Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid Care
Moth Orchids. Have you ever wondered how they got their name?
If you look straight on at the fully opened bloom, it resembles the outline of a moth’s out spread wings. Pretty cool, huh?! Phalaenopsis (pronounced fa-luh-nop-suhs) is the botanical name for Moth Orchids. This genus name comes from the Greek words phalaina meaning "moth" and opsis meaning "like". Phalaenopsis is a genus of around 45 species of mainly epiphytic orchids native to India, southern China, and Southeast Asia. Phalaenopsis are among the most popular orchids sold as potted plants. The Victorians, who were obsessed with orchids, started their collections with this gorgeous plant.
Take good care of your Moth Orchids by following these steps:
1) Grow in a very bright light. East or west facing windows are normally ideal for orchids because the sun bathes those locations with sunlight, but not for all day long. You have to be careful where you place them because too much sun can cause leaf burn, too little and your plant won’t have the energy to create its beautiful blooms! So how do you determine if your Phalaenopsis gets enough sunlight? 6-8 hours of direct sunlight is considered Full Sun (this is too much for most orchids). In the ideal location, the lighting will be very bright as long as the sun shines, but never receives more direct sun than those 6 hours. You should also avoid dark corners and remember that the farther you get from a window, the less intense and bright the light becomes. So, watch the sun and follow its path as it shines during the day. Then grace that area with your precious Phalaenopsis.
2) All orchids are happiest with a humidity level of 60%-70%. That’s a lot, but as an epiphytic plant, access to too much water by the roots and the plant WILL DIE!Epiphytes (example: orchids, air plants, moss...) choose to pull all that they need from the air and only need a pot as an anchor to hold them in one place. You can provide this air moisture by using a humidifier or a tray of moistened pebbles under the plant. When using a tray of pebbles, remember to keep an eye on the moisture and never let them go dry. When the pebbles go dry, the evaporation process stops and the humidity level will drop. Also, never allow the tray to be so wet that a large amount of water forms in the tray and your Phalaenopsis sits in water. Most people find it difficult to create such high humidity indoors, and if so, you will need to opt for a watering schedule. When you water, use just enough to moisten the potting media and ensure that any excess water has a route to exit the pot. orchids are not fond of “wet feet” so when picking out a pot, always be sure to choose one that has good drainage holes.
3) Fertilize Moth Orchids only when they are not blooming. You can use a premixed orchid fertilizer or an all-purpose food. All orchid fertilizers should be ready for an immediate application, but if you decide to use an all-purpose, mix it to only half the recommended dosage. Too much fertilizer will be more harmful to an orchid than not quite enough. Then, as soon as you see bud stems growing, STOP applying fertilizer.
4) Grown indoors for the winter, many orchids will thrive when given the opportunity for a “summer vacation” outdoors. Our warm, humid summers are perfect conditions for Phalaenopsis. Outside, an epiphyte can utilize all the beautiful conditions and ingredients it can gather from some fresh air. Just make sure that your plant is in the perfect place, out of the hot summer sun and protected from strong winds and rains. A good way to know that your orchid’s vacation spot is perfect will be to follow the instructions above for lighting. And remember to bring the orchid home after vacation season is over! Once temperatures start reaching 60 degrees at night, you should bring your orchid back to its home indoors.
5) Repotting will be useful to keep you Phalaenopsis at peak performance level. After a while, all potting mixes break down and need replacing. This is also a good time to move to a larger pot if needed. A larger pot for orchid, though, is only something slightly bigger than it is already in. A good rule of thumb is adding no more room than half to a full inch of extra space. Young, hearty, fast growing plants may need a repotting every year or two. If the pot size is adequate and not much growth has been seen, a simple refreshing of the potting media every year or two can be done instead of a full repotting. When repotting Phalaenopsis, NEVER use potting soil! Potting soil acts as a sponge, soaking up as much water as it can and does not breathe and drain enough for most orchids. For potting media, use an Orchid Mix which will normally consist of coarse bark pieces and maybe some horticultural charcoal.
6) Blooming flower spikes will appear near the base of each leaf. Your first sign of buds will be a light green stem protruding from the grooves between the leaves. The flower “spike”, as it is called, can take some time to mature, so be patient. It can take a few months for the stem to fully mature until the buds finally swell and open to greet your longing eyes. Showy flattened flowers, each 3-6” wide, appear in long sprays on arching stems in an array of colors including white, cream, light yellow and shades from purple to pink. The blooms can last anywhere up to 4 months long! Some varieties will grow as large as 3’ tall when in bloom. As long as your growing conditions are optimal, Moth Orchids can bloom as often as once a year to even more frequently. You can even try forcing bloom periods. After letting your orchid rest for about a year after blooming, control the daytime temperatures to stay below 80 degrees. Night time temperatures don’t seem to make as much of an effect on bloom period, but decreasing day temperatures can influence flowering.
Moth Orchids are not known for being problem children, but sometimes difficulties arise. The most common pests to plague Phalaenopsis are Scale insects (both Mealybugs and other Scales). Identifying these can be easy if you are very attentive and notice any changes in the health and appearance of your plant. Scales look exactly as they sound. They look like little brown or black bumps/scales anywhere on the plant. Mealybugs do look a little different, though. They look like tiny, round, fuzzy, white bits of cotton. Purging your plant of these pests requires an insecticide or a horticultural oil. When spraying, make sure to spray heavily and evenly anywhere you see evidence of these bugs.
Very few plants can boast the tropical beauty of the Moth Orchid. Following these instructions will ensure a bright and beautiful future for your orchids.