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The Phalaenopsis orchid (Moth orchid)

The Phalaenopsis or the elegant Moth orchid is one of the most beautiful with fleshy leaves and flowers in a huge range of colors. The Phalaenopsis orchid is becoming more and more popular as a houseplant due to their ease of culture and to their beautiful, long-lasting flowers. Modern Phalaenopsis orchid hybrids are very colorful and some are fragrant as well. The wedding favorites are large white Phalaenopsis orchid flowers with yellow in the lip. For all of these, the orchid flowers will last for several months with the proper care. The Phalaenopsis orchid originated from the jungles of South Asia, Southeast Asia, as well as East Asia.

Cultivation

Growing Phalaenopsis orchid plants is very easy and Phalaenopsis has beautiful orchid flowers of vivid colors including white, pink, lavender and yellow. The blooms open along a long orchid flower spike that is sometimes two feet in length. The Phalaenopsis orchid is odorless and may produce up to 15 or more orchid flowers per spike. The Phalaenopsisflowers measure up to four inches, are long lasting with individual blooms, may remain open for six weeks or longer. The Phalaenopsis orchid boasts long arching sprays of flowers and it sort of resembles a flight of pale moths in moonlight hence this particular orchid plant named the Moth Orchid. The most popular colors are the soft whites with yellow or red lips, and the glowing pinks and blushes. The other flower shades of this orchid are deep red, vibrant orange and spotted and striped.

Temperature

The ideal temperature range that Phalaenopsis orchid plants require to thrive is between 15 and 30° Celsius (59 and 86° Fahrenheit). The Phalaenopsis orchid normally flower once each year, initiating the new bloom spike in autumn and flowering during mid-winter. A drop in temperature at night for at least a few days in early autumn usually encourages the flower spikes to develop sooner. Often a secondary orchid flower spike will form after the first has finished blooming. To effect secondary orchid flowers you will need to leave the old bloom spike on the plant.

Light

Phalaenopsis orchids or moth orchids do not tolerate high levels of light. In fact any direct sunshine will burn and even scorch the Phalaenopsis orchid plant and severely mark the succulent parts of the Phalaenopsis orchid plant to such an extent that it will inhibit growth and stop the orchid from properly transporting nutrients to the leaves. Phalaenopsis orchids will do best with bright light, but indirect sunlight. If you are growing orchids indoors, especially the Phalaenopsis orchid, then you should place the orchid near a sunny window. Other orchid species such as the Cattleya orchids, the Cymbidium orchids and the Vanda orchids require much more light. And do avoid cold or warm drafts, especially drafts that result from open windows or heat vents.

Water and humidity

The Phalaenopsis orchid should be watered regularly, allowing the medium in which the orchid plant is growing to become almost dry before watering again. If you have your Phalaenopsis orchid indoors then you should consider watering your orchid plant every three days in summer and only once every two weeks over winter. (Tip: Take care not to over-water or over-feed the Phalaenopsis orchid as it might result in death of your orchid plant.)

The Phalaenopsis orchid is capable of surviving without water provided that humidity levels are maintained. After the plants are watered, they should be placed so that the pots do not stand in water. Some people like to place the pots on "humidity trays" or in trays or saucers of gravel. This helps to insure that the base of the pot is not immersed in water and provides some air circulation under the pot. (Tip: Water your Phalaenopsis orchid in the early morning so that excess water can evaporate before nightfall.)

Feeding

The Phalaenopsis orchid is not a heavy feeder, unlike some of the other orchid species. In fact growing Phalaenopsis orchids is quite easy. It is best to provide the Phalaenopsis orchid with regular applications of the orchid fertilizer. BUT remember to apply the fertilizer at half the recommended strength only. With high nitrogen-based orchid fertilizer it is best to apply the fertilizer during spring followed by applications of general fertilizer throughout summer and a bloom booster type of fertilizer in autumn. And in winter use the general type of fertilizer.

Pests and Diseases

The Phalaenopsis orchid can fall prey to diseases such as mealy bug and pests such as scale insects. The best way to treat your Phalaenopsis orchid, when it falls prey to these conditions is to deal with it as soon as you detect these afflictions. The first action to take is to isolate the infected plant as this is essential because all bacterial and fungal orchid diseases can spread amongst your orchids by the most simplest of ways such as the splashing of water. You can detect these afflictions as it is manifested as blackened blistering on the orchid plant leaves. After isolating the infected Phalaenopsis orchid, keep it drier than usual and avoid getting water on the leaves (Tip: No misting during this period).

Black honey mould which is usually dull, black and mossy can also build up, but fortunately it can be wiped off the orchid plant making use of a damp cloth and a very mild detergent.

Potting mix and Repotting

The Phalaenopsis orchid is epiphytic, but they have adapted to such an extent that one can grow Phalaenopsis orchids as pot plants. Potting of the Phalaenopsis orchid is best done in late spring or early summer after blooming has completed on an annual basis. The roots of the Phalaenopsis orchid has developed to such an extent that once they are satisfied that there is enough space and support inside a pot; they will extend their aerial roots. The plants must be potted in quick draining potting mix. The potting mix is best if it consists of a very open mix of medium sized bark and perlite. Alternatively you can also make Phalaenopsis orchid potting mix out of a mix of expanded clay, some sphagnum moss and tree-fern fiber. Do however keep in mind that any potting mix will eventually become sour as it deteriorates. This is normally manifested visibly by the Phalaenopsis orchid plant extending aerial root out of the pot.

Root rot will occur if Phalaenopsis plants are allowed to sit in an old, soggy medium and you need to make sure that the orchid plants are potted in quick draining potting mix. The young Phalaenopsis orchid plants should grow fast enough to warrant annual repotting. A further tip is to pot the young Phalaenopsis orchid plant in a finer grade medium to allow good root contact. Mature Phalaenopsis orchid plants are potted in a coarser medium may stay in the same pots for years, provided that medium is changed whenever signs of potting mix deterioration sets in.

The repotting procedure can be carried out as follows:

  • Remove all old medium from the roots.
  • Trim off rotted roots.
  • Spread the remaining roots over a handful of medium in a pot.
  • fill the rest of the pot with medium, working through the roots, so that the junction of the upper roots and the stem is slightly below the medium.
  • Do take care not to leave large air pockets in pots.
  • Use a stick to push the medium in between the roots.
  • Keep plants in shade and wait for one to three days before watering.

General tips for Phalaenopsis Orchid care

  • Would you want to extend the blooming season of your Phalaenopsis orchid? Then proceed as follows: count out 3 nodes (only the fleshy green nodes on your orchid plant) from the base of the spike and cut the spike one inch above the third node. If the orchid plant is healthy and it's not too late in the blooming season, this process will start up one or two of the nodes and it may produce a new spray of fresh blooms. Frequently when a spike is cut, a secondary spike will develop on the old stalk below the original orchid flower head, thus extending the blooming season of your Phalaenopsis orchid.
  • Is your Phalaenopsis orchid stressed from flowering too much? You can determine the stress level of your Phalaenopsis orchid as stress is manifested as white streaks in the orchid leaves. You can remedy the situation by removing the flowering stem and repotting the Phalaenopsis orchid plant to give it a rest.
  • They should be watered thoroughly and not watered again until the potting mix is nearly dry. The potting mix should never be allowed to dry out completely.
  • Never let water touch the flowers or stand in the centerfolds of the leaves as doing so may cause rot.
  • The Phalaenopsis orchid species demand plenty of heat and moisture. If your Phalaenopsis orchid is cultivated in too dry a climate, then the young buds will dry out and fall off. It is thus imperative to maintain humidity.
  • The Phalaenopsis orchids like bright but indirect sunlight.
  • If you make use of your Phalaenopsis orchid as a decorative orchid plant then you might consider placing a few blocks of ice in the sphagnum moss to ensure that they are kept adequately watered.