The orchid group includes several hundred different genera and thousands of species, but most people are introduced to orchids through the Phalaenopsis genus, which are particularly good orchids for beginners. These are thick-leaved plants with elegant, arching sprays of bloom—the orchids featured in so many design magazines sitting on coffee tables across America.
Phalaenopsis orchids are rewarding plants. They are not demanding, and in the right conditions, they will display showy blooms for months.
|Botanical Name||Phalaenopsis spp.|
|Common Names||Moth orchid, Phalaenopsis, phals|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
Can You Grow Phalaenopsis Orchids Inside?
These orchids are often grown as indoor potted plants, where successful growth means finding the right balance between humidity, temperature, light, and airflow. Their long-lasting flowers are held on arching branches and open successively. A single multi-branching flower spike can have more than 20 flowers, and individual flowers can last for weeks.
How to Grow Phalaenopsis Orchids Indoors
Good light is required for phalaenopsis but they can experience absolutely no direct sunlight, or the leaves will scorch. Rotate the plant from time to time to keep growth equal. Phalaenopsis can tolerate low light and will thrive in an east window, or a shaded southerly or westerly exposure.
The plant will do well under common grow lights positioned about 1 foot from the plant. A well-grown plant will have darker green leaves on top and streaks of red or burgundy on the undersides.
Temperature and Humidity
Phalaenopsis orchids are considered warm houseplants. During active growth, they like temperatures between about 75- and 85-degrees Fahrenheit, but they can adapt to a normal house temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the temperature, the greater the plant's need for humidity.
These plants also like a nice contrast between night and day temperatures. To induce a flower spike, the plant needs a few cooler nights, down to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The plants will not bloom well without this temperature contrast.
Phalaenopsis is a monopodial orchid, which means that it grows from a single stem. It does not have the large water-storing pseudobulbs found on sympodial orchids, although its leaves can store some water. Thus, this plant has a lower tolerance for drought.
During the growing season, water the plant weekly or whenever its exposed roots turn silvery white. Water them in the morning and try to keep the potting media slightly damp. During the flowering season, you can cut the water back to every other week. Water should never be allowed to rest around the stem of the plant. This will cause the new leaves to rot, and the plant will die.
As with all orchids, the higher the humidity and temperature, the greater the need for turbulent airflow to prevent rot, fungus, and diseases. Many successful orchid growers keep a ceiling fan or stationary fan running constantly in rooms where they grow orchids.
During the growing season, fertilize with a weak orchid fertilizer weekly ("weakly weekly," as the growers say). Cut fertilizer back to once a month during the winter and flowering season. Some growers like to give the plant a boost of blooming fertilizer in September or October to provoke a flower spike.
Pruning and Maintenance
Prune your orchids during their dormancy period, after the blooms have faded. This means you'll only prune about once a year. Trim off dead spikes and carefully deadhead the plant, removing the spent flowers. Cut back any top-heavy spikes to about 1/2 inch above a node.
Container and Size
The most appropriate size container to keep your orchids happy is something between 4 and 6 inches in diameter, depending upon the size of the orchid. They can also be grown in hanging baskets or mounted on slabs in a greenhouse-type environment. As with all epiphytic orchids (those that grow on surfaces), they should be planted in free-draining containers. Use shallow pots, as orchids like to spread their roots to the sides, not down.
Potting Soil and Drainage
In native conditions, moth orchids grow on trees as epiphytes—a type of plant that requires a host plant. Instead of regular soil, they need potting material that mimics a host tree or comes from a tree, such as ground fir tree bark, redwood bark chips, or Monterey pine bark chips. Most bark potting media will work. Also, make sure there is some perlite, sphagnum moss, charcoal, or coconut husk chips mixed in to help with water retention. You can buy a commercial potting mix that is made special for orchids.
No matter the potting media you use, make sure there is plenty of air circulation for the rooting system. Epiphytes are accustomed to breezes and wind and don't do well without them.
Potting and Repotting Phalaenopsis Orchids
Phalaenopsis can be grown in most orchid potting media. Repot Phalaenopsis in spring, after the bloom is done. Adult phalaenopsis can often go for two years or more before they need to be repotted.
Moving Phalaenopsis Orchids Outdoors for the Summer
Though it is possible to move these orchids outdoors for the summer, keep in mind the optimum growing conditions. They need to be kept between 50- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit, have a good humidity level, and have no direct sunlight. Acclimate the plant very slowly, increasing the time outside by only 30 minutes each day.
Though high humidity is great for orchids, high temperatures are not. Keep them inside if the temperatures regularly go over 80 degrees. Keep your orchids protected from rainfall, as a strong shower could damage the delicate leaves and flowers.
When to Bring Phalaenopsis Orchids Back Inside
If nighttime temperatures dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, it's time to bring the orchids inside for the winter.
Is it easy to propagate orchids?
Orchids are propagated by seed, but the process can be time-consuming. Periodically, the plant will naturally produce "baby" orchids known as a keiki. These are identical copies of the parent and normally appear on either an old or new flower spike. After the keiki is about a year old, you can remove it from the parent plant and give it its own pot. The keiki is ready after it has two or three leaves and its own roots (about 3 inches long).
What plant pests are common to Phalaenopsis orchids?