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  • Growing the Phalaenopsis Orchid (Moth Orchid)

    Growing the Phalaenopsis Orchid (Moth Orchid)
    By: Bruce B. Brown
    River Valley Orchidworks, OrchidTalk Orchid Forum

    Phalaenopsis or Phals as they are commonly called are one of the easiest orchids for the home grower because they like the conditions we like in our homes. They are a favorite among many because the flowers are showy and can last on beautiful arching spikes for up to several months at one blooming. The typical phalaenopsis orchid blooms last for three months. Another reason these are favorites among home growers is their flower time. Phals *typically* flower during the late winter months into the spring months. This helps give color when most of our world is cold and grey out. Phalaenopsis grow in lower light levels and as such are typically the first choice for the beginner/ new home grower.

    There are several factors to keep in mind when growing Phalaenopsis orchids. Following these 'steps' will help insure you have success with this very beautiful, long lasting bloomer. Let me preface all of my advice on growing your phalaenopsis orchid by saying that I speak from experience as a home grower who has grown commercially as well. These steps work for me. Your conditions can and will effect your plants health.

    First: LIGHT Requirements.
    There are many different versions of how much lights phals need. If you do a search online you can find several. Here is what I have learned. Phalaenopsis do grow in lower light conditions. Their necessary light level requirement for growth is between 1K and 2K foot candles of full spectrum light. Measuring light levels can be a complicated task. If you are a photographer or know how to read a light meter, you are ahead of the game, but even us amateurs who have little knowledge of technical gadgets like light meters can judge light levels by observation. Here is how. First, place your Phal in an east or south window. (If using a south window, be sure to have some sheers or some way to filter the strong afternoon light.) The foliage of your Phal will tell you what it likes. If the leaves appear yellow-green, the light is correct and you will get blooms when the plant is mature enough to bloom. If the foliage appears dark green (beautiful forest green or darker) or your new leaves appear to be growing longer and more narrow than the old leaves, then you need to increase the light because it is too low - falling below the 1K foot candle mark. IF you grow African violets, you can probably grow them in this location! Phals require just a bit more light to bloom.

    SO, to recap: East or South window (filtered light). If leaf color is yellow-green, you are doing great. If the color gets dark green or new growth is longer and more narrow, increase light levels. Techno-experts with light meters: 1000 to 1800 foot candles are the best growing range for these frequent and long-lasting bloomers.

    Next, TEMPERATURE Requirements:
    Phals like moderate temps just like you and me. On average Phalaenopsis grow well in temps ranging from 60 degrees F to 85 degrees F. Most homes have a normal temperature around 76 but realize this varies. Some go cooler to around 72 while some keep their home a bit warmer 78. This full range is FINE for growing your phalaenopsis orchid. Something to keep in mind though is that some phals require a temp drop of at least 10 degrees F. to initiate a bloom spike. This sometimes makes growing certain phalaenopsis orchids difficult for beginning growers. NO WORRIES, I can help with the temp drop. Did you know that on average there is a significant difference in the temperature as you get closer to your window? Check the temperature at the window sill in the winter months. You don't want your orchid to go much below 59 degrees. If the window sill gets colder than this, you will want to move your orchid more into your home to keep it above 65 degrees. Allowing orchids that need the temp drop to go down to 60 degrees in the late fall early winter can initiate spikes, but be aware that too much cold can damage your healthy plant. IF you have a Phal that requires a winter cool down, you will know because about two to three weeks after letting your plant get down to around 60 degrees F. you will see the start of the bloom spike.

    Quick recap: Temp range of 60-85 degrees during growing season. Don't let the Phal get below 59 degrees or you are putting it in danger. Be sure to check you window sill temps during the winter months to ensure the best possible temps for your Phal.

    Next step, HUMIDITY Requirements:
    Phalaenopsis orchids require humidity levels of 50% or higher to grow happily. The typical home has about a 35% humidity level depending on the time of the year. This is a problem for home growers. A quick and easy fix would appear to be misting your orchid. WRONG! Misting can cause leaf damage and sometimes disease if there is not proper air movement. No, the best solution to the humidity challenge is a pebble tray. Most orchids that are epiphytes like their roots to get wet and dry off. You want to avoid setting your orchid plant directly in water, so the rock tray (pebble tray) is a good solution. Here is how it works. Take a shallow pan (pie pan or baking sheet that is not too deep - around 1/2 inch max depth) and fill with attractive pebbles or gravel or glass beads (suit your home decor). Then, constantly keep the water level in the tray filled. Your orchid's pot should sit on the gravel, but not touch the water. This creates a mini-humid environment around your orchid. The constant evaporation of water into the air around your plant will make your Phal very happy!

    A note about watering your orchid: Depending on the potting media your orchid is living in, the pot size, the amount of humidity you are able to supply, heck, even the time of the year, your watering routine will change. Without a doubt, over watering or lack of water kills more orchids grown in the home than just about anything else. So, how do phals like to be watered? Like all epiphytic orchids, phalaenopsis orchids like to have their roots soaked and then dry off before the day is over. Orchids growing in their native locations often get rain every day, but then the sun and wind dry the roots off almost immediately allowing for lots of humidity and great growing environments. In our homes, things work differently. Here is a suggested way to water: First, soak the entire media with fresh, clean water by running water through the pot for several minutes. This removes bad salts that fertilizers cause and also allows your orchids roots to 'open' and accept the moisture. Next, place the pot so that it can drain completely and easily. Never put the pot on a dish that will allow water to stand in the base of the pot. Just leave the pot in your sink or dish drainer for around 30 - 40 minutes while you are doing something else. Then return your orchid to its proper location on the humidity tray.

    How often should I water my Phalaenopsis Orchid? Here is how to tell. Because of the factors mentioned above, watering will be different for everyone's conditions. This part, however, will not change. When you water your Phal and get the media good and wet, feel the weight of the pot. After three days or so, go and pick up the orchid and pot and feel the weight now. Does the weight feel much lighter? If so, do this: Wiggle your finger down into the media and see if you feel moisture. If you do not, it is time to water, if you do, sit the orchid down and check it the next morning. You will get into a routine and will soon be able to know when your orchid will need water. This does change with the seasons, but you will be a pro at it soon enough.

    If your orchid is potted in a spag or peat media, instead of using your finger, it might be easier to use a toothpick or pencil to test the moisture.

    Next step, FERTILIZING Requirements:
    Feeding your orchid seems to be the one area people who care for plants seem to overlook. In their native growing places, orchids get their food from the rain water running over their roots. This rain has picked up nourishment from the surfaces of the rocks or trees, etc where the orchids are growing. Orchids grown in a pot do not have this luxury. You must add food to their water in order for the plant to grow and produce healthy, beautiful blooms.

    Here is how: My motto is to feed/fertilize your orchid 'weakly - weekly'. The best way to do this is to follow these simple steps: 1. mix your orchid food (balanced fertilizer) to 1/4 the strength recommended on the packaging. 2. Soak your orchid's media really well and let it drain for a couple of minutes. Then pour the fertilizer-water through the media. ALWAYS avoid getting water and or fertilizer into the crown of your plant (place where leaves grow from). This can cause rot and kill you Phal very quickly. 3. Allow the fertilizer-water to drain completely before placing plant back on pebble tray. 4. Repeat this exercise every other time you water. So, water one time, water-feed the next time, then water only the next time. Running water through your orchid's media during the regular water time will remove salt build-ups caused by the fertilizer. This is important so that you do not damage (burn) your orchid’s roots. Imagine what salt would feel like next to your skin. Flush out the pot!

    Final step, AIR MOVEMENT Requirements:
    Your orchid needs constant air movement. This is very important to healthy plant development and preventing disease. DO NOT however place your orchid under an air-conditioning vent or other such device. Air-conditioning removes humidity from the air and will actually damage your plant. Do place a fan near your orchids on low. The air should constantly be moving, not fast or harsh, but gently. This will keep your orchid very happy and also animate your blooms. You will see them swaying gently in the wind and this will make them even more pleasing to the eye.

    Your plant's potting media will play an important role in air quality. The plant should be in a media that allows air to move around the roots. Large rocks or foam peanuts mixed into the media will help by allowing air pockets inside the potting media. This will allow your orchid's roots to dry off easily and prevent damage to the velamen (spongy covering on roots). This velamen should become greenish when watered and should turn white or grey when it is time to water again.

    I hope you found this article easy to understand. I am happy to answer questions to, just PM me here at the RVO OrchidTalk Orchid Forums.


    Learn more about growing your Phalaenopsis Orchid at the OrchidTalk Orchid Forum!
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