Orchids and bromeliads not blooming? Friends have the answer.

With a little help from my friends, I learned valuable lessons about getting tropical plants such as orchids and bromeliads to bloom.

Courtesy of Doreen Howard
I tucked apple wedges between Vriesea bromeliads so the rotting fruit would produce ethylene gas, which makes most plants sprout flower stalks.
Courtesy of Doreen Howard
Even the hanging basket of bromeliads got the apple treatment.
Courtesy of Doreen Howard
The orchid 'Hot to Trot' bloomed three weeks after it was brought indoors. The flower stalk grew rapidly, evidently due to 14 days of chilling the plant outdoors in 40-degree F. weather.

Many consider me a garden whiz, assuming I know everything, because I write for magazines, pen books, and blog. I’m not. Tropical plants, for instance, are a problem for me.

I should say that growing tropical plants in my USDA Climate Zone 4b is a problem. I spent a decade on the Texas Gulf Coast, a hot, humid climate, and my courtyard and garden were filled with orchids, bananas, gingers, bougainvillea, bromeliads, and more.

However, orchids and bromeliads won’t bloom for me in my current frigid climate, even though the plants are healthy. That’s why I ask friends, including casual ones on Facebook. They seem to have the answers.

Leaving orchids out in the cold

Betty Earl, one of the nine bloggers who write here at Diggin' It, mentioned in a conversation we had that she left her orchids outside when the nighttime temperatures cooled into the 40s (4 to 9 C) by mistake. When the plants came indoors, they all produced flower stalks and subsequent blooms, rather than dying, as she thought they would.

Hmmm. I tried the chill technique this year, leaving my orchids on the screened porch, where they had spent the summer, for two weeks when nights cooled into the 40s.

One, an odontoglossum with coppery-orange frilly flowers, initiated a flower stalk immediately. The “Just Add Ice” orchid I bought for $4 at Aldi’s and a Doritaenopsis, followed within two weeks. That cross between a Phalaenopsis and Doritis was a birthday gift from Betty.

Facebook friend comes to the rescue

Last sinter I bought several vriesea bromeliads with yellow, orange, and red inflorescences to brighten the kitchen windowsill, which has plenty of light. I was rewarded with abundant pups (off-shoot plants) after I cut off the flower spikes.

I potted up each pup in its own container in early May and placed them on the screened porch, which faces east. They grew into huge plants, bigger than the ones I had purchased.

There was no flower-spike formation though, even with the same cold treatment I gave the orchids.

Steve Asbell is a “friend” from Facebook. He lives in Florida and grows about every topical on the planet.

I posted the question “How do you get bromeliads to bloom”, and Steve responded with “apples”. He said to cut the apples into wedges and tuck them among plants. Apples give off ethylene gas, which prompts many vegetables and flowers to sprout bloom stalks.

I put apple wedges in all the plants last week. When the first stalk pops, I’ll let you know!


Doreen Howard, the Edible Explorer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. If it’s edible and unusual, she figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden. She’ll try anything once, even smelly durian. A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide. Her new book, "Heirloom Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits: Savoring the Rich Flavor of the Past," will published in March 2011. To read more by Doreen, click here

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