Bletilla orchids, also known as Chinese Orchids, the Urn Orchids, the Hardy Orchid, or the Ground Orchid, are a type of terrestrial orchid that are not grown in bark or with vases that have holes. You can plant these directly in the ground, and that’s why I’m loving them.
I put together this Bletilla orchid care guide that is quite extensive and wordy (sorry about that) but I tried to make this care guide as beginner friendly as possible – just like the Bletilla orchid. Orchids can be a taunting plant, but you’ll soon find out that Bletilla orchids are easy to grow, beginner friendly, and very beautiful to have around the house, both inside and outside.
How did I find Bletilla orchids? I first saw them In Missouri Botanical Gardens in Saint Louis in the landscape outside. They were flowering still in September (when I was chilling…not in the good way) and I was shocked to see they were 1) outside and still thriving, and 2) planted directly in the ground. I took a few pictures but didn’t think much of them until I started researching terrestrial orchids. Fast-forward a couple years… I’m off to find new terrestrial orchids to plant around the house, and Bletilla once again crossed my mind.
These stunning orchids are known for their beautiful flowers, which bloom in June and July. I’m surprised most landscape designers don’t adapt them into more of their projects…. Anyway, let me get to the point.
Quick Introduction to Bletilla Orchids
One of the most fascinating aspects of Bletilla orchids is their history. These orchids have a rich heritage and have been cultivated for centuries in Japan, Korea, Myanmar, and China.
To understand the Bletilla orchid name, you have to step back a bit… Bletia (which is a different orchid all together) were first “discovered” by Ruiz & Pavon, and named in honor of the Spanish Don Luis Blet, a famous Spanish botanist (1794). Bletia (from the Epindendreae tribe) are not the same orchids as Bletilla (from the Arethusae –Coelogyninae subtribe).
Years later, in 1853, Reichenbach F decided that they looked enough alike to have a honorary, second-place abbreviation, at least in the name, and classified these orchids as Bletilla. They both are terrestrial orchids, but differ in shape, flower formation, and size. So these poor orchids were mistaken for an entire century from the very beginning. Yet, they still grew up strong and wildly beautiful, no matter what we called them.
Bletilla orchids belong to the Bletilla genus, which consists of 5 species, bu the most common one is the Bletilla striata. They are part of the Arethusae –Coelogyninae subtribe, making them a unique addition to any orchid collection.
Alongside their use as landscape flowers, the Bletilla orchid was also used in several bizarre ways, like to treat ulcers and intestinal tract disturbances. Bletilla was also used to make strings for the Chinese instrument, the guiqin (mainly associated with Confucius). The pseudobulbs were crushed to make a sappy substance, and the silk strings were dipped into this mixture. So even though I’m not as clear as the entire process, but one thing is very clear: the Bletilla orchids have a special place in our hearts.
Light Level of Bletilla Orchids
The light level is an important factor to consider when caring for Bletilla orchids. These orchids, classified as partial shade (which means 2-6 hours of direct sun per day), thrive in medium to high light conditions, which can be measured in foot candles. Foot candles refer to the amount of light that falls on a surface from a one-foot distance. For Bletilla orchids, a light level of around 1500 to 3000 foot candles is ideal. But usually we don’t go around with a foot-candle measuring device to check out how much light is present during any given hour, so here are some tips to know what’s right in each location:
1. When it comes to placing your Bletilla orchid inside your house, you have a few options. If you’re growing them indoors, choose a location that receives the most bright, indirect light. A south-facing window is often a good choice, as it provides ample sunlight throughout the day. These orchids will need much more sun than your Phalaenopsis does. If the south facing window gets sun in the afternoon, definitely choose another place, just because of the heat and the lack of ventilation. Bletilla orchids aren’t too fond of afternoon sun. If you don’t have enough light, you can also use artificial grow lights to supplement the natural light. I wrote an article about artificial lights which you can read here.
2) If you have a greenhouse, you have more flexibility in terms of light exposure. Place your Bletilla orchids in a spot where they can receive filtered or dappled sunlight in the afternoon. They can get full morning sun–no problem there. This can be achieved by using shade cloth or positioning the orchids under taller plants that provide some shade.
3) If you are growing outside, as an addition to your landscape design, then pick a place that has lots of morning sun but is slightly windy in the afternoon to cool the leaves. Bletilla orchids cannot stand the direct, afternoon sun in blistering summer.
Light levels can change throughout the year due to seasonal variations. Adjust the placement of your Bletilla orchids accordingly to ensure they receive the optimal amount of light during the spring, because during late autumn until early spring, it doesn’t matter since they’ll be buried underground.
Water Requirements of Bletilla Orchids
At first, I thought it was complicated to get the watering schedule right with the Bletilla orchid, but once I understood its life cycle, it was easier. It reminds me a lot of the Catasetum orchid in this sense. (If you want to read about Catasetum watering cycle to help, this is an article I wrote that may help.) When it comes to watering Bletilla orchids, they love abundant water during their growing season but hate it during their winter break. So our task is to find the sweet spot between plenty of water and dry conditions on a year-round cycle.
In summary, during the dormant season, Bletilla orchids require significantly less water, and this season lasts from around October to March. It’s important to reduce watering frequency drastically and allow the potting media to dry out slightly between waterings. Remember, your orchid is much like a potato at this point, a little tuber underground that doesn’t have much going on. Water will not do it any good.
However, during the active growth phase, these orchids need abundant water to support their development. Water thoroughly until water drains out of the bottom of the pot, ensuring that the roots receive adequate hydration. If they are outside, make sure the ground is thoroughly watered and moist, but never soggy and pooled up.
Bletilla orchids in general prefer a moderately moist environment, but they don’t tolerate standing water or constantly wet roots, even when they are in active growth. At least this part they have in common with the epiphytic orchids. So let’s take a look at their calendar year to get a clear picture of what this looks like.
From January to March, the Bletilla orchids will be invisible from above the ground. The only thing left is a tuber that is buried. It will start to use the saved up energy inside their tubers (or corms) to send out new growth, but you still can’t see it at first and this happens only in late March. They look pretty much like a potato-colored mini carrot, but shorter, with 20-30 thin roots springing up from all around the tuber. When younger, the tubers will be smaller and more circular-shaped. Don’t water. Resist the temptation. Your Bletilla orchid will not die. Trust me, but don’t water it.
During the spring, from April to May, Bletilla orchids spring out and start using all that energy they had stored. New shots will appear from various places on the tuber, but if it’s new, then probably 2 or 3 shoots. They start out white at first then grow into this gorgeous green color. This is the first sign we see of them, since they’ll break the ground surface. Your tuber should not be on the surface, but buried about 2 inches below the soil. More on that part later. This is the best time to divide and repot, if you are doing that. In any case, you need to start to water around this point and increase the water supply steadily until summer.
The water does need to be well draining though. Don’t drown your orchid and don’t let water pool up around the shoots. If you have a high clay quantity in your soil, you may find that digging a hole and adding lava rocks helps with the drainage.
During the summer months, the Bletilla orchid has already sent out it’s inflorescence and the flowers should be opening in June and July. Some early bloomers will start out from late May. It’s crucial that the orchid gets enough water not as much because of the flower, but to keep the temperatures down. Water has it’s way of doing that. After the summer is over and autumn draws near, start decreasing the watering quantity. The flowers will fall off and the leaves will start to droop. Once the leaves are all off, then cut the water supply. (Source)
What are signs of Overwatering or Dehydrating a Bletilla Orchid?
To achieve this balance that I mentioned above from another angle, it’s essential to understand the signs of dehydration and overwatering.
One key indicator of dehydration is the appearance of wrinkled or shriveled leaves. Bletilla orchids have 3-5 thin, long, dark-green, pear-shaped, pleated leaves. If they don’t get enough water, the leaves will wilt and turn flaky.
Bletilla orchids don’t have a pseudobulb on top the ground, like an Oncidium or a Cattleya would, because they usually live in damp, moist environments. They have no need to collect water and save it for drought periods, so they didn’t need a pseudobulb above ground level, too. The water they got was from the roots underground, that was saved only for topical use in the tuber (or corm) during active growth. So in this sense, the tuber acts like a pseudobulb, but it goes dormant in the winter.
If you notice that the tuber is extremely shriveled to a point that it appears to not be crisp, then you may have underwatered. Sadly, you will only be able to tell this when you dig it up. It will be slightly shriveled in its normality (because that’s the way that Bletilla orchids are – have cute little tubers). Additionally, the leaves may become limp and droopy.
In contrast, overwatering can lead to the development of fungal diseases and rotted tubers (which will be dark brown almost black and mushy), especially around the base of their tubers and stems. If you observe yellowing leaves, a foul odor, or mushy roots, it’s likely that your orchid is receiving too much water.
In terms of pH, Bletilla orchids prefer a slightly acidic to neutral environment. A pH range of 5.5 to 6.5 is ideal for these plants. To maintain the appropriate pH level, you can use rainwater or distilled water for watering. Tap water may contain minerals and chemicals that can alter the pH of the potting media over time. (Source)
Humidity requirements play a crucial role in the successful cultivation of Bletilla orchids.
Bletilla orchids thrive in environments with moderate to high humidity. Ideally, the humidity levels should be around 50% to 70%. This mimics the conditions they would naturally experience in their native habitats, such as the forests of East Asia. If you are growing them outside, Bletilla orchids will thrive in zones 5 to 9, with lots of humidity. (Source)
To meet these humidity requirements indoors, there are several strategies you can employ. One effective method is to use a humidifier in the room where you keep your orchids. This will help to create a consistently humid environment, especially during dry seasons or in areas with low humidity. I have a whole article about humidifiers and how I chose mine to use indoors. You can read that here.
Another option is to place a tray filled with water near your orchids. As the water evaporates, it will increase the humidity around the plants. I also wrote a post about humidity trays, if you are interested. Just make sure that the water level is not too high to avoid waterlogging the roots.
If you are outdoors, then placing the Bletilla orchids near ponds (not in, but near) or sources of water like water fountains is also a good idea.
Misting the leaves of your Bletilla orchids can also provide a temporary boost in humidity. However, it’s important to avoid misting too frequently, as this can lead to fungal diseases. Aim to mist the leaves once or twice a day, especially during hot and dry periods.
Bletilla orchids have specific temperature requirements that are crucial for their growth and overall health. These orchids thrive in temperatures that range from 60°F to 80°F (15°C to 27°C) and they like to have a seasonal drop in temperature, too.
A nighttime drop isn’t as important as a seasonal drop. This doesn’t mean that Bletilla orchids only grow in these conditions. They can grow in temperatures that get to −10 °C (14 °F) in their dormant stage as tubers but that isn’t ideal. Some growers even dig up the tubers and store them in cooler places at 32 to 35° F (0-2° C) in moist peat during dormancy to avoid the risk of rot. Then in spring, plant them in soil again.
In any case, if your Bletilla orchids are outside in colder climates, it’s essential to protect them from freezing temperatures. These orchids when flowering are not frost-tolerant and can suffer damage or even die if exposed to extreme cold. To protect Bletilla orchids in winter, consider bringing them indoors or providing them with a protective covering, such as a frost cloth or mulch. I’ve heard that sawdust and spruce branches are good for this, but I haven’t tried that yet. If you have them in pots, then definitely bring them indoors during the winter.
On the other hand, Bletilla orchids can also be sensitive to excessive heat. High temperatures above 90°F (32°C) can cause stress and damage to the plants. If you live in a hot climate, it’s important to provide shade or move the orchids to a cooler location during the hottest parts of the day.
A perfect place for them would be in a slat house, specifically designed to keep the sun out but allows ample wind and air flow. I wrote about slat houses or lath houses in this article. They can live in heat as long as they have lots of wind, so keep this in mind if you are planting them outside. Pick a shady spot in the afternoon that gets lots of wind.
Potting Media for Bletilla Orchids
There are several types of potting media that are suitable for Bletilla orchids. One popular option is a mix of humus-rich, light, aired well-drained soil and lava stone (vulca). You can also use the famous mix for epythitic orchids (bark, sphagnum moss, and perlite) as long as you add soil to the mixture. This combination provides good drainage while retaining enough moisture for the orchids’ roots.
Another option is a mix of coconut coir, perlite, and charcoal, which also provides good drainage and aeration. Some growers even use a mix of pine bark, perlite, and pumice for their Bletilla orchids, as it provides excellent drainage and allows for good root development.
When it comes to ratios and unique media, it’s important to find the right balance that works best for your Bletilla orchids. Whatever you use as your combination to plant Bletilla orchid, make sure it is rich in organic matter. A general guideline is to use a mix that consists of 50% organic material (such as bark or coconut coir), 50% inorganic material (such as perlite or pumice).
However, it’s important to note that these ratios can be adjusted based on the specific needs of your orchids and the conditions in your growing environment. For example, if your soil is full of clay, and water just doesn’t drain, you can dig up the soil and add pea pebbles, river rock, leaf mulch, sand and even gravel to the soil.
Now, let’s go through a step-by-step guide on how to pot your Bletilla orchids.
- 1) First, choose a pot that is slightly larger than the current size of your orchid’s rhizome which is usually a pot that is around 12 inches. This will give them ample space for those beautiful, stunning leaves. You can plant them closer together too, for a fuller look. They don’t mind at all. The roots of the Bletilla orchid are very fine and thin, and don’t grow very deep. They are rather shallow plants, so you don’t need a pot that is very deep. A wide, shallow pot will do just fine. Make sure the pot has bottom drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. No side holes are necessary.
- 2) Next, fill the pot with your chosen potting media, leaving enough space at the top for watering.
- 3) Gently remove the orchid from its current pot, taking care not to damage the roots. Remove any wilting leaves and leftover flower stalks that have already died. Don’t be shy in this part. You can cut it all off and make a beautiful orchid from only a tuber. If it looks like it’s had better years, then cut it off.
- 4) Place the orchid in the center of the new pot, making sure the rhizome is positioned just below the surface of the potting media. The majority of books I have say to bury down 2 inches, but only one book said 4 inches under the soil. To be safe, go with 2 inches unless you have long, harsh winters.
- Note: For a sympodial orchid that likes to grow outward, its important to plant the pseudobulb on one side of the pot and it will travel to the left or right along the pseudobulb. But Bletilla orchids are different. They will grow very closely together forming new corms right on tops of each other.
- 5) Once the orchid is in place, carefully fill the remaining space in the pot with more potting media, ensuring that the roots are covered and no tuber is visible. Lightly press down the potting media to secure the orchid in place. Finally, water the orchid thoroughly, allowing the excess water to drain out through the bottom of the pot.
Remember to regularly monitor the moisture levels of the potting media and water your Bletilla orchids accordingly. It’s important to strike a balance between keeping the roots moist and avoiding waterlogging, as excessive moisture can lead to root and tuber rot.
Additionally, consider repotting your Bletilla orchids every two to three years to refresh the potting media and provide fresh nutrients. It’s also good to dig them up and separate the many side tubers that have grown and spread them out a little more. They are fast growers and grow in clumps, but too long in the same place isn’t great for maximum growth. When you divide them, do so in spring, once you see the tiny little shots spring up.
TIP: Don’t fertilize if you have planted these outside or in the pot for the first year of growth. They need to adapt to the climate first, then on the second year, you can and should fertilize with a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) but in tiny doses, so really dilute that.
How to Transplant a Bletilla Orchid
Transplanting a Bletilla orchid is a simple process that can help promote healthy growth and prevent overcrowding. Before diving into the steps, it’s important to understand the types of tubers that Bletilla orchids have. They have two main types: the main tuber, which is the largest and stores nutrients, and the side tubers, which are smaller and develop from the main tuber.
To determine if it’s a good time to divide your Bletilla orchid, look for signs such as overcrowding, decreased blooming, or the presence of multiple side tubers. These indicate that the orchid has outgrown its current pot and needs more space to thrive…or just aim for every 3 years. I think that is the easiest.
When dividing the orchid, start by gently removing it from its pot and carefully separating the side tubers from the main tuber. You don’t need to use a sharp knife or shears to cut through the connecting tissue. because they come apart easily with just a tug. Each division should have at least one healthy side tuber and a portion of the main tuber. if you can. If not, that’s OK too as long as the side tuber is bigger. Then, follow the potting instructions listed above. It’s a very simple process.
Common Problems with Bletilla Orchids
Bletilla orchids are generally hardy and resilient plants, but like any other plant, they can face certain issues that may affect their growth and overall health. By being vigilant and taking appropriate measures, such as using baits for snails and slugs, controlling spider mites and caterpillars, protecting the orchids from frost, and addressing root decay, growers can ensure the health and vitality of their Bletilla orchids. Additionally, providing the necessary nutrients through the application of potassium-rich manure can further enhance the growth and flowering of these beautiful orchids.
One of the common issues faced by Bletilla orchids, especially when grown in the garden, is the presence of snails and slugs. These pests can cause damage to the leaves and flowers of the orchids. To combat this problem, many gardeners use metaldehyde-based poisonous baits to eliminate snails and slugs. These baits are effective in controlling these pests and protecting the orchids from further damage. It is important to regularly check the garden for any signs of snail or slug infestation and take appropriate measures to control them.
Another problem that Bletilla orchids may face is the infestation of spider mites. Spider mites are tiny pests that feed on the sap of the orchid leaves, causing them to turn yellow and develop a stippled appearance. To prevent and control spider mite infestations, it is important to regularly inspect the orchids for any signs of these pests. If an infestation is detected, the affected plants should be isolated and treated with an appropriate insecticidal soap or miticide. Additionally, maintaining a humid environment around the orchids can help deter spider mites.
Caterpillars can also pose a threat to Bletilla orchids. These voracious feeders can quickly defoliate the plants if left unchecked. To prevent caterpillar infestations, it is important to regularly inspect the orchids for any signs of caterpillar activity, such as chewed leaves or frass (caterpillar droppings). If caterpillars are detected, they can be manually removed from the plants and relocated to a more suitable habitat. Alternatively, organic insecticides can be used to control caterpillar populations.
In addition to pest problems, Bletilla orchids may also face certain issues related to environmental conditions. For example, during frosty weather, the leaves of Bletilla orchids may turn black and necrotic areas may appear. To protect the orchids from frost damage, it is advisable to cover the plants with a frost cloth, straw, or any other form of mulch or move them to a more sheltered location. This will help prevent the leaves from freezing and minimize any potential damage.
Another issue that may arise is root decay, which can be caused by overwatering or poor drainage. If the roots of the orchids start to decay, it is important to temporarily stop watering and treat the affected plants with fungicides. Remove any rotten tubers as soon as possible. This will help control the spread of the decay and promote the recovery of the orchids.
To ensure the proper development of Bletilla orchids, it is recommended to apply potassium-rich manure during the vegetation phase, which typically occurs from April to July. This will provide the necessary nutrients for the growth of healthy pseudobulbs during the summer months. A well-developed pseudobulb will contribute to an excellent production of floral scapes during the following spring.
Fertilizer and Soil PH
When it comes to fertilizing Bletilla orchids, it is important to choose the right fertilizer to promote healthy growth and vibrant blooms. One of the best fertilizers to use for Bletilla orchids is a balanced orchid fertilizer with a ratio of 20-20-20 or 10-10-10. These fertilizers provide a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are essential for the overall health and development of the orchids. The nitrogen promotes leaf and stem growth, the phosphorus supports root development and flowering, and the potassium enhances overall plant vigor. You can check out my free fertilizing guide below.
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In terms of soil pH, Bletilla orchids prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH range of 5.5 to 7.0 when grown in a pot. This pH range allows for optimal nutrient uptake and ensures that the orchids can access the necessary minerals for healthy growth. To maintain the desired pH level, it is important to regularly monitor the pH of the potting media using a pH meter or test kit. If the pH is too high or too low, appropriate amendments can be made to adjust the pH accordingly. Adding pine bark to the potting mix can help lower the pH, while adding dolomite lime can raise the pH if needed.
By using a balanced orchid fertilizer and maintaining the appropriate pH level in the potting media, you can provide the necessary nutrients and optimal growing conditions for your Bletilla orchids, resulting in healthy plants and beautiful blooms.
Bletilla orchids are not only visually stunning, but they also possess a delightful fragrance that adds to their overall appeal. According to Perfume Project NW, the fragrance of Bletilla flowers can be described as a very light and subtle sweet pink scent. It has a powdery and moist quality, with an airy and floral essence. (Source)
This fragrance adds an extra dimension to the sensory experience of these enchanting flowers. Which is great to note when keeping them indoors. Some orchids can have overpowering scents and when I kept them in my home office, it was hard to work if they were too close. This won’t happen with the Bletilla orchids.
Bletilla orchids bloom for several weeks, providing a delightful display of color and beauty from late Spring, typically between the months of May and July, all the way through early Autumn. The exact duration of their bloom can vary depending on factors such as the specific Bletilla species, growing conditions, and care provided. On average, Bletilla flowers can last for approximately two to four weeks, allowing you to enjoy their splendor for an extended period.
When it comes to the quantity of flowers per inflorescence, Bletilla orchids do not disappoint. Each inflorescence, which refers to the cluster of flowers on a single stem, can bear multiple blooms. On average, a healthy Bletilla orchid can produce anywhere from 5 to 15 flowers per inflorescence.
The true magic is not with one orchid though… Remember I said they grow in clumps? These orchid spread like wildfire, and when they all come into bloom together, well, just wow… This abundance of flowers adds to the visual appeal and creates a captivating spectacle in your landscape.
The structure of Bletilla inflorescence is worth noting as well. The flowers are arranged in a raceme, which is a type of inflorescence where the flowers are attached to the main stem by individual stalks, which is structured to ensures that each flower has enough space to showcase its unique beauty.
As for color patterns, Bletilla flowers offer a diverse range of colors. The most common colors include shades of pink, purple, and white in soft pastels to vibrant hues. Some Bletilla species even feature bi-colored or speckled flowers, adding a touch of uniqueness to their appearance.
As soon as I get my greenhouse up and running, I will have more pictures and better information. I hope it helps and if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll get back to you.
Orchid care is my passion, and I hope it shows in my writing. With over 5 years of experience in writing numerous articles and researching about orchids, 2 published books in orchid-care, and being a landscape designer in the Brazil where I incorporate orchids both in indoor and outdoor spaces, I write every article on Orchideria myself. My vision is for every person who owns an orchid to fall in love with how it is cultivated and find peace by immersing themselves into the world of orchid care. You can trust what you are reading since every single article on my website is unique and backed up by books, reviews, articles, studies, and tests. I offer in-depth and reliable information for all orchid growers, experts and beginners alike.