Most people who have an orchid in their home, are likely to have a Phalaenopsis orchid. They are probably the most widely available orchid because they are easy to care for.
Once the beautiful flowers have spent, most people throw them in the bin thinking the orchid is on its way out. However, this is not always the case. Most Phalaenopsis orchids will continue to grow and re-bloom if given the correct care.
I currently have 7 Phalaenopsis orchids in my collection. Some were gifted by family and friends, others I rescued from the reduced section of garden centres. I will share my thoughts and discoveries whilst caring for them so that you have a better understanding of how to care for your own. Before we continue…you may want to make yourself a cuppa…this could be a long one!
So we need to cover the basics; light, heat, humidity, watering, fertiliser, ventilation and growing media.
- Light – Phalaenopsis orchids are pretty forgiving as orchids go. They need light to grow, but prefer to be out of direct sunlight in the summer months. You can keep them in a bright spot but shield them if you can from contact with direct sun.
- Heat – In their natural environment, Phalaenopsis orchids would be exposed to warm conditions, so can adapt to the home environment. Ideally, you want to keep temperatures around 18c-25c, but drop the temperature slightly in the winter months to help stimulate flower spike growth (16c-23c for example). These orchids will not thank you though if the temperature drops anything below 10c.
- Humidity – These orchids are fairly tolerant to humidity. My Phalaenopsis are happy sitting among my more ‘needy’ orchids with humidity going as high as 80%. I wouldn’t keep any orchid in a humid place all the time without ventilation as there is an increased risk of mould or rot setting in. Phalaenopsis can survive with 40% humidity – unless your orchid is sick, the humidity is not going to affect it much. At least, that is my experience. I would however suggest misting your orchid once in a while. Orchids grown indoors tend to have very dry conditions. Misting will just help to increase the moisture around the plant and maintain its health.
- Watering – Phalaenopsis orchids are pretty hardy when it comes to watering. Their roots turn green when they come into contact with water and can stay that way for days afterwards. If the roots are grey, it is normally an indication that it needs to be watered again. Try not to leave the orchid standing in a tray of water – this particular type of orchid likes to dry out between waterings. As with any orchid, if you leave the roots submerged in water for long periods of time, you run the risk that they could start rotting – not a good idea! During the summer and winter months, the Phalaenopsis orchid will require slight alterations to watering routines. In summer, the orchid may need to be watered twice a week if it is in a warm environment. It’s a good idea to check orchids on a regular basis (I tend to spend some time with mine every day, say about 5-10 minutes). A note on watering- Make sure you only water the media around the orchid. Avoid getting water on the orchid itself. If water collects in the crown of the orchid, there is a chance your orchid may develop crown rot, which is not easy for it to recover from.
- Fertiliser – Phalaenopsis orchids are not heavy feeders particularly, but they do require some additional nutrition. I use a growth feed and a bloom feed, depending on what the orchid is doing at any given point. If it is solely focused on growing (new roots, leaves etc) then I will feed it growth food. When flower spikes develop, I switch to a bloom feed. At the moment I am providing feed every two weeks but I think I could reduce it to once a month and it would not be a problem.
- Ventilation – All orchids require ventilation, particularly if the humidity around them is high. This helps to prevent rotting. Try and ensure the orchid has some air flow around it, especially in the summer months where leaves can suffer from heat stress.
- Orchid Compost – Phalaenopsis orchids like to have ventilated roots. In their natural environment, they would actually be growing on trees with little media covering them. I find bark chips work well for me. This media provides enough ventilation, allow the roots space to grow, and retain enough water to keep them hydrated. Most orchids like to be snug in the pot you use. If the roots look overcrowded, this is actually a good sign. The orchid in the picture below was actually purchased this way. I have not re-potted it yet, and I may not do so for a little while. When it comes to re-potting an orchid, make sure the pot is not so big that it will take the orchid years to fill. If you can reuse the pot it was in – great. If not, just go for the next size up.
So…what happens if the orchid is receiving the right care and it produces a flower spike? How can you tell it is a flower spike and not a new root? The flower spike normally develops from the sides of the orchid, in between the leaves. Roots tend to develop from the front and back of the orchid, though there are roots and spikes that break this rule!
A new root will have a rounded shape at the tip, whereas a flower spike will have a ‘claw’ shape to it (hopefully the above demonstrates this). The flower spike is normally the same colour as the leaves – at least this is my experience – whilst a root tip tends to be a brighter green.
As the flower spike grows it is important to keep an eye on it to make sure the orchid isn’t struggling to hold the spike up on its own. Sometimes if there are a large number of blooms on the flower spike, it can become too heavy for the orchid to sustain it on its own. You will need to attach the flower spike to a stake to provide some stability. Otherwise, I allow my Phalaenopsis orchids to bloom without support as this is what they would be doing in their natural environment.
So with the right care, Phalaenopsis orchids will keep growing and flowering. I hope this article helped to answer some questions, if not please leave a comment and I’ll come back to you.