Ultimate Guide to Orchid Plant Light Requirements

Whether you have a collection of orchids or one prized plant, providing the proper light is essential to keeping your plants healthy. Both the type and amount of light impact orchid growth, health, and flowering. Here I’m going to cover orchid light requirements and tell you how you can provide your orchid with the light it needs to thrive.

Ultimate Guide to Orchid Plant Light Requirements

Orchid Plant Light Requirements – The Essentials

Orchid plants will thrive and bloom abundantly when exposed to medium-bright indirect light for a minimum of 6 hours each day. The ideal light intensity will vary depending on the type of orchid. Optimal locations for orchids include near south-facing or east-facing windows.

Why Light is Important to Plants

Why Light is Important to Plants

Light powers numerous essential plant functions and processes.

Photosynthesis is perhaps the most critical process. In case you need a refresher, photosynthesis is when plants use light energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates. In other words, plants need light to produce food.

Talking about light can get complicated. If you research more about the subject, you’ll likely run into some jargon. Here are some light terms you should know.

Lumens: A measurement of a light’s intensity.

Bright light: High-lumen light such as that found near sunny windows.

Low light: Refers to low-lumen light, such as that found in a dark corner. Certain types of plants can thrive without sunlight or minimal light exposure.

Filtered light: Light that has passed through material like a sheer curtain or forest canopy.

Indirect light: Light that bounces off another surface before reaching the endpoint. It generally doesn’t cast a shadow.

Direct light: Light that travels right from the source to the endpoint. Direct light casts a shadow.

Typical Light Conditions in Orchid Plants’ Native Habitats

Typical Light Conditions in Orchid Plants’ Native Habitats

Orchids generally grow in the forest underneath other plants. These bigger plants filter light and limit the light that orchids receive.

Of course, the habitat varies between orchid species. Plants that grow higher up in forest canopies receive less light than orchids that grow on the forest floor.

Signs Your Orchid Plant is Receiving Too Much Light

Signs Your Orchid Plant is Receiving Too Much Light

Your plant may suffer if it’s receiving too much light or light that is too intense. When you’re trying to figure out the right light for your orchid, keep an eye out for the following.

Discolored Leaves

Direct sunlight can burn an orchid’s leaves. Even an hour of bright sun exposure can lead to serious damage.

If you notice white, yellow, or brown splotches on your orchid’s leaves, it may be caused by light that is too intense.

Yellow Leaves

If you notice your orchid’s leaves are becoming yellow and hard, intense light is likely to blame. Even if the light isn’t too bright to cause immediate sunburn, it can lead to slow damage.

If you don’t move your plant to a darker location, the yellow foliage may eventually turn white or black.

For more, see our guide to the 10 Common Reasons Your Orchid Plant’s Leaves are Turning Yellow.

Signs Your Orchid Plant Isn’t Receiving Enough Light

Signs Your Orchid Plant Isn’t Receiving Enough Light

As we covered above, plants need light to complete all sorts of important processes. If you notice any of the following, your orchid plant might not be receiving enough light.

Lack of Flowering

If your orchid isn’t producing flowers, several factors could be to blame. These include inappropriate temperature and humidity ranges for your orchids and insufficient or imbalanced nutrients.

However, even if you have everything else right (and there is no sign of common orchid pests, bugs, or diseases), insufficient light will prevent flowering. So if your plant isn’t producing blooms or buds, check the light.

Horizontal Leaves

If orchids are receiving enough light, they will hold their leaves upright. While they won’t be completely vertical, they will have a noticeable vertical tilt.

On the other hand, plants receiving insufficient light will hold their leaves horizontally. As the leaves splay outward, a larger surface area is available to absorb light.

Stunted Growth

If your plant seems stunted or isn’t growing as fast as you would expect, it might not be receiving enough light. This is especially true if you’re watering and fertilizing correctly (we generally recommend not watering orchids with ice cubes).

Do All Orchid Plants Typically Need the Same Light Exposure?

The optimum amount and intensity of light vary between orchid genera.

Orchid species in the Phalaenopsis (moth orchids) and Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids) genera typically require less light than other orchids. Jewel orchids, which are grown for their leaves rather than flowers, can also do well with a lower amount of light.

Some orchid species that require bright light include Cattleya orchids, Vanda orchids, and Cymbidium orchids (boat orchids).

With this said, no orchids like direct light nor completely shady conditions.

The Best Light Exposure for Orchid Plants Grown Indoors

The Best Light Exposure for Orchid Plants Grown Indoors

By now, you know that not all orchids require the same amount and type of light. Since that’s the case, we’re going to cover the best light conditions for various types of orchids.

Best Position for Indoor Orchids

Most indoor orchids prefer bright light without exposure to direct rays. Some locations that provide this type of light include near an east-facing or south-facing window.

If you place your orchid right by a south-facing or west-facing window, beware of the intense afternoon light. Cover your window with sheer curtains to filter the light to an appropriate intensity.

Orchids like Phalaenopsis orchids prefer less intense light. Suitable locations for these orchids include a few feet away from a south-facing or west-facing window. The interior of a bright room can work as well.

Do You Need to Rotate Orchid Plants?

Rotating your plant can help ensure all of the plant receives light. However, it generally isn’t necessary.

You should not rotate your orchid plant once a flower spike forms. Rotating during this time can lead to disfigured blooms.

Another thing to note is that orchids are extremely sensitive to light changes. If you move your orchid from a dark location to a bright location, it will likely suffer. To help your orchid adjust, slowly increase light exposure over time.

Do Orchid Plants Need the Same Light Conditions Year-Round?

Orchid plants require less light in the winter than they do in the summer. The good news is you can leave your orchid in one place year-round!

As the light decreases during the winter months, your plant will naturally receive less light.

If you are using grow lights, you should slowly decrease the amount of light over time. This will mimic the natural light cycle and help your plant adjust and rebloom.

Measuring Light Intensity

When you’re figuring out if the light is too intense for your orchid, a helpful hint is to look at shadows.

If you place your hand between a window and your plant, you may notice a shadow. If this shadow has sharp outlines, the light is likely too intense. However, if it is a soft shadow with blurred outlines, it is likely suitable for your plant.

If you want to get scientific and exact, you can measure the light with a light meter. These devices measure the intensity of light an area is receiving.

Orchids require at least 10,000 lumens to produce flowers and stay healthy. If your meter reads below this amount, move your plant to a brighter location.

Orchid Plant Light Requirements FAQ: 

Are orchids considered low-light plants?

Most orchid species are considered low-light plants thriving best in bright, indirect light conditions throughout the majority of the day.

Can orchids grow in artificial light?

Artificial growth lights can be used in rooms that receive minimal to no natural light exposure to help develop orchid plants grown indoors. Just be sure to use a low-level setting and ideally don’t expose the plant to direct artificial light for extended periods of time.

Can orchid plants live in shade?

The natural habitat for most orchids plants is in the forest underneath where they are often shaded to a degree by other adjacent plants. These bigger plants filter light and limit the light that orchids receive.

How much light does an orchid plant need?

Orchid plants do best when they receive 6+ hours of bright, indirect light throughout the day, but they can also do well in medium to low light.

How do I know if my orchid plant getting too much sun?

Orchid plants that are overexposed to direct light typically start display discoloration in the leaves and may start to turn a shade of yellow. Wilting, curling, or crisping of the leaves are also common signs.

Wrapping Up

Now that you know about the importance of proper light for orchids, it’s time to make sure your orchid is receiving the proper type of light. Keep an eye out for signs your plant is receiving too much or not enough light, and make any necessary adjustments. What’s more, with a little care, orchids can live for many years to come.

For more, see our essential guide to caring for orchids whilst you’re away or on vacation and everything you need to know about orchid plant care after they finish blooming and how to manage orchids dropping leaves.

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