Let the Sunshine In

Moving orchids into shadier areas is standard spring care, but don’t put them in the dark! Seeing orchids growing wild in the tropics, I’ve been amazed how many grow in full sun. Sure, Vandas and Epidendrums love sun, but even lower light varieties, like Phals and Paphs, can handle direct sun for part of the day. Sometimes, their leaves turn red from the strong light. Depending on the variety and growing conditions, leaves may be completely purple-red, have red on the edges, or have a subtle reddish tint.

Unidentified orchid with red leaves at Vallarta Botanical GardensEpidendrums with red leaves at Vallarta Botanical GardensDendrobium hybrid with slightly reddened lights from sun exposure

While some orchid varieties will sunburn and fry in these bright conditions, a surprising number can manage if they have regular water and good humidity. Red leaves are a defense from burning, but also a guarantee that the orchid is receiving sufficient light to thrive. Contrast these high light levels with those found in many homes and offices. In dim conditions, most orchids won’t flower. If yours won’t bloom, consider letting the sunshine in. Morning sun is best, since it’s less likely to burn the leaves. Move the plant into brighter light gradually, over 2 weeks or more. Always maintain good humidity and air movement, and provide extra shade on hot days. Cattleyas, Cymbidiums, Dendrobiums, and Oncidiums are a few kinds that like some sunshine. Their leaves don’t need to turn red; a light green color usually indicates that the plant is receiving enough light.

Paph growing in full sun at Kula Gardens, MauiBrassavola species with red leaves, growing wild near Quepos, Costa RicaUnidentified orchid with red leaves in Jalisco, Mexico

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7 Comments on “Let the Sunshine In”

  1. skootergrl Says:

    Thank you! Everyone is so adamant to tell me that my moth orchids can’t handle full sun, but they can (well, a little bit at least). My boyfriend is from the Philippines and he always says that of course they can handle the sun there, which is much stronger than we get in Virginia. I move mine into dappled sun for the spring. If it gets too hot I keep an eye on them. Unless the air gets dry they can handle dappled sun with temperatures in the 80s (we have good humidity here.) The moht orchids have a little red edging on the leaves and they bloom all the time. Now when someone tells me to take my orchids out of the sun I’ll show them your article.

  2. nancy Says:

    Thanks for the good info!

  3. AboutOrchids » Blog Archive » Watering Says:

    […] Plants in full sun or exposed conditions can lose moisture rapidly. […]

  4. AboutOrchids » Blog Archive » Sarcochilus Says:

    […] This one grows outdoors on my back deck all year, where it receives bright light with some direct sun. […]

  5. AboutOrchids » Blog Archive » Coelogyne Says:

    […] Mine lives outside all year in the San Francisco fog, and receives some direct sun […]

  6. Trevion Says:

    Real good tips on display. Thanks for that info!

  7. Mitchell Nelson Says:

    Thanks for sharing. Always good to find a real expert.