Perhaps you’ve been gifted with a phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, or you couldn’t resist its beautiful blooms and purchased one at the supermarket or florist. Don’t be daunted by the notion that orchids are difficult to look after — phalaenopsis are among the easiest houseplants to care for, and yes, they can bloom again!
Phalaenopsis orchids prefer indirect light for best health. Southern exposures may provide too much light and heat, potentially scorching the leaves. Leaf color will indicate if the light levels are appropriate for your orchid: if the leaves darken significantly, move the plant into more sunlight. Too much light will cause the leaves to turn red.
Phalaenopsis orchids are agreeable houseplants, preferring a temperature range between 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. They are not tolerant of cold, so keep them out of drafty areas and away from chilly windowsills in the wintertime.
Phalaenopsis orchids should be watered once a week, although factors such as heat, humidity, and light may affect your plant’s watering schedule. Planting medium may also make a difference: orchids planted in bark will dry out faster than those grown in moss. Never overwater, or allow your orchid to dry out completely between waterings.
Do not water orchids from above, which may encourage bacterial rot. Watering in the morning will decrease the risk of infection. Place the pot in a bowl of lukewarm water and allow the plant’s roots to soak up what they need. Drain off any excess water before placing the pot back in its saucer. Orchids will not tolerate boggy conditions, so do not let your plant sit in water for long periods of time.
Orchids need a regular, year-round feeding schedule to look their best. A balanced houseplant or orchid fertilizer is suitable. Purchase a water-soluble formula, but do not mix it at full strength. A weak solution given three times a month during watering is sufficient.
Phalaenopsis orchids love a humid environment. If the air in your house is dry, you can create a little moisturizing “spa” for your orchid. Place a layer of small pebbles in a saucer and pour a small amount of water over them. Do not cover the stones completely with water. Set the pot of your orchid on top of the stones. The plant should never rest in standing water; instead, it will absorb the offered humidity. Running a humidifier, particularly in the winter, will result in more comfortable levels for both you and your orchid!
Phalaenopsis orchids should be repotted every two years. It may be necessary to repot your plant sooner if the planting media has started to break down. The key to successfully repotting your orchid is to minimize damage to living root tissue, so use care when removing your plant from its old medium. Any dried, shriveled roots can be removed as you pull away all the crumbling bark and moss. Remember that orchids do not like spacious pots, so the new pot should be only slightly larger than the one the plant came out of. Position the plant in the pot, supported by a commercially-available orchid medium (usually composed of bark, perlite, peat, and moss). Don’t worry if some of the orchid’s roots stick out of the medium — phalaenopsis are epiphytic and in nature, grow fully exposed to air. Water the plant before returning it to the windowsill.
How to get your phalaenopsis orchid to bloom again
Once your orchid has stopped blooming, you should remove the flower stalk to allow the plant to renew its energy reserves. The stalk may be cut off at leaf level, which will promote large blooms in about a year. Use a sharp knife or a pair of scissors with long blades. Never forcibly pull the stalk away from the plant, which could cause damage to the crown. You can try to speed up the blooming process by removing just a portion of the flower stalk, leaving at least two nodes (ridges) on the stem. Small flowers may emerge from one of the nodes within two or three months.
You can encourage your phalaenopsis orchid to rebloom by putting it into a cooler environment. Temperatures lowered by ten degrees Fahrenheit at nighttime may be enough to trigger the growth of a bloom spike. During this “cold” treatment, your orchid will still need regular feeding and watering, and indirect sunlight during the day.
Once your flower stem begins to emerge, don’t forget to support it with a stake — orchid flowers are heavy and will flop over if left unaided.
With minimal care, your healthy phalaenopsis orchid will reward you with gorgeous blooms for years to come!
Sheryl Normandeau, BA, is a Master Gardener and writer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her articles and short stories have appeared in several international publications. She is the co-author (with Janet Melrose) of the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series.