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Orchids are light-hungry plants, they like more light than most other house plants. However, be careful not to give them direct sunlight in the afternoon as it can burn the leaves, but they still need plenty of light.
As a general rule, most orchids ideally need around 12-14 hours of sunlight to thrive but can grow well with as little as 6 hours of light minimum, the more sunlight, the better. However, popular phalaenopsis orchids, can tolerate low light conditions and flourish in them.
The light orchids need can be either natural sunlight or artificial light. These plants thrive in strong light. However, as already mentioned, too much direct sunlight can harm them and burn their leaves. In the wild, phalaenopsis orchids (one of the most common kinds grown in domestic settings) grow in very little direct sun, so some varieties can be grown in “bright shade”. Too little sunlight is the most common reason for a lack of blooms on your orchid.
How much light is adequate?
I find that for the best results from my orchids, they should receive anywhere from six to 12 hours of sunlight daily all year long. (There are arguments about this number, but this seems to be the average range.). I generally place them in the sunniest position, and with the different seasons, they get a good average. In orchids’ native tropical climates, the intensity of the sunlight doesn’t vary as much as it does in our more temperate climate. You may need to move your orchid around your home to ensure that it receives good quality indirect sunlight for all these hours, but it’s more about moving them during the different seasons, not every day. What I will say is that personally, I don’t move mine around, and they do very well.
Of course, during the darker days of the winter months, we don’t get long hours of sunlight. You may need to supplement natural light with artificial light during the wintertime. See below for details.
Where should the natural light come from?
The light that orchids need should be indirect but strong. As I said above, direct light may burn the leaves and generally harm the plant. The best location for orchids is in eastern or south-western windowsills. South and west facing windows can be too hot and north-facing windows are generally too cold. (See How to grow and care for orchids for more conditions to locate your orchids.)
While indirect sunlight is best, some varieties of orchids, especially the popular phalaenopsis, can tolerate low light conditions and flourish in them.
What if there’s not enough natural light?
You may not have the right exposure in your home to give your orchids the amount of light that they need. This is especially the case in the winter months. In this case, you need to resort to artificial lights to provide the needed hours of daylight.
Growing your orchids under lights (even for a few hours a day) requires a set of 40cm fluorescent light bulbs. There’s discussion as to whether cool white, warm white, or grow bulbs are the best here, but full-spectrum bulbs cover everything. Position your orchid plants 15cm to 20cm away from the light bulbs for the best result.
Is my orchid getting enough light?
There are several ways to tell if your orchid is getting enough light.
First of all, look at the leaves. Bright green leaves mean that your plant is healthy and happy. If the leaves are a dark green colour, the plant is not getting enough light. In addition, you may have lush foliage but no blooms. And yellowish green (maybe with brown spots) or red leaves indicate that your orchid is receiving too much sunlight.
Next, feel the leaves. If they’re considerably warmer than you expect and warmer than the surrounding environment, the plant is in an area with too much sunlight. Move it to a less exposed location.
Remember that you may not immediately notice that your orchid isn’t getting the right amount of light. The symptoms of either too much or too little sunlight take time to build up and show up.
A quick and easy test for the intensity of sunlight is the hand shadow test. Hold your hand about 30cm away from the plant and look at its shadow. A well-defined black shadow means that the sunlight is too intense; a fuzzy and faint shadow means that the sunlight is the right intensity for your plant. If you can’t see a shadow, that’s not enough light for your plant to grow to be healthy.
To be absolutely sure about the intensity of the light, use a Lux meter. Phalaenopsis orchids should be exposed in the range 10,700 to 16,000 lux for about eight hours a day.
Finally, some people are concerned about if orchids are poisonous to pets, the short answer is no but the soil, and blue dyed orchids can be harmful.