Growing Phalaenopsis - The Easiest Orchid

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Also known as phal, moth, and ice orchids, Phalaenopsis are the most popular orchids for many reasons. They are relatively inexpensive. They are considered by many to be the most beautiful which is saying a lot given that there are over 30,000 species and 100,000 hybrids. They are the most commonly sold orchids in garden and home centers, and now even in supermarkets. They have long lasting blooms, and many consider them the easiest orchid to care for - a perfect orchid for beginner and amateur orchid lovers. This article reviews the characteristics of the phal and optimum growing conditions.

Epiphytic and Lithophytic. Most phals are epiphytes, meaning that in nature they grow on other plants non-parasitically, that is, without deriving nutrients from their host. Moth orchids derive nutrients from dew, rainfall, air, and any material that accumulates around the roots. Some phals are lithophytes meaning that they grow on rocks. Phals can even be found clinging to buildings and poles.

Photosynthesis. Unlike the roots of our other houseplants that are damaged when exposed to air and light, the roots of the phal perform photosynthesis, converting sunlight to energy. Thus they prefer a clear pot with a special orchid mix made of bark chunks that won't absorb much moisture and allow air to circulate.

Blooms. Phals have multiple large, showy flowers on each spike which bloom 3 to 4 months, and sometimes as long as 6 months. When the blooms are over give them a cold spell by watering with and ice cube daily or 3 to 6 ice cubes once per week for 6 weeks. This will produce a secondary spike on the old stalk and your orchid will rebloom.

Soil. Phal soil must not be soil as we know it but rather a medium of bark chunks or sphagnum that allow water to flow around the roots and immediately out the bottom of the pot.

Temperature. The optimum temperature is normal home and office temperature of 70 to 80 degrees F during the day and 60 to 70 at night. Phals can tolerate temperatures as high as the 90's but will need more frequent watering.

Humidity. Optimal humidity is no less than 50%. Higher the better. One way to increase humidity is to place your potted phal on top of a bed of stones in a deep dish or tray. Keep the stones wet, but do not let roots or an absorbable pot (such as a clay pot) touch water, otherwise the orchid will continuously absorb water which is lethal. I don't recommend misting since water droplets left on leaves or flower petals, especially overnight, can cause rot.

Light. An east-facing window is ideal. Be sure any light is filtered through white shades or curtains to prevent sunburn, mirroring the dappled light of the tropical forest floor. 12 hours of light is optimal. Grow-lights can be used where light is significantly less than optimal such as winter months in extreme northern and southern latitudes. Bright green leaves indicate good light. Dark green indicates not enough light. Yellow leaves can indicate too much light (or too much water, or a disease, or natural die-off of lower leaves).

Water. Phalaenopsis prefer water early in the morning once every 7 - 10 days � more during summer, less in winter. More if consistent temperatures are higher than optimal. More when blooming or a large plant. Watering can be as often as 2-3 times a week. Get to know your particular orchid because phal roots want to dry out before being watered. Place under a tap and run water over the bark medium for about 15 seconds. Tepid water is ideal. Water should run right over the roots and bark medium and out the bottom of the pot, moistening the roots and flushing away harmful deposits. Phals do not like soggy roots � I can't emphasize this enough. If you are doing the ice cube method be sure to do a normal watering once a month to flush away harmful deposits.

Fertilizer. Moth orchids like a weak fertilizer. Commercial brands are fine, but dilute the instructions by � to � . Apply every other watering. Try making your own organic fertilizer � there's a free recipe on my website. Do not use fertilizer pellets or sticks since these apply too much too often.

Purchasing. It's difficult to even find a phal that's not in bloom at the time of purchase, but if possible purchase a not-yet-blooming plant, because travel from store to home can be traumatic causing blooms to drop. Look for unblemished leaves and petals � orchids are particularly susceptible to disease so be sure yours is healthy. Inspect the roots to be sure they are firm and not mushy.

Repotting. The only difficulty about orchids in general, including phals, is repotting. It is a necessity every 2 years or when roots are growing out over the rim of the pot. The continued health of your orchid depends upon repotting and propagation. It's not brain surgery but you need to follow step-by-step instruction. Go to my site or google orchid repotting for guidance.

Conclusion. Your phal thrives on consistent care like all the rest of our houseplants. And try talking to your orchid! Amazingly, research indicates that plants do better when we talk to them. And take a good long look at your orchid blooms � such beauty!

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Author: Jan Gilbert
Want to learn more about orchids. Visit my website for essential tips about purchasing, transporting, repotting, watering, pruning, fertilizing, and other critical factors for growing orchids successfully.

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