Do Orchids Need Sunlight?

Learn about natural sunlight and artificial lights, including fluorescent and LED lights, to grow orchids.

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light - orchids


Several years ago I lived in an apartment with a large living room. An enormous tree grew right in front of the window, effectively blocking the window and making the room dark and dreary. The kitchen, on the other hand, was smaller, but with tons of natural light. The living room for all its spaciousness was not where I wanted to be. Like us, plants need light, and providing the right light for orchids is actually quite easy. Let’s discover how to give your orchids the right light.

Providing the right amount of light for orchids is not difficult. If you’ve got a good window to provide sunlight or a good source of artificial light, you’re in business

Most importantly, give your orchid the right light to promote blooming. In fact, along with the right temperature, the giving your orchid enough light is the #1 thing you can do to encourage your orchid to bloom! Light is definitely worth learning about.

Thank-You-now-I-know-just-where-to-put-my-orchid - Give Your Orchids the Right Light

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Do orchids need sunlight? Yes, orchids need light, but not direct light. If an orchid gets too much sun, it can actually get a sunburn.  While it may be tempting to place an orchid right up close to a window, that practice is not necessary, and may even be harmful to the orchid.  Placing your orchid a couple of feet away from the window, but not right in the middle of the room, is usually just the right light for orchids. 

An east or south-facing windows are ideal for growing orchids with natural light. Intense afternoon sun the comes on on west-facing windows can be minimized by hanging a thin, sheer curtain. In climates with a lot of cloud cover, a full south exposure may be ideal.  

Phalaenopsis, the quintessential grocery store orchid, and Paphiopedilum, also known as the lady’s slipper, require medium light and will grow easily near a bright window.

High sun variety orchids such as Dendrobiums and Cattleyas still do not want direct light. Shaded south or west-facing window is ideal for these orchids.

orchids-natural-light. - orchid care sunlight


I started out growing all my orchids on a window sill, but as my collection began to expand, I needed more space. That’s when I high-jacked the grow light system I had given to my husband.

Before going into depth on growing orchids under lights, I want to give a shout out to horticulturist, Steve Frowine. I’ve learned a lot about growing orchids under lights from him. He has grown orchids for over 50 years and is the author of several books on growing orchids.

The advantages of growing orchids under lights that I noticed right away were:

  1. Growing orchids under lights are much cooler than in the windowsill. In the summer months, it just gets too hot when the sun pours in.
  2. I was able to grow more orchid varieties. My miniature Cattleyas and Dendrobiums flourish under lights. Previously, I didn’t think I would be able to grow Cattleyas.
  3. Grow light system facilitates blooming. How happy I was when my Cattleya bloomed using the grow light system.
  4. I had a lot more space to grow my orchids than I did before. I set up the grow light system on a counter and the orchids do well, blooming, putting out new roots and leaves.
  5. Fluorescent bulbs are cheap and readily available.

Here’s Why Orchids Will Grow and Bloom Under Fluorescent Light:

  1. Orchids need certain colors in the light spectrum to bloom and grow, and fluorescent bulbs can provide those colors.
  2. Fluorescent bulbs provide evenly distributed lights, which helps prevent sunburning the orchids.

TIP:   Compact orchids do much better under lights than do tall orchids as the intensity of the light diminishes the further the orchid is from the bulb. The Cattleyas and Dendrobiums I grow under lights are miniature varieties. Place the bulb 6 to 12 inches above the orchid’s leaves.  

Which Orchids Grow Best Under Lights?

For best results, grow orchids with low to medium light requirements under lights such as the Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilum and compact orchids, those under 12 inches. 

TIP: The light intensity is strongest in the center of the fluorescent tube. Set your Cattleya in the middle and your Phalaenopsis on the ends of the tube.

3 Things to Look for When Buying Fluorescent Bulbs to Grow Your Orchids:

  1. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) should be a minimum of 85, but preferably in the 90s. (The higher the number the better).
  2. Color Temperature (Kelvin), shoot for bulbs between 5000-6500 K.
  3. Lumen Output. This is a method for measuring light brightness. The higher the number, the more efficient the bulb is. Choose a bulb with the highest lumen per watt.

When Growing Under Lights, Use a Timer

Using a light timer makes artificial lighting even easier.  Leaving the lights on between 12-16 hours a day. Never leave the lights on for 24 hours a day. Orchids do need a rest at night.

orchids-artificial-lighting - give your orchids the right light

How to Tell If Orchids Have the Right Light

There are two good indicators that will tell you if your orchids are getting sufficient light.

  1. Flowers. Blooming takes a lot of energy, which comes from getting enough light. If you have enough energy to bloom normally (right season, right color), it is getting enough light.
  2. Leaves. The leaves should be light green in color, and generally, the leaves should be upright, short and firm. Some orchids such as Cymbidiums and Oncidiums do have long thin, arching leaves.

How to Tell If Orchids Have Too Much Light

  1. Sunburn. Just like us, orchids can sunburn, resulting in a large black spot with a yellow ring around it. If leaves are hot to the touch, they are too warm.
  2. Yellow leaves. Orchid leaves should be bright green. Yellowish leaves can indicate too much light.
Give Your Orchids the Right Light

Here is my a peek into my basement where I grow my orchids. This is the grow light system I use. To the far right, you can see a bit of the humidifier I use. (The humidifier I use is no longer available, but here is a link to another humidifier.) To the left of the humidifier you can see the humidistat I use to track humidity and temperature. Out of sight on the left, there is a fan to keep the air moving and a timer for the lights. Under these lights, I grow Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids. The Dendrobium in the very center is growing some flower spikes. It’s hard to see in this image, but one of the Dendrobiums in the back has several keikis (offsets) that have started to grow.


Recently, I’ve added LED lights to my orchid growing menagerie. Here’s the scoop on LED (light emitting diode) lights: 

As plants require a distribution of blue, green red and far-red light, it is recommended that you choose a full-spectrum LED light bulb. By purchasing an LED light that is specially designed for indoor plants you’ll be buying a light that provides the full spectrum of light for your orchids. LED lights designed for hydroponics will suit your orchids.

LED lights - grow orchids


Giving light to your orchids will help your orchids give back to you by flowering. Although I have discussed both growing orchids at a windowsill and under lights, don’t feel like you have to use lights to grow orchids.

If your windowsill is providing your orchids with the light they need, then keep using this method. If, on the other hand, your orchids aren’t blooming like they should, setting up a simple grow light system may be the solution you are looking for.

Once your orchid flowers have opened up, you can bring them out from under lights and into a living area of your house so that you can enjoy the flowers. Just be careful not to bring them out too soon. Not long ago I had a Phalaenopsis that was loaded with buds. I was anxious to see the flowers open and brought the orchid to my kitchen table. I lost a few buds to bud blast. 

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  1. Kathi-Ann says:

    Anna, I am really having a hard time getting my Dendrobiums to rebloom. I have repotted them to allow the roots to get more air and placed them in bright light. I also used some sphagnum moss to help with moisture. I really need help here. It’s becoming frustrating. I live in the tropics so it s hot here.

    1. Anna says:

      Kathi Ann,
      As Dendrobiums don’t like to be re-potted, it may take them a while to recover and bloom. I know it’s hard, but give them time. Dendrobiums do like bright, indirect light. It sounds like you have that covered.

      Do you happen to know which species of Dendrobiums you are growing? There are three basic types: warm, intermediate and cool growing. And they can be either deciduous or evergreen. For your tropical climate, the warm-growing evergreen species should do well. Some popular species include: Phalaenanthes, Spatulata and Latouria.
      I hope this helps!

  2. Chris Nault says:

    I have a big aquarium, made out of rattan, could I use that and an aquarium light? So, floating around, I have a 10 gal., a 20 gal. the rattan one is 50 gal. All have hoods and lights.

    1. Anna says:

      Your rattan aquarium sounds beautiful. To turn your aquarium into a terrarium, be sure to grow orchids that grow well in terrarium conditions – high humidity and low air circulation. I found a link that sells orchids specifically geared toward terrariums:

      Seattle Orchid

      On the end of your aquarium light, you should see tiny print with the bulbs specifications. Compare it to the fluorescent light specifications provided on this page. Also, if you do decide to purchase an orchid from Seattle Orchid, you could ask them about your light and recommending a suitable orchid for your growing conditions.

  3. Ellie Stell says:

    Very informative

  4. Glenda Toon says:

    Hi Anna,
    My moth orchard is down to 2 flowers and these are fading fast. I thought it was ready to have a rest but have just noticed a new leaf forming.
    Do I feed it or do I cut down the watering?
    I’m confused.

    1. Anna says:

      Yes, do cut the flower spike. You don’t need to cut down on the water or fertilizer as we are headed into summer and your orchid is still in active growth.
      All my best,

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the ONE email you'll open every week

Saturday mornings I send out an exclusive email sharing my best tips on how to grow healthy orchids.