Phalaenopsis aka Moth Orchid is a pretty orchid with flowers 2 to 3 inches in size that last for three to six months. It is easy to grow and a good choice for beginners.
Phalaenopsis like bright indirect light. Put it in an east or west window, or several feet away from a south window. Direct light will burn the leaves. If the edges of the leaves are turning red give it less light, if it is not flowering give it more light. Too little light will give you dark green leaves instead of medium green. If your phalaenopsis plants newer leaves grow long and thin your orchid needs more light. In the winter phalaenopsis does wonderful under fluorescent lights. It also makes a great office plant because it does so well under fluorescent light.
After flowering the bottom leaves will often turn yellow and fall off, this is okay if it is only the older one or two leaves. You really want the plant to keep 6 to 8 leaves on all the time.
These plants wish to stay moist, be very careful to check them frequently. Water when the top of the growing medium is dry to the touch. Do not allow them to sit in water or the roots will turn black and rot. Air roots should be green and solid. White, shriveled ones are a sign of too little water. Notice the leaves flopping on the plant below? This plant needs more water. Good healthy leaves will not flop or be wrinkled. They will support themselves and not touch the pot or planting medium as in the plant up top.
Humidity should be between 50% and 80%. You can plant these in bark but you’ll need to water them almost daily if you do. Plant them in sphagnum moss and they will go one to two weeks between watering depending on the humidity level in your home. Just about any potting medium that is loose enough to let the roots get air will do just fine. Orchids are not particular about the potting medium. Be especially careful when using moss not to pack it tightly.
Some people place a wooden skewer in the pot with the orchid. Push it in like you do the bamboo support sticks. Just leave it in the pot with a little showing so you can easily grab it. Pull the skewer out to see how dry the middle of the pot is so you know whether or not you need to water.
Be careful not to get water in the crown (fold in the top young leaves) they will rot if water is trapped in the folds or between the leaves. Often this will happen as quickly as just overnight. If you get water in the crown, use a towel or que-tip to gently dry it out.
While it is rare for phalaenopsis to recover from crown rot, occasionally one does. I plant them in sphagnum moss, water heavily and some times, especially ones with flowers, and or flower spikes still on them will grow a new crown like the one you see in the photo above.
Sometimes the blooming time can be extended. After the last bloom on the spike has faded, cut off the top of the spike, above the 3rd flower node from the bottom. Phalaenopsis will sometimes send out a second spike of flowers off the main one. If you do not cut the main spike sometimes a keiki will form. This is a baby phalaenopsis. It grows in much the same way as a baby spider plant. There are chemicals on the market to help form keikis off of stems if you are interested.
If you have managed to over water your phalaenopsis and find that all the roots are gone you can make an attempt to revive the plant. Cut off the old, dead roots. Put some rooting hormone on the edge of the leaves where the roots normally come out. Wrap this area in damp moss. Place the whole thing in a large plastic baggy. The baggy is to keep the plant in a very humid environment. Blow air in so the leaves are not touching the sides of the bag and seal. With luck new roots will appear.
Phalaenopsis grow leaves when the temperature is 78′ or higher, they send out flower spikes when the temperature goes below that.
They need less light during the warm leaf growing season than they do when they are blooming.
They need more fertilizer than most plant sites recommend, I use full strength fertilizer twice a month.
Be careful not to pack the sphagnum moss too tightly, it should be loose around the plant roots.
There are many orchids under the name dendrobium with diverse needs. You’ll want to start here and adjust your care to your plants needs.
These are medium light orchids, putting out long stalks with a dozen or so one to two inch flowers. I like the bamboo like, oriental look they have even when they are not in bloom. Many dendrobiums go through a winter dormant time. I find mine don’t grow during this period.
Dendrobiums are happy in an east or west window, but will do best in a south facing window during high growth cycles. If you do put them outdoors put them in the shade.
Dendrobiums like warm temperatures, between 65-95 so you probably don’t want to put them outdoors, except in the warmest parts of summer. Like most orchids a difference in day and night temperatures helps to encourage blooming. In most homes putting your plant on a window sill is sufficient. Otherwise you may want to summer your plants outside in the summer.
Pot them in sphagnum moss, not dirt, which can be found at most nurseries. If you use moss be careful not to pack it tightly, leave it very loose. If you plant them in bark they will need to be watered almost daily in the average home.
They like to be root bound, so only re-pot them when the roots climb out of the pot.
Water when the top of the moss feels dry. The stems will get deep groves in them if they have been under watered for too long. Water them just enough to keep the stems from getting groves. Do not leave them sitting in water. In the winter water your dendrobiums less, and if yours are they type that drop their leaves in the winter, give them only as much water as you’d give a cactus during the winter watering only when very dry.
All of the orchids need a 15′F temperature difference between day and night to initiate blooming. But I’ve found these guys will bloom in a sunny window even with out a steep temperature difference.
I recently attended a wonderful talk by local Houston designer Tony Huffman. If you get a chance to see his work, take it. Better if you can hear him talk, he is as delightful as his designs.