Phalaenopsis Orchid Care
Where to cut the flower spike
Phalaenopsis orchids will often produce a secondary flush of flowers from a node on the inflorescence.
Of all of the more commonly available orchids, only Phalaenopsis (the moth orchid) will rebloom from its old spike. Phalaenopsis will generally re-bloom given a little extra care. When the last flower fades, you can leave the spike (stem) on and it will still continue flowering but the stem gets very ungainly and the flowers get smaller. Some people believe it is best to cut off the stem entirely at the base where it comes out of the leaves, and it will bloom again in several months. You can also cut off the stem leaving two nodes (those little brown lines on the stem below where the flowers were) on the stem. One of these nodes will then initiate and generally produce flowers within eight to 12 weeks. Younger or weaker plants may not rebloom and some Phalaenopsis orchids are genetically incapable of reblooming from the old spike. These are usually those that flower with branched spikes. It's always worth a try. Orchids, like animals, are susceptible to viruses, so whenever cutting an orchid plant always use a sterile tool to prevent the spread of virus. A straight edged razor blade is a good tool to use for cutting flower spikes.
How to water your orchid
Use a pencil or wooden skewer to determine whether an orchid needs to be watered.
Avoid overwatering which leads to the demise of many more orchids than underwatering. Constant wetness will cause the roots to rot, which leaves the plant without a means for taking up nourishment which then causes the leaves to droop and will eventually kill the plant. The classic advice is to water the day before the plant dries out. If you have to let the plant go dry to figure out what a dry plant weighs, it will not kill the plant and will make you a better grower. Another measure is to use the pencil trick (the point of a sharpened pencil, when inserted into the medium, will darken with moisture if the plant has enough water). And, there's always the old standby - put your finger in the mix. If it feels wet, it is wet. If you aren't sure whether it is time to water, wait one more day
"Evenly moist," while the most commonly given advice on watering, is the least easily explained. Because most plants are grown in plastic containers a good diagnosis is the weight of the plant: heavy - does not need watering; light - does require water. With a little practice, one can easily tell the amount of moisture remaining in the container.
Water your orchid early in the morning. This insures complete water evaporation on the foliage as well as the crown by nightfall. If your home is very warm or has low humidity you will most likely need to water more often. The best place to water your plant is in the kitchen sink. Use lukewarm water (do not use salt softened or distilled water) and water your plant for about 15 seconds and be sure to thoroughly wet the media. Then allow the plant to drain for about 15 minutes. It may appear dry but it has had enough water. 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 or pebbles and water. The pot is placed on the pebbles above the water line. This helps to insure that the base of the pot is not immersed in water, increases humidity for the plant, and provides some air circulation under the pot.
Feeding your orchid
Experienced orchid growers fertilize their orchids “Weakly, Weekly”
Orchids need to be fed regularly. Growers suggest using a "balanced" fertilizer such as 20-20-20 that includes all "necessary trace elements." Regardless of the fertilizer formulation you choose to use, it should contain little or no urea. If you are unsure of what fertilizer to use, you can generally use any fertilizer you would for your other container plants. Orchids will do far better with too little fertilizer than with too much. Many growers recommend the "weakly, weekly" approach, applying a dilute (1/4 strength) fertilizer each time they water, rather than applying a full dose once a month. Also, it is best not to fertilize a completely dry plant as the fertilizer can burn the dry roots. Water first then follow with fertilizer solution.
When to repot
When an orchid plant starts to grow over the edge of the pot, it is time to repot it!
Orchid plants need repotting for one or a combination of two main factors: Potting mix breaks down, often evidenced by dead roots, or the plant outgrowing the container. In the first case, a larger pot may not be required, simply replace the growing medium. In the second case, the plant may need dividing or may be shifted into a larger pot. Fresh media should always be used. A good general rule of thumb is to pot for the bottom of the plant, the root system, and not for the top, the foliage.
What is the best potting media?
Aliflor, an expanded clay product, is popular on its own as a potting media, or used as an additive to mixes.
A fresh, fast-draining, but water-retentive medium is essential to the healthy root system necessary for good growth. Whether a bark-based mix (which drains well, is forgiving of watering errors but breaks down rather quickly), a peat-based mix (which retains moisture well but requires more careful watering and frequent re-potting) or some inorganic, basically hydroponic method, orchids have been grown successfully in a variety of media
Where in the house can I grow my orchid?
An east or south facing window provides bright enough light for growing orchids.
South and east-facing windows work best for orchids. West_windows can be too hot in the afternoon and north-facing ones are usually too dark. A sheer curtain will cast light shade. Too much direct light causes leaves to sunburn - so it may be necessary to re-position plants as the seasons change. Move plants away from or toward the window to manipulate the amount of light. Make sure the leaves are not touching the glass. In winter in a cold climate, leaves touching the windowpane may freeze.
Leaf color indicates if the amount of light is adequate. The lush, rich, dark green of most houseplants is not desirable in orchid leaves. A grassy green color (light or medium green with yellowish tones) means the plant is receiving sufficient light to bloom.
Can I grow orchids outdoors?
Orchids grow well under trees during frost-free summer months.
Where winters are cold, orchids can be grown on the patio or under trees in the warmer months when frost does not threaten. This is often a wonderful solution for orchid growers in colder climates, and enables the plants to grow so much better than they would if left indoors all year. Growers in frost-free areas with cooler summer nights (below 60 F in August and after) can grow cymbidiums, one of the finest of all garden orchids. Where summer nights are warmer, many varieties of vandas and cattleya types are appropriate.
Q. Why won't my orchid re-bloom?
Like all plants, orchids require sufficient light in order to produce flowers.
Insufficient light is the most common cause of failure to re-bloom your orchid. Leaf color indicates if the amount of light is adequate. The lush, rich, dark green of most houseplants is not desirable in orchid leaves. A grassy green color (light or medium green with yellowish tones) means the plant is receiving sufficient light to bloom.
Q. What is growing on the flower stem?
Even Cattleya hybrids may occasionally produce an adventitous growth
A plantlet (called a keiki (kay-kee), the Hawaiian word for baby) will sometimes grow on a flower spike (called an "inflorescence"). Initially small, it will grow several leaves and then roots, at which time it can be removed to propagate a new plant. Once the roots grow a couple of inches long, gently remove the plantlet with a sterile knife and pot in a container to which you add a label with the plant's name. Orchids are susceptible to viruses, so whenever cutting an orchid plant, always use a sterile tool to prevent the spread of virus. With proper care, a keiki may flower in a year. Small keikis could take two or three years to reach flowering size.
Q. What is the best orchid for growing in the home?
Phalaenopsis will grow easily under average household conditions.
One of the most widely available orchids of the mass market types is also the best for the home - the phalaenopsis or moth orchid which will grow easily under the same conditions enjoyed by African Violets. Another good choice, is paphiopedilums or the slipper orchids which have relatively attractive foliage, and will re-flower in home conditions giving weeks of floral display.
Q. What should I look for when I buy an orchid?
Healthy orchids should have turgid, pest and blemish-free leaves.
Many consumers, both retail and retailer, find themselves in a position today of having to make purchase- oriented decisions about an entirely new -- to them, at least -- class of plants: orchids. What should they be looking for? How can the purchase dollar be maximized? How can the best shelflife -- of vital importance for both the retail and retailing consumer -- be obtained?
Here are three helpful hints:
Should be in proportion to the container, have roots in the media, be clean and unblemished, turgid and medium green, free of visible pests.
Should be lustrous and held well above the foliage on a strong, well-supported spike, be unblemished and free of fungal spotting, have some buds yet to open (never, ever accept a plant with flowers open to the tip of the spike, as it is impossible to judge flower life after all flowers have opened), and have a generally appealing aspect that fits with your decor
Is the overall aspect one of cleanliness and order? Do the production plants look good? Is the staff attentive and interested in your welfare? Can they answer the most elementary of your questions? Selecting an orchid plant isn't really that different from any other flowering plant purchase, including the satisfaction that comes with the proper decision.
Caring for Cut Orchids: Phalaenopsis
Have clean lukewarm water ready. Once you cut the flower, it is breathing, so you must have the water ready. Simply change the water every 3-4 days. (TIP: Add a half cap of bleach or rubbing alcohol each time you change the water. This will extend the life of the flowers.)