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Care Instructions for Phalaenopsis Orchids

Sonia Nair Nov 1, 2018
A common misconception about orchids is that they are difficult to grow as houseplants. Here are some tips to grow and care for Phalaenopsis orchids, which are the most popular variety and comparatively less fuzzier to nurture.
Nowadays, orchids have emerged as the most sought-after flowers and they are widely used for ornamental as well as commercial purposes.
Orchids are flowering plants of the family Orchidaceae. It has 880 genera and 22,000 species. Phalaenopsis is one genus, which has 60 species of orchids. These are also called 'moth orchids', as their flowers resemble moths in flight. Phalaenopsis orchids are considered one of the most popular orchids, as they can be grown at home unlike their counterparts.

Phalaenopsis Orchids

These orchids are natives of southeast Asia, Philippines and Australia.
These plants are usually found adhered to trees or rocks in deep forests. They have broad, flat succulent leaves and long arching stems with flowers.
Usually, a plant has five to ten green leaves, and roots which are white. Some species have long stems and big round flowers that usually appear during late winter and early spring.
There are also species with short stems and flowers in flashy colors. Apart from these, there are a large number of hybrids more adapted to the artificial conditions than their natural habitat. An important factor owing to the popularity of this orchid is that its flowers may last up to three months. Some varieties can bear flowers throughout the year.

Purchasing Tips

Phalaenopsis orchids are available in different sizes and forms. You can go in for potted ones, with or without flowers.
Smaller versions without flowers are available at cheaper rates. These can be in individual or community pots. Community pots contain more seedlings, which can flower within two years, if they are properly taken care of.
Seedlings of this plant are also available in flasks, in which the seeds are sown. Once they are brought outside the flask, the size of the plant depends upon the leaf span. Normally, a plant with a leaf span of eight inches or above is considered a flowering one, but some species can flower even when their leaf span is just four inches.
It is advisable to choose plants with firm (white or silvery) roots, and fleshy leaves without blemishes. A plant with more strong and live roots is good. It should be free of bugs and pests. Buying a plant with flowers is advantageous, as you will know the color and design of the flower, beforehand.
Always go for plants with some buds along with flowers. The buds will help you to judge the lifespan of flowers. The spike should be strong and the flowers should be free of unnatural spots.
The medium used for growing these orchids must not retain moisture. It must also offer some air circulation around the roots. A combination of sphagnum moss with medium fir bark or lava rock is generally used for this purpose. You may also opt for fir bark combined with a small amount of charcoal and perlite.

Lighting and Temperature Requirement

Phalaenopsis orchids need bright light to grow well, but direct sunlight is not advisable. An indoor location with plenty of indirect sunlight will do. You can go for artificial lights too. Such lights should be kept one foot above the plant and should be lit for at least 12 to 16 hours daily.
In case of a greenhouse, you should select a heavy shade cloth, especially for the summer season. Insufficient light is one of the reasons for this plant to stop flowering.
The orchids need a day temperature of 18-29 degree Celsius and night temperature of 13-18 degree Celsius. During fall, the temperature should be below 16 degree Celsius for three weeks to allow flower spike formation. Frequent fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause dropping of buds. Very low temperatures are not good as they may stop flowering.

Humidity and Watering

50% to 80% relative humidity is perfect for Phalaenopsis orchids. If the humidity is lower, you can resort to misting, but it may sometimes lead to fungal diseases.
The other remedy is to keep the plant in a bowl filled with gravel or pebbles, and partially filled with water. You need to make sure that the container in which the plant is potted is kept above water and does not touch it.
Watering these plants is important, and should be done very carefully. In the summer season, you can water the plant in every two to three days, whereas in winter, it should be done in every ten days (If the heater is working during winter, the humidity level will be lower). The best time for watering is before noon, as the leaves will dry till night.
Water clogging can lead to the decaying of leaves. Hence, it is best to water the plant in accordance with the season, taking into consideration, the water requirement and medium used. Once watered, you should wait till the medium is semi-dry (before watering again). Use of softened water is not good for this plant.

Fertilizers and Pesticides

Fertilizers should be used more frequently in summer, when the plant undergoes active growth. In winters, they should be fed sparingly. Always water the plant thoroughly before fertilizing. A fertilizer with a balanced formula like NPK- (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium), (14-14-14) is good for these plants.
A blooming plant formula with higher phosphorous levels is advisable during the flowering season. It is beneficial to refrain from fertilizing the plant during its flowering time. Dilute the fertilizer and use once in every two to three weeks.
These orchids sometimes attract pests like mealybugs, mites, aphids, scale and slugs, which can be removed by smearing the leaves with soap water and then cleaning it with a soft cloth. You can even use a commercial pesticide, as per the advice of a horticulturist.

Flowering Tips

The flowers of Phalaenopsis orchids usually last for up to three months. After the first flowering, you can try re-flowering by removing the whole stem. This may sometimes result in a new flowering spike, which may appear within nine months.
This method is good if the old stem is brown and the plant is weak. But, if it is green, you can cut the stem just above a node. Four to five inches of the stem should be left above that node. This can help the formation of a new spike in two to three weeks. This is one of the important aspects of after bloom care for orchids.

Phalaenopsis Orchid Repotting

Repotting can be done once in every two years. The best season for repotting is spring, i.e. after the flowering. It can also be done if the plant becomes unmanageable in a container or if the medium has disintegrated completely or if the roots are rotting.
Take out the plant from the old container, remove the medium completely and trim the rotted and dead roots. Place the new medium in a container of your choice, perhaps, a bigger one.
Spread the roots of the plant over it and add the remaining medium to the pot to fill the gaps between the roots. Fill the medium till it reaches the base of the lower most leaves of the plant. Keep the plant in shade and water it after three days.
Growing orchids is not a difficult or fussy process. If you are still confused about how to take care of Phalaenopsis orchids, you may approach a horticulturist or the local nursery authorities for some guidance. This will prove helpful, as the requirements of this orchid may vary with different species and hybrids.
You can become a proud owner of these exotic plants with colorful blooms, with some extra effort. So go ahead, get a Phalaenopsis orchid of your choice and fill your surroundings with colors!