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Phalaenopsis Orchid Care Guide

If you’ve received a Phalaenopsis orchid, you’re in luck. Known as “the beginner’s orchid” due to its hardiness and ability to withstand conditions inside the typical American home, the Phalaenopsis has become the most popular orchid in the United States. While this guide provides specific tips for Phalaenopsis orchids care, make sure to review Orchid Care Guide for All Types which provides general orchid care instructions, most of which are critical to Phalaenopsis health.

These quick tips are followed by more in-depth information about pruning and propagating Phalaenopsis orchids as well as specific care instructions for each phase of its life cycle.

Light: Medium to bright (indirect) light. Avoid direct sunlight, as leaves burn easily. If leaves turn yellow or splotchy, plant is getting too much light.

Temperature: Day: 68-85° F; Night: 65–75°F. Plant should have even temperature if possible, especially when in bud. Chilly temperatures or drafty areas can cause flowers and buds to drop.

Water: Water Phalaenopsis about once a week: it’s best to allow potting mix to almost dry out between watering. Check the medium with your finger - if you feel moisture do not water. Do not let stand in water.

Fertilizer: When your orchid is blooming, fertilizer is not needed. If you want to fertilize, we recommend a balanced fertilizer like 12-12-12 or similar ratio. Apply Phalaenopsis fertilizer at one-quarter strength with every other watering. When blooming is desired, a high phosphorus fertilizer (such as 10-30-20) can be applied to promote blooming.

Growth: Orchids can double in size in a year with the correct growing conditions

Blooming: Blooms last from a few weeks to 3 months, and re-bloom in cool temps up to 3 times a year. Phalaenopsis blooms from January through May.

Planting Outside: Only in subtropical climates

Phalaenopsis Orchid Care Throughout Its Life Cycle

Those new to orchids who receive them as gifts can become frustrated when, after the blooming and growing phase of the Phalaenopsis’ life cycle, it seems to die. Not only do the flowers drop, but the stem fades and starts to rot. By fall, it’s clear the leaves aren’t growing at all. The Phalaenopsis has entered its dormant period, gathering energy to produce a spike and a new bloom in winter. At this point, enjoy the Phalaenopsis as a green plant and it will reward your patience with a new bloom.

The life cycle of the Phalaenopsis orchid includes:

  • Flowering Phase: late Fall to Winter in the northern hemisphere, keeping its blooms until Spring
  • Growing Phase: late Fall through Summer
  • Dormancy: Fall

Flowering Phase Care — January – May

What’s happening: Typically, households acquire Phalaenopsis while they are in bloom. With abundant filtered light and enough humidity, the Phalaenopsis will bloom for two months.

What to do: Unlike the Cymbidium, there is no need to fertilize a Phalaenopsis when it is blooming. Consider putting plant on a humidity tray (cookie sheet lined with pebble and filled with water) or spritzing daily in the morning.

Growing Phase (Post-Bloom) Care – June - September

What’s happening: The blooms die, but the leaves grow to gather energy for the plant to create a new bloom the next winter.

What to do: Once the bloom dies, owners have two choices: cut the stem down to the surface of the leaves or cut it only half way down. Those who cut the stem all the way allow the plant to focus on rebuilding roots and leaves which support the next winter bloom. Those who cut the stem only half way hope to get another bloom from the plant before winter. Some growers have gotten three blooms each year from their Phals. While this can work, it depletes the energy in the rhizomes (roots), impeding another winter bloom. Orchids that have been “forced” to bloom like this may have to rest for a year to replenish the energy needed to bloom again.

Fertilize with high nitrogen (30-10-10) fertilizer twice a month. Keep potting medium moist but not soaking.

Care of Phalaenopsis Orchids When Dormant – Sept - January

What’s happening: Orchids’ leaves stop growing so that plant energy can focus on roots instead.

What to do: When fall rolls around, give your orchid a rest by putting it in a cooler room with lower light. Without a cooler, dry rest, it may not bloom again. Putting the plant by a north-facing window with no direct sun for one to two months works well. If after six weeks no new stem has started, consider putting the orchid in to a room that remains below 60°F to “force” a new stem and use a high phosphorous (10-30-20) fertilizer to promote blooming in January. The orchid needs to get some inkling that winter has come and gone. When the new stem begins, return the orchid to the warmer area.

Repotting Phalaenopsis

What’s happening: When pots become root-bound and potting medium seems to have broken down, plants need more room and a fresh start, often every 18 to 24 months. The best indicator may be that cramped: non-aerial roots growing out of the potting mix.

What to do: Plants should be re-potted with new sphagnum moss or other Phalaenopsis potting mix. Choose a pot just one inch wider. Be sure to use lightly moistened, but not soggy, moss when re-potting.

Materials: medium fir bark; sharp, sterilized scissors or secateurs; pot just one inch larger than original (“over-potting” can reduce bloom initiation and growth);. Because the Phalaenopsis is an epiphyte, use a clay pot that allows for air transmission. You may even want to consider pots with holes like those in the illustration here.

  1. Gently pull the orchid from the pot and shake loose the remaining potting mix.
  2. Trim any dead or rotting roots.
  3. Pile a cone of potting mix in the bottom of the new pot and drape roots over that.
  4. Fill in with potting mix. The base of the bottom leaf should be at the surface of the medium.
  5. Water sparingly until new roots start. Wait one month before fertilizing.

Propagating the Phalaenopsis

Like the Dendrobium, the Phalaenopsis’ stem is studded with nodes. It’s from these nodes that new plants grow. While they can begin to grow spontaneously, some growers use Keiki Paste, a cytokinin hormone which induces growth in the node of a phalaenopsis. Others “force” the Phalaenopsis to produce keikis (“babies” in Hawaiian). To propagate follow these steps:

  1. Wait until the last bloom has fallen from the stem in the spring.
  2. Cut the top of the stem with a sharp blade.
  3. Put the plant in a cool room with less light.
  4. Leaves and buds will emerge from the node. Move back to room with more light.
  5. Slice keikis from stem once their roots reach two to three inches.
  6. Pot keikis.

Phalaenopsis Outdoors

Unless you live in a tropical area, keep Phalaenopsis indoors in warm, humid conditions.

Phalaenopsis - Native to the Tropics

In the Phalaenopsis’ case, spending millions of years adapting and changing in the rain forests of South America and South Asia makes it partial to warm temperatures, exposed roots and filtered light.

They grow as epiphytes on the sides of trees with the average high temperatures reaching 95° and evening cool temperatures at 75°. No wonder they do well in Hawaii! Phalaenopsis should never experience temperatures under 60°.

While one may think that a tropical rain forest flower must be accustomed to buckets of water, the Phalaenopsis is an epiphyte, which means that it grows from the trunk of a tree rather than soil. With no soil to provide moisture, the Phalaenopsis became adept at drawing water from the humidity in the air. If Phalaenopsis care seems baffling sometimes, keep in mind that it’s a Southern Hemisphere plant. Keep these guidelines close to stay on track with season-appropriate care.

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