Phalaenopsis orchids are popular and easy to look after, despite appearing like high maintenance plants with their gentle and colorful blooms.
Still, the light requirements of orchids are not always understood well, which can lead to some issues that can affect the health of these plants.
To help you offer your phalaenopsis orchids the best care, I’ll dedicate this article to discussing at length how much light do orchids need to thrive.
Phalaenopsis Orchid Light Requirements
Before we delve into the details of orchid light exposure, it bears repeating that orchids are epiphytic plants or ‘air plants’, which essentially means that in their natural habitat you’ll find them growing under the canopies of trees in moist forests with warm temperatures all year round and quite a bit of humidity.
But this last bit about temperature and humidity, isn’t the focus of this article. Light is, and in terms of sun exposure, phalaenopsis orchids get very little direct sun, and even that is filtered by tree canopies.
Therefore, the first takeaway is that direct sunlight is not necessary for orchids. How about shade? Do phalaenopsis orchids do well in dim light?
Some varieties will not mind lower light conditions, in fact, the terms ‘bright shade’ are best to describe the light requirements of most phalaenopsis orchids.
If you’re thinking of keeping your phalaenopsis orchid in a windowsill, here’s what to watch out for:
- Orchids enjoy bright indirect light (“bright shade”)
- They should be placed in an east-facing or west-facing window
- Less than 1-2 hours of direct sunlight per day is tolerated by orchids
If your orchid is getting too much or too little light, some symptoms will let you know which situation you’re most likely dealing with:
- If leaves turn a dark green, your orchid is getting too little light
- If leaves are pale with brown patches, your orchid is getting exposed to too much light
These are handy instructions to focus on when finding a place to keep your orchids in your home. Generally, however, orchids should thrive in the low light conditions offered by our homes, which is similar to what they would have access to in their natural habitat.
Best Place for Phalaenopsis Orchid in Your Home
It’s understandable to want to display your beautiful orchids in a high-visibility place in your home, but you must analyze if there’s enough light reaching that place for your orchid to thrive.
Choosing a place far away from any windows will surely deprive your orchid from essential light. Likewise, a north-facing window will also give the same result — deep green leaves that signal lack of enough light.
The other extreme — placing your orchid in a south-facing window will give other undesirable results like scorching of leaves and brown spots.
You may not immediately notice the signs of light deprivation or excess light exposure, as these appear over time. So, after changing the position of your orchid, you may believe it’s doing fine, although it isn’t.
This is the reason why it may be difficult to gauge the effects of light on your orchid and make immediate adjustments.
Is there a more reliable way to tell if your orchid’s light requirements are met? And that without having to wait for symptoms of distress to appear?
Luckily, there are some ways to assess the amount of light your orchid receives before any damage occurs to the plant. In the next section of this article, I’m going to discuss these methods.
Assessing Your Orchid’s Light Exposure Level
There are two ways to evaluate the amount of light your orchid receives at any given time. One is a test anyone can perform, the other requires a more specialized tool.
The Hand Shadow Test
This is a quick and easy test anyone can perform by holding their hands about 12 inches away from the plant and checking the type of shadow it casts.
A black shadow that’s well-defined means that your orchid is indeed getting too much light. If the shadow is faint and irregular, your orchid is safe and the amount of light it’s getting is not excessive.
Depending on the results of your ‘’hand shadow test’, you can take the decision to leave your orchid in its original position or to move it to a better location in your home.
Using a Lux Meter
If you want an even more reliable method of testing light exposure, you’ll need to get a lux meter, which is a tool that measures the intensity of light that hits a surface.
Don’t be intimidated by using professional equipment to measure light intensity, especially that a good quality lux meter on Amazon goes for around $14.
A lux meter is especially important if you have a lot of orchids or you’re growing orchids commercially and you can’t afford your orchids turning up sickly.
A lux meter will give you a precise measure and will help you pick out the ideal position for your orchids, so that they’re right in the light intensity sweet spot they need to be in.
What’s the lux amount ideal for orchids? Phalaenopsis orchids should be exposed to a light intensity that ranges from 10700 to 16000 lux for around 8 hours per day.
In this range, your orchids won’t suffer any damage from the sun nor will they go without light that’s essential for their healthy development.
Between exposing your orchid to excessive sunlight or keeping it in low light conditions, the former is more damaging to the plant, since orchids have adapted to lower light conditions.
Whether you’re using the hand-shadow method or a high-accuracy lux meter, the important thing is to find a location that works best for your orchid and keep an eye on any changes that may occur because of light conditions.
Orchid Light Requirements FAQs
Here is some other information on orchid light intensity and light exposure requirements that you may not know about:
Can I keep my orchids outside?
If the weather in your area is gentle enough for your orchids, yes, you can keep them outside, but avoid direct sun exposure. Find a location with either filtered light or where your orchids can be shielded from direct sunlight.
Why are my orchids leaves turning yellow?
One reason why you may notice yellow leaves and brown spots on your orchids is excessive sunlight. But too much sunlight isn’t the only reason why leaves can turn yellow on your orchid plants.
Other reasons include exposure to extreme temperatures, too much water, water quality issues, especially hard water issues and chemical disinfectants, fungal or bacterial infections, and nutritional deficiencies or fertilizing issues (overfertilization).
It’s important to rule out all other causes before you make the decision to change the position of your orchid, especially that many things can cause leaves to turn yellow.
Once you’ve ruled out everything else or your lux meter returns results that exceed the recommended light intensity for orchids, you should change its location.
How to get my orchids to rebloom?
One of the reasons why your orchid stopped reblooming is lack of enough light. But it’s often difficult to tell when your orchid is getting too little light, because the leaves of the plant otherwise look healthy. Even so, the plant is having difficulties and stops producing blooms.
However, one sign of too little light is that they develop much darker leaves than usual, which is something that the untrained eye might not spot. Here too a lux meter can give you some valuable insight.
Your orchid may stop flowering for other reasons too, and chief among these reasons is a lack of contrast between daytime and nighttime temperatures. To induce blooming, night temperature should be around 55 F.
Can orchids grow under artificial light?
Although I prefer natural light, orchids do fare well under grow lights as well. Make sure to pick LED or fluorescent lights that will have a lux output within the range recommended for orchids (around 11000 to 16000 lux).
Do orchids need transparent pots?
If you can, do keep your orchids in a transparent pot. As epiphytic plants, their roots are exposed to sunlight and have evolved to produce chlorophyll. That said, orchids can thrive even in pots that aren’t transparent, provided that the leaves are getting enough sunlight.
If it’s your first time caring for phalaenopsis orchids, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information I’ve covered relating to the light requirements of orchids.
You’re also probably wondering where to keep your orchid now. You can pick an east or west facing window, and start from there.
Monitor the health of your orchid for a couple of weeks and see how it fares. If it’s doing just fine, there’s no reason to stress about lighting conditions any further.
If you notice leaves turning yellow, tips getting burned or brown spots appearing, you will need to further examine your plant to before you can determine that they’re caused by excessive light.