Phalaenopsis orchids are the most popular orchid in the world, in terms of sales. In recent years, one of the great stories of the horticulture world has been the rapid price decreases and huge increases in availability of phalaenopsis orchids. Today, you can find them by the dozen on display tables across the country, sometimes priced for as little as $9.99 each and in a wide variety of colors.
According to some sources, the orchid has now overtaken the poinsettia as the most popular potted plant in the United States.
This is all possible because of advances in orchid breeding and production, mostly overseas. Producers in Taiwan and the Netherlands have perfected orchid cloning on an industrial scale, making it possible to produce literally hundreds of thousands of beautiful, identical plants.
Because they are now so abundant, many people treat phalaenopsis like cut flowers—they last a long time blooming, and when they’re done, the plant can be discarded and replaced cheaply. For some people, however, this just won’t work: they want to keep the orchid and coax it to bloom again. If this sounds like you, here are some tips to transition from orchid admirer to orchid grower.
Blooming Your Phalaenopsis Orchid
The good news is that phalaenopsis are among the easiest orchids to grow, as long as you follow a few basic rules. This is important because, like many flowers, phalaenopsis really only bloom once a year, so after your plant is done blooming you’ll have to keep it alive and healthy until the next blooming season rolls around.
First, when your plant is done blooming and the spike has begun to brown, snip the spike off near the base of the plant and move it to its permanent location. Note that orchids don’t like to be moved very much, so ideally, you can find a spot the plant will like on the first try. In general, phalaenopsis prefer:
- Filtered, bright light but not direct sunlight
- Warmth, with a minimum of cold drafts
Once you’ve got your plant in place, begin routine care. Like many epiphytic orchids, phalaenopsis are typically grown in a chunky mixture of pine bark, charcoal, and sphagnum moss. This mixture is designed to drain very rapidly and allow the orchid’s roots to get plenty of air. Because of this, you’ll probably need to water your orchids two to three times a week, depending on the humidity and temperature. When you water your orchid, it’s a good idea to totally soak the roots but don’t let water sit between the leaves. After you’ve watered it, empty out the tray and let the plant completely dry between waterings. Contrary to what many people think, orchids do not like continuously wet environments.
If you’re aiming for blooms, fertilization is important. You can use a liquid fertilizer at quarter strength, or you can do what many professional orchid growers do: use a nylon to create a little ball of controlled release fertilizer and place that in the potting media, or just scatter a few pellets of controlled-release fertilizer in the pot. Orchids are not heavy feeders, so don’t overfeed your plant, but they do benefit tremendously from fertilizer.
Lastly, prepare for the bloom. Phalaenopsis orchids are triggered to bloom by temperature. A few cold nights are necessary to stimulate a flower spike. For many people, this means the plants will bloom in the fall when household temperatures can drop as much as 10 degrees overnight. Alternatively, you can take your plant outside for a few nights when the temperatures fall into the 60s or upper 50s. This will hopefully cause a flower spike to emerge.
Once the spike has emerged, the hard part is done! Continue to provide good care for the plant and it should reward you with another season of blooms.