Caring for phalaenopsis orchids
Phalaenopsis or moth orchids are long-lived flowering pot plants that add style and grace to any indoor setting. They are available year round with flowers that last for months. The flowers are usually purple, white or a combination of both. The graceful arching flower stems grow from a small clump of wide strappy leaves.
These potted flowers are excellent gifts (if you can bear to part with them). Maybe buy two so you have one to keep! This is a gift that keeps giving. Not only do the plants flower for a long period, they keep on growing and flowering.
Don’t throw this plant away when its flowers fade. With a bit of care and luck, it can be brought back into bloom. The trick is to cut the flowered stem just below where the last flower has been. Nodes further down the spike can produce more flowers in the months ahead. If the stem doesn’t rebloom but begins to dry out, cut it off at the base. Watch for a new stem in nine to 12 months.
Lower temperatures in autumn help to stimulate the growth of flowering stems. These orchids can also be grown in a glasshouse with light shade.
Temperature and humidity needs
The key to success with phalaenopsis orchids is to give the plants a brightly lit warm spot out of direct sunlight. Although the plants need bright light, keep them away from glass, which can get cold overnight.
Also keep them away from air-conditioners and draughts. Cold conditions slow growth and can damage flowers. Their ideal temperature is 24-29 degrees C but they are happy in humid areas with temperatures up to 35 degrees C. Hot, dry conditions can cause unopened buds to drop.
To give these orchids their required humidity, stand the pot on a tray of pebbles. Fill the tray with water so the plant is in a humid zone. The pebbles keep the pot from sitting in water, which could lead to rotting or fungal problems. Mist the plant on very hot days.
Other care tips
Water regularly. These orchids do best in a free-draining mix made of coarse bark. This is available by the bag at your garden centre (look for orchid mix). Plants can be repotted every one to two years.
All orchids respond to feeding and these are no exception. Use a high-potassium liquid orchid food to encourage flowering. Apply the dilute fertiliser every two weeks or according to instructions on the container. Reduce feeding if conditions are cold.
As these plants live indoors for a long time it is important to keep them dust free. Wipe over the broad leaves with a damp cloth to remove any dust or grime.
Also watch for mealy bug, a white sap-sucking insect that feeds in the base of the plant, under leaves or that may infest the roots. Wipe away any that are seen and apply spray oil such as Eco-Oil or an insecticide registered for mealy bug. Repot and increase humidity and light levels.