Orchids have a reputation for being finicky and downright scary plants to grow. But the truth is, many types are easy to care for. The most popular orchid for both beginners and experienced growers is the phalaenopsis or “moth orchid.” Not only is it readily available online, at garden centers, grocery stores, and home improvement retailers, it’s available in a multitude of colors and patterns.
It won’t take you long to fall in love with your new phalaenopsis orchid!
You just purchased your new orchid, now you need to get it home safely. Keep it stable and secure so that any abrupt stops don't topple it. If you don't have a passenger to hold it, place the orchid and its container in a clay pot, then gently wrap the plant with tissue paper, and lay it on its side.
Put the phalaenopsis in a box or cooler, surround it with styrofoam pieces, and buckle the entire box into a seat belt. Never transport it in the trunk.
Once your new phalaenopsis stops flowering, it’s safe to replant it for the first time. A clear plastic pot allows the roots to absorb sunlight. Drainage holes prevent waterlogged roots. Place a layer of bark and sphagnum moss orchid medium in the bottom. Set the phalaenopsis into the pot, roots first.
The leaves of the plant should be slightly above the rim of the pot, but not touching it. Add stakes to stabilize the orchid.
The moth orchid prefers low-light conditions, but not shade. Unfiltered, bright light can turn the leaves yellow, while direct sun leads to sunburn. However, if there’s not enough light, the phalaenopsis’ leaves will turn a much darker shade of green and the plant won’t bloom.
An east-facing, shaded window is the best spot for your orchid, or if you don’t have a suitable window, try placing the plant under a fluorescent light.
A phalaenopsis has no water-storage organs, so it should never dry out completely. Soak the plant thoroughly — preferably in the morning — but don’t make the mistake of misting the plant and getting water on the leaves or blooms. Wait until the top two inches of the medium feel dry to the touch before watering again. In super-dry conditions, check your phalaenopsis daily.
Phalaenopsis orchids prefer humidity levels between 50% and 80%. Increase your plant’s humidity levels by placing the pot on a tray of gravel you’ve filled with just enough water to ensure the pot isn’t immersed. For overly humid conditions, such as in a greenhouse, make sure the air is circulating to prevent plant rot.
If your phalaenopsis sits in a bark-type orchid medium, fertilize it twice a month with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 30-10-10. A balanced fertilizer works well in other growing mediums. For more flowers, use a high-phosphorus fertilizer, like 10-30-20.
During warm, humid conditions, you can feed it with every watering, but use quarter-strength fertilizer. As the temperatures cool, apply a weak fertilizer twice per month.
Most phalaenopsis orchids bloom for several months, then again after a resting period of between six and nine months. Not all orchid growers agree on the best way to prune the phalaenopsis.
Some suggest cutting the stem above the third or fourth node to encourage new growth from upper nodes. Others say cutting the stem about an inch away from the stalk and removing any yellow or brown spots as well is better for the long-term health of the plant.
If you’re seeing white roots emerging through the spaces in your container, your phalaenopsis is telling you that it’s time for a larger pot. While it’s true that orchids perform better when they’re a bit pot-bound, orchid mediums break down over time and compact around the roots, which can cause root rot. Change out the medium every six months and repot your orchid into a slightly larger container every one to two years.
Moth orchids grow small, baby orchids along the stem, at the nodes. Use these tiny plantlets, called keikis, to grow new plants. Choose those that have two to three leaves and two to three-inch roots. Cut the connection between the parent plant and the keiki with a sharp knife, then repot it. Orchids are susceptible to infection, so disinfect any instruments you use.
Gray mold, late blight, and powdery mildew are just a few of the common fungal diseases for orchids. Using a fungicide and changing out the medium usually ends the problem.
More than 30 bacterial viruses attack orchids as well, but these infections aren’t curable. Cymbidium mosaic and odontoglossum ringspot viruses are the most common. If an infected plant is near other orchids, it can spread the virus, so isolate it or dispose of it.
The fast-producing aphid, tiny green or red spider mites, yellow scale, moth-like whiteflies, or pulp-eating mealybugs love to feed on the phalaenopsis orchid. Check frequently for infestations and isolate infected plants.
Insecticidal soaps are an effective method of getting rid of most pests, although some issues require more extensive treatment.
Most phalaenopsis varieties have colorful flowers that emerge from one or two curved branches, which adds an exotic vibe to your decor. Place yours in a decorative pot or add it to a terrarium.
Orchids are epiphytes, a group of plants that don’t need soil. They latch onto a tree but live off the moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere. You can recreate this natural-world partnership at home by mounting a mini phalaenopsis to a piece of driftwood or anything with a craggy surface.
If you like the idea of an epiphyte like the phalaenopsis orchid, there are others that you’ll enjoy. Asplenium is an evergreen fern species with similar growing conditions. It makes a beautiful houseplant or an attractive addition to outdoor rock gardens.
If you’re more of a succulent fan, consider an epiphytic cacti. Many varieties feature bright colors and some grow flowers. Unlike regular cacti, they aren’t prickly.
The phalaenopsis orchid is a safe plant to have around the house, even if you have children. Pet owners will be happy to hear they are not toxic to dogs or cats, either. Plus, the flowers and leaves are edible! Bite down on an orchid petal and you’ll experience a fresh, crispy taste similar to watercress or cucumbers.
Many — but not all — species of phalaenopsis orchids emit a lovely scent, ranging from citrus to musk, cinnamon, and rose fragrances. But it’s the massive array of colors that capture most people’s attention.