Phalaenopsis Orchid Care Instructions (Moth Orchids)
Phalaenopsis Orchid Care is probably the most common introduction to growing orchids for beginners, so I'll make sure to cover all the basics in these orchid care instructions, even if they're also included in my more general information on caring for orchids. Moth orchids, or "Phals" for short, are very easy to grow in most homes; growing them indoors on a windowsill works well, and is part of why these plants have become so popular among the various types of orchids.
If you've recently bought a Phal as your first orchid, you're probably bursting with questions:
Phals originate in Southeast Asia, but there are now many thousands of man-made hybrid varieties, many of which look quite different from the 60-or-so wild species. Fortunately, similar orchid care instructions are approprate for all the different Moth Orchids. Actually, most of the commonly-available varieties have been bred to be especially easy for beginners to grow in their houses, so that the attached "orchid care instructions" label can be simple. Most varieties of Moth Orchids bloom about once a year, and a few are fragrant orchids.
In the wild, these plants grow as epiphytes, or air plants, clinging to the bark of trees with their modified roots. In cultivation, they should not be potted in soil; they are usually planted in a potting mix based either on sphagnum moss or pieces of fine-grade fir bark, though other types of orchid potting mix are sometimes used as well. The point is that these potting mixes are freely draining and allow a lot of air to the roots. Personally, I've had the best results using New Zealand sphagnum moss for my Phals, and growing them in plastic pots. As the potting mix breaks down over time and will eventually suffocate the roots, good Phalaenopsis orchid care instructions will advise repotting orchids every 2-3 years for most types of orchids. (Moth Orchids seldom outgrow their pots once they are blooming size: they have a monopodial growth habit, which means that there's a central stem that grows upward with leaves on alternating sides of the stem, with flower stems and roots emerging from the stem at the nodes just above each leaf. Sympodial orchids, on the other hand, have a horizontal rhizome and will readily outgrow pots over time.) You'll often see aerial roots growing up out of the pot to absorb moisture from the air; there is no need to bury these when repotting.
Since Moth Orchids have no pseudobulbs or other water-storage organs, they don't like to dry out too much. It's best to water as they approach dryness, usually about twice per week. Of course, the easiest way to kill an orchid is through overwatering, so don't keep them constantly moist or the roots will rot and you may also see other orchid diseases! To water an orchid, take it to the sink and run water through its pot until it runs freely out the bottom, trying to get all of the potting mix wet. Alternatively, dunk it in a bucket for a few seconds until the potting mix stops bubbling. Try not to get water into the plant's crown (the top of the stem, where new leaves emerge), as it may be trapped there and lead to rot. You'll want to fertilize at least weekly by dissolving an orchid fertilizer into the water you use; feeding orchids makes them grow better and bloom more profusely.
When a Moth Orchid is done blooming, the flower stems will sometimes rebloom in future years. As long as the stem remains green, this is a possibility. If the stem turns brown, you should prune it back. You can also sometimes trick the plant into reblooming right away if you cut the stem back just as the plant finishes blooming: cut the stem about an inch (2-3cm) above one of its nodes, which are small scale-like leaves you'll see on the flower stem if you look closely.
Phalaenopsis prefer intermediate-to-warm temperatures of 70-85°F (21-30C) during the day, ideally with a nighttime drop of 10-15°F (6-8C). Be aware that temperatures above 80°F (27C) can signal to the plant that it's not the right season to bloom. If the temperature is comfortable for you, it's probably comfortable for Phalaenopsis too.
Like most orchids, Phals grow best with humidity around 70%. This isn't critical, but they appreciate it. If you want to raise the humidity, thorough indoor orchid care instructions will advise you to mist them with a spray bottle regularly, or to set up a humidity tray: fill a tray of water with gravel, setting the plant on top, then pour some water into the tray. The gravel keeps the plant elevated so it doesn't sit in the water (that will kill most orchids), but it allows evaporating water to escape and humidify the air nearby.
Relatively low lighting, about 1000 footcandles, is best for Moth Orchids. This is dim compared to what many orchids require, but it's still pretty bright by indoor standards. Try an east window, or a slightly shaded south window (if in the northern hemisphere.) Direct sunlight is definitely a bad idea, as it will cause sunburn. If the plant fails to bloom for you but seems otherwise healthy, try increasing the light somewhat.
The easiest way to propagate Phalaenopsis orchids is by planting their keikis, small plantlets that sometimes develop on their flower stems. Once the keiki has a strong root system and at least a few leaves, cut the flower stem on both sides of the keiki and pot it up on its own. (There's no rush to pot it separately; in fact, you don't ever have to cut the plants apart: if you can bend the flower stem so the keiki touches the parent plant's potting mix, it will happily grow there.) They can also be induced to form keikis using "keiki paste."
- Will it rebloom? (Yes! Usually about once a year.)
- It's not growing in dirt? Why?
- How do I water an orchid? How often?
- When it drops its flowers, should I cut the stem back?
- How much light should I give it?
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