This guide is only for the care of Phalaenopsis (Phal) Orchids. Using this information on a different kind of orchid could kill that plant.
The advice provided in this guide is coming from personal experience growing orchids at home.
I am not a botanist and since we are working with living organisms in different environment, results may vary. This is not a comprehensive guide. I am providing general advice that can be used by anyone.
The Phal orchids roots are exposed to the environment. They do not grow buried in soil as most plants do.
The roots need airflow and they cannot survive growing in regular soil. For potting media, orchid mix is recommended.
The mix is a combination of two or more ingredients that may include bark, charcoal, perlite, coconut husks, moss, or clay pellets. This can be found online, in nurseries, or in big box stores.
The key is to make sure that the mix is coarse enough to create air pockets in the pot. For the pot itself, orchid pots that have multiple holes or unglazed clay pots are best.
These pots allow the growing media and roots to “breathe” and not retain moisture for extended period of times. The media will decay over time and repotting the plant every 2-3 years will ensure that the roots are not being suffocated by the broken down material.
Most plants grown in commercial nurseries come growing in moss. It works for the big growers because moss retains moisture for a long time, thus decreasing watering frequency.
This is a double-edged sword, because if the media never dries, the plant can rot and die. The moss is tightly packed and the core tends to have plenty of moisture while the outside feels dry.
For new home growers, this triggers the “need” to water and the plant ends up never getting a dry period. This is the perfect environment for rot to set in. If you get a plant in bloom and it’s potted in moss, do not repot until the plant loses its flowers. Just remember to water only when you are sure the media is bone dry.
Once the plant is no longer blooming, you are ready to give the plant a new home. Find a pot you like, get the orchid mix, and repot your new Phal orchids!
Good watering habits will keep your orchid alive.
Phal orchids are not like other houseplants, and this fundamental difference confuses many people. We are more likely to kill a Phal orchid by watering too much than by not watering enough.
Remember, these plants already thrive in the forest with their roots catching rainwater and drying out until the next shower occurs. The roots are exposed to air and are able to absorb and retain water quickly. They get drenched with rain and dry out completely until the next downpour.
The key to keeping these plants alive is to refrain from watering them until you are sure the roots have dried completely, otherwise the roots will rot.
The rule here is: If you think the roots are dry and ready to water, do it tomorrow.
Test the growing medium with your finger for humidity. How often to water will depend on how fast the media and the roots dry, thus every environment will be different. It is possible to kill a Phal orchid by not watering, but overwatering is more likely to kill the plant faster.
Some growers recommend using a certain number of ice cubes with a determined frequency to water certain plants.
This technique might work, but is not something I have done and I don’t recommend it. My thoughts on this are the fact that a Phal orchid in nature is never going to experience runoff water from ice meltdown.
Rainwater can be cold but not as cold as melting ice. If this technique has worked for you, please, by all means, continue using it.
To water, you can fill a bucket and simply dunk the plant, keeping the media underwater for a couple of minutes, and letting it drain completely before putting it back in its regular place. When dunking a potted orchid, do it slowly and don’t let the water level be higher than the height of your pot, otherwise the media will float out of the pot.
It is also important to avoid letting water pool between the leaves, only the roots should get wet.
Humidity is important for the overall health of Phal orchids.
Some roots are aerial roots that use the humidity in the environment to help the plant thrive. Fortunately, Phal orchids are adaptable plant and they can tolerate the humidity levels we have in our homes. Our air conditioning and heating systems can reduce the humidity inside a home significantly; therefore we have to find a way to help the plants.
In the forest, the canopy of the trees, puddles, water evaporation from plants, and cool temperatures at ground level keep the humidity fairly high (70% or above).
At home, our humidity levels tend to be somewhere between 25% to 40%. An easy way to increase the humidity levels for a Phal orchid, or for any plant, is to place the plant on top of a bowl of pebbles and pour water in it until the water is just below the pot. If the water touches the pot, it will get absorbed and the level of moisture in the media can increase to the point where root rot sets in.
Placing a few plants in the same area can also increase the humidity in that particular spot. Using both techniques at the same time is my preference.
I only move the plant away from its friends when the plant is blooming in order to showcase its beauty every day.
With elevated humidity levels, the possibility of fungal growth increases significantly. To prevent this issue we need airflow.
Fortunately, this is a variable that in most home environments is already addressed (unless you have mold growing in your walls…you need to take care of that!).
Most homes have air conditioners, fans, heating systems, doors and windows that open and close, and ceiling vents in bathrooms that keep the air moving. If you keep multiple plants in a room and you notice that the air feels heavy, placing a small fan will provide plenty of gentle air movement.
This is another variable in the care of these plants that is easy to address.
Phal orchids live in many different temperature zones, but normally they don’t do well in extreme cold or extreme heat. What does this mean for us?
They like the temperature in our house! If you keep your house at a temperature that’s comfortable for you, it’s probably comfortable for your plant. If the plants are living near a door or window, it is important to make sure there isn’t a draft that could impact the plant’s environment.
Temperature plays a key role in the blooming cycle of the plants, more information about this topic in the “Blooming” section of the guide.
Phal orchids usually grow under the canopy of the forest. They thrive under filtered light, or bright indirect light.
An interesting characteristic of Phal orchids is their capacity to “communicate” (Oh dang, the plants can talk?!?!).
Their leaves can provide us with information about their light needs. When the plant is receiving too much light their leaves may turn light green to yellow and in some cases they take a shade of red (sunburn!). If they are not getting enough light, the leaves turn dark green and new growth is stunted.
Placing a Phal orchid in front of a east or west window is perfect; a south window may be too much direct sunlight, and a north facing window is likely not enough light. In windows with too much direct sun, a sheer curtain can help create a filter.
This is not a rigid guideline; some plants like more or less light, so adjustments may be needed throughout the life of your plant. When in bloom, you can place phal orchids in any area of your house. Even if the light is not ideal for growth, you’re still free to put that plant wherever you want and show off those gorgeous blooms! It is important to keep the leaves clean of dust to maximize light absorption.
Dust accumulation in the leaves can hinder the plant’s ability to absorb light. You can make a mixture of water and lemon juice, and clean the leaves using a piece of cloth. Soak the cloth in the solution, and rub the leaves gently to remove the dirt. I don’t recommend wax products.
Phalaenopsis orchids do not need large amounts of “food”. The plants like to be fertilized occasionally.
In nature, they probably get a piece of a dead bug or tiny pieces of decaying tree bark stuck between their roots. This provides enough nutrients to cover their needs.
The general advice when it comes to fertilizing is to do it weakly weekly (more realistic is to say: weakly when you water the plant, doesn’t have to be exactly every week).
There are thousands of fertilizers in the market, and with that you get thousands of opinions. Fertilizers are not magic potions. They help maintain a healthy plant, but it will not make your plants bloom all year long multiple times with multiple spikes. In this case, using a weak fertilizer is the best route to take.
A liquid fertilizer is easy to use since you can mix it in your watering bucket without having to wait for it to dissolve. Residue buildup can damage the plant’s roots and burn them, so please avoid overfeeding. If you have time, do a little online research to see what type of fertilizer you prefer. If not, don’t worry about it; your plant will absorb nutrients from the decaying growing media in the pot.