Tips for Growing and Blooming Phalaenopsis Orchids
September 2008 Orchidaceae Newsletter
Hello Everyone! Welcome to the beautiful time of fall and the Harvest!
Welcome to the September Newsletter of Orchidaceae. Apologies to all, I missed several newsletters. I hope to get them back on track. That said, I am a winemaker and here in California it is the wonderful and incredibly busy time of the Harvest. So bear with me. I seem to think I have to write a term paper for each newsletter! I do try to make them valuable to my subscribers. And it seems to be working as I get great feedback. I will try to be more punctual and more prolific but be patient with me for September and the busy time of the grape harvest.
The last newsletter was quite long and full of good information. If you missed it, it was on “Frequently Asked Questions”. It is posted on the navigation bar on the website near the bottom. It has lots of really useful information on orchid growing in general. I encourage you to look at it if you missed it the first time around.
I have been spending time working on the site although I must admit that much of my work is not currently visible. But rest assured slowly, I am making progress. I added another favorite e-book on Orchids by Nigel Howell. Here is a link to check out the one I currently like best. Just click on the “Click Here” link below to check it out in more detail.
And I will add a few pages to the store of some of my favorite orchid growing tools like humidity trays. And I have found a cool device for determining if an orchid or a plant needs water or not. I hope to make that available soon.
Currently I am working on a report called “Easy Orchids”. But since I get so many questions that seem to lead back to Phalaenopsis I will make this newsletter brief and address this species and its requirements.
Phalaenopsis is also sometimes known as the “Moth Orchid”. It is listed in the American Orchids Society as the orchid that a beginner should start with. Personally, I am very fond of Phals. They have so many redeeming qualities. They are incredibly beautiful, elegant even. Lend themselves to every décor from Japanese modern to Western and all in between. They come in many colors, and sizes and the blooms can last up to almost 4 months sometimes. They are easy to grow, very forgiving and rebloom readily compared to some other more fussy orchids. What is not to like about all of those qualities?
So, for the number one easy orchid, here is what you need to know.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are very popular and with good reason. One reason is that it is an easy growing orchid for the beginner. Another reason is that the flowers can last three months or longer. They have a graceful arching spike with many flowers. Now there are also hybrids that are multi-branching so you can have quite a display when they are in flower. They tend to flower in the late winter and the early spring. That said I have 6 in flower right now and it is late summer here in California. The name Phalaenopsis is taken from the Greek term “phalaina” meaning “moth” and “opsis”, meaning “appearance” as the flowers have a moth like appearance. Phalaenopsis species range from Asia to the Philippines to New Guinea and parts of Australia. In the wild these areas have weather that is constantly warm and generally provides a humid environment. These plants are epiphytes which means they grow on other plants like trees but are not parasitic on the other plant. In the wild they derive moisture and nourishment from the air and rain.
Phalaenopsis have no pseudobulbs as do some other orchids like Oncidiums or Cattleyas. Pseudobulbs are water storage devices for the orchid to store surplus water. They are monopodial in growth and only store water in the leaves.
Phals. like bright light but do not like direct sun. They like east or south windows where they get bright light but again no direct sun. I grow mine in a room with south facing light about 6 feet (2 meters) from the window. They have approximately the same light conditions as African Violets between 1000 to 1500 foot candles. The foliage should appear yellow-green not dark green if the light is correct. If the leaves are dark green or the new leaf growing longer and narrower than the old leaf is an indication that the light is too low.
The ideal day temperatures are between 65 and 85 F. (18 - 29 C). Ideal nighttime temperatures are between 55 and 65 F. (13-18 C). The normal home temperature of 72 – 78 F. (22 – 26 C.) is fine for Phals. If you are comfortable with the temperature, Phals. will be as well. In the fall Phals. need the temperature to fall below 60 F. (16 C.) for three weeks to induce the plant to initiate a flower spike. A spike should start to appear about three weeks after this cold treatment. And the flower spike will grow in the direction of the source of greatest light. It is possible to grow Phalaenopsis under artificial light. Grow them 9 to 12 inches under fluorescent grow lights or 4 to 6 feet under 400 watt high intensity discharge lights or high pressure sodium lights. Your Phalaenopsis should have a flower spike growing by February. If it does not move it to where it will receive more light. Even a small incandescent light can make a difference.
Like most orchids Phalaenopsis orchids appreciate a more humid environment between 40% – 70 % relative humidity. One way other than misting (which I am not a big fan of due to the possibility of increased risk of fungal disease) to increase the humidity is to put a plate or saucer with little pebbles in it and put water in it. Put the orchids ABOVE the water. This increases the humidity around the plant. Phals. like it somewhat moist that said I let mine dry out sometimes when I get busy. ;=). You can also use humidity trays like the ones I sell very effectively. In fact I have almost all my 100+ orchids on these humidity trays.
Plants should be thoroughly watered when approaching dry but prefer not to completely dry out. In my conditions that is about once every week two ten days. However when in doubt, go drought. DO NOT use water that has been water softened as it can kill your Phal. It is important to give the plant a complete drenching when you water. It is best to water early in the day so that the leaves dry out. Do not leave water collected in the crown of Phals. as they are prone to crown rot. I water mine by putting them in a sink and running water through the pot 3 or 4 times over a 15 minute period. Then if I am going to fertilize I do it then as the roots have swollen somewhat and can absorb the nutrients.
Phals. are subject to crown rot, so when watering do it early in the day. It is best in many situations to water before noon so that the leaves have a chance to dry before it is cooler in the night. Do not let water stay in the crown for a long period. If necessary use a paper towel or something like that to soak up the puddle of water in the crown. Or have your Phal. located somewhere where it gets very good air circulation.
Fertilize with a balanced formula every two weeks, however dilute the fertilizer to between 1/4 and 1/2 the recommended strength of the dilution. The adage is "weakly, weekly". That said it is best to reduce the amount of fertilizer during the winter months when most plants are not in active growth. Do not fertilize orchids when they are dry. Only fertilize after you have given the plant a good drenching and the “velamen” has had a chance to absorb some water. Velamen, you ask? Velamen is the name of the thick spongy outer layer of cells on the roots of epiphytic orchids that absorbs moisture from the surroundings. That way your plant can properly uptake the nutrients in the fertilizer.
It is best to repot Phals. every two years or so, definitely when the media has broken down as Phals. are prone to root rot. I plant Phalaenopsis in plastic pots not in terra cotta as the roots tend to stick to the pot. I use either the standard green ones generally available in most nurseries or the clearer/whitish ones which I prefer. It is easier to see what the roots look like in the clearish pots. But as to what is exactly best for your Phal. will depend on where you are growing your Phal. I have some on sticks and mounts that do beautifully.
For repotting: Phals like a porous mixture. I like to use a mixed media for most of my orchids. I make a blend of medium fir bark, small fir bark, large perlite, charcoal and red lava rock. Depending on the orchid I will change the mix. If this is too complicated, just get some medium and some small fir bark for orchids from a nursery. It is often sold in small bags. Size the pot to the orchid. Use plastic pots not terra cotta or clay. You should be able to comfortably put the roots in the pot, not too big not too small. PRESERVE ALL ITS HEALTHY ROOTS IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. Healthy roots are the basis of a healthy orchid.
Rule of Thumb is Phals. need repotting every 2-3 years. I sometimes go longer but I look at the media. If it is breaking down it makes the roots more prone to rot.
Well, that is enough for now for these easy and graceful orchids. Wishing you the best of your orchid growing success.
P.S. Be sure to check out the picture at the bottom of today’s newsletter. The two Phals. in the picture are seedling crosses from a community pot I bought years ago. The community pot had 25 little miniature Phal. seedlings. They all have the same parents came from the same seed pod so they are siblings. They all express the same miniature Phal. characteristics in size and all but one have slight variations in the pink and pink and white color of the flower. But only this one on the left has a wild color variation for the flower. The flower is very different from the other siblings. Isn't Nature wonderful?
Orchid Picture of the Month
The purpose of this picture is two fold.
1) This shows what the Humidi-Trays are like and how they are used. I currently use these and sell them to help control appropriate humidity for my orchids. Contact me if you are interested in purchasing them.
2) The two Phals. in the picture are seedling crosses from a community pot I bought years ago. They have the same parents and came from the same seed pod so they are siblings. Look how different the flower color is. This demonstrates the variability that can come from seedling crosses verses meristem propagation. This one flower on the left is flower is very different from all the other siblings.
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