pests and diseases’.

Enjoy the blooms on your Phalaenopsis orchid during winter

With these handy winter care tips, you will be able to organise your care routine better.

Do subscribe to the blog for more updates and posts on orchid culture and care. Share my post with orchid enthusiasts. Do comment and provide suggestions and tips of your personalised care routine. I love hearing from you and will definitely respond to your comments.

Till my next, happy growing!

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