On a recent visit to my local supermarket, I was caught by surprise at the sight of at least fifty beautiful blooming Phalanopsis orchids. The very popular Phalanopsis or commonly called Moth Orchids were on display with their graceful arching, long sprays of colorful flowers.
Many people assume orchids are only for the experienced gardener. This myth is simply not true and that is one of the reasons these orchids are showing up in every supermarket. Phalanopsis orchids are not difficult to maintain and may possibly be one of the easier flowering houseplants to have in your house. The bonus is that they can bloom for months in late winter and early spring.
When I consider that my orchids flower for a such a long period of time; I realize they are more cost effective than buying two or three bouquets of flowers that only last a week each. Orchids will also live for years and give you another chance at seeing it grow and flower. Half the show is watching it grow. Get ready, get set and go buy a new orchid.
- What to look for when buying a new orchid.
Purchase a Phalanopsis or Moth Orchid that is already flowering because seedlings can take years before they bloom, plus it is always nice to see and select the color you want. Check that it has several unopened flowers for a longer display of blooming.
Look at the pot it is in. Orchids need lots of drainage. They should be growing in an orchid plastic pot with slits up the side or a clay pot with lots of drainage holes.
Inspect for bugs and always check the roots to make sure they are not all shriveled up from being too dry or worse, finding them sitting in water. Use your nose. Just like buying fish, if it smells yucky- pass on the purchase.
- The ride home
If it is cold outside (temperature below 60 degrees) as it frequently is here in New England, then make sure the store clerk carefully wraps the orchid and it’s long stems to protect it from the elements for the ride home. Don’t leave it in a freezing car while running other errands.
- Find the right spot in your house.
At home, carefully unwrap and place the orchid in a room with bright, indirect light. That means NO DIRECT SUN! If you place a flowering phalanopsis in a hot area or a sunny window you can kiss your chance of a long flowering period good bye.
A north or east facing window is usually a fine location for your new Phalanopsis. If you only have a sunny, south or west facing window, then a sheer curtain covering the window is a must and move the plant as far from the window as possible. Sunny windows are reserved for different types of orchids such as Cattleyas, Oncidiums and Dendrobiums.
Always place the flowers pointing toward the greatest source of light. After a month of being in your home , a simple way to know if your Phalanopsis orchid is happy with the light, is to check the foliage color of its leaves. If they are deep, dark green, then they need more light. If they are slightly yellowish-green, then all is well and they are located in the correct spot.
Phalanopsis like to be in average home temps between 60 – 85. In the late fall, a short three or four week period of lower temperatures at night (just below 60 degrees) will induce flowering. A new stalk will form in about a month. Don’t leave your orchid in a room that you shut the heat off for the winter.
Phalanopsis are epiphytes (fancy word for a plant that grows on another plant, but is not a parasite). Because Epiphytes do not grow in soil, their roots try to grab water out of the air in the form of humidity. Providing extra humidity to your Phalanopsis will make it a happy camper. Create a little micro-environment by placing a waterproof tray filled with stones and water under your potted orchid to increase humidity for the roots. Make sure the orchid pot is sitting above the water in the tray. Never, ever let the roots sit in standing water! Smelly rot and eventual death will follow.
- WATERING – NOT MISTING
Wait until the potting medium (that is the bark and sphagnum moss in the container) is almost dry between waterings.
Watering once a week is generally best for the indoor Phalanopsis with more water required in hot weather and less in cold weather. Also, note that clay pots dry out faster and need more water than plastic pots.
Take the orchid to the kitchen sink and let the the room temperature water filter right through the container and out the drainage holes.
Only water the plant growing medium, not the flowers and not the leaves. Normally, avoid getting the leaves wet because it can promote diseases. If they do get wet, dry them gently with a tissue. However, once or twice a year I give the leaves (top and bottom) a shower of room temperature water to get rid of dust and clean them up a bit, then I dry them throughly with a soft cloth. Phalanopsis do not like to be misted as that will leave them cold, wet and prone to disease.
I must repeat – Never, ever, let the roots sit in standing water! Smelly rot and eventual death will follow.
Buy a small bottle of orchid food. These bottles seem to last forever. Water the plant as usual with room temperature water letting it drain out then apply food as directed on the bottle either once a month or use a very weak application weekly.
- Future repotting.
Repot every two years in the spring after flowering has finished in a slightly bigger pot. Phalanopsis orchids like to be tight in their containers or they don’t produce flowers and instead put their energy into making more roots to fill a pot that’s too big. Keep it simple and buy premixed orchid mix found in small bags at garden centers or box stores. It is soilless and commonly has bark, sphagnum moss, coconut husks, vermiculite and perlite mixed together. This makes it a lot easier than making your own mix. Wash off the old mix from the roots and snip away dead, dying or diseased looking roots with a sterilized knife or shears.
- My orchid routine.
I find it easiest to keep my orchids growing in a clear plastic orchid container that has drainage slits up the side and holes on the bottom for fast drainage. I then place this inside a decorative pot that sits on top of a humidity tray. That way I just slip the light plastic orchid container out of the heavy decorative pot and take it to my kitchen sink for weekly water and food. When it is done draining I slip it back into the decorative pot.
I also prefer using liquid orchid food and feed a weak solution weekly. In November I give the orchids a regular amount of food instead of a weak solution because they are supposed to be producing flowers during that time. I often don’t even feed them in the winter. As my daughter would say “Easy Peasy”
Remember, plants are similar to people. We like to eat, drink and have an occasional bath, well — so do the plants.
Cheers to the Phalanopsis — a long lived happy houseplant!
P.S. Special thanks to my friend Sue for taking pictures.
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