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Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis orchids originate from south eastern Asia and the Philippines. They grow naturally as epiphytes on trees in the warm, tropical forests. They do not have bulbs like other orchids but instead grow fleshy leaves, which store some food and water with new ones forming from the central crown. They also produce a lot of aerial roots that come over the side of the pot, as well as into the growing medium.

Phalaenopsis likes the warm, consistent temperature of a normal house with central heating. Ideally the temperature should be between 18 to 23oC. So, typically unheated rooms such as conservatories and spare rooms should be avoided.

Like all orchids Phalaenopsis likes plenty of light but not direct sunlight in the spring and summer months. It is best grown in a bright space such as a windowsill or a bright room. An east or west facing windowsill is very good or a bathroom (for humidity) provided the light is adequate. Do not put plants in direct sunlight during the summer (April to September) when the strong sun can damage their fleshy leaves. Yellow marks indicate probable sun damage. A north facing window is good in the summer but in the winter it may not provide the plant with adequate light for good growth so it will grow very slowly, if at all.

Keep the growing medium moist all the year round. When watering the plant remove it from any decorative pot or saucer, pour water through the pot and let it drain before placing it back in the decorative pot. Allow the growing medium to dry out and the pot to become lighter before watering again. While the roots are green the plant does not need watering but when the roots turn silver-white it is time to water the plant again.

The weight of the pot and the colour of the roots are the most reliable guide to watering. If you live in a hard water area it is good to use rain water at least a few times to wash any salts away. Orchids – like all houseplants – are best watered with tepid water to avoid any temperature shocks to the roots and to easier better re-hydrate them.

As a tropical plant Phalaenopsis will greatly benefit from high humidity, especially in the winter where central heating makes the home environment very dry.

There two ways to provide orchids with humidity: Spray their leaves, roots and bark with soft water or Orchid Myst (which at the same time provides all the necessary nutrients) or  place them in a saucer of tray of gravel, hydrolecca or grit. Fill the saucer with water and make sure the bottom of the pot does not touch any water at the bottom of the tray.

To improve long-term health, it is advisable to feed your Phalaenopsis using a specifically formulated orchid feed. We recommend spraying with Orchid Myst as a simple and convenient way to provide your orchid with humidity and nutrients.  If you have a number of orchids we advise to also use a concentrated fertiliser such as Orchid Focus Bloom at the recommended rate. A carefully and expertly formulated fertiliser with the right balance of NPK, all the 14 nutrients orchids require, as well as, humic acid. As Phalaenopsis grows and flowers all year round, you can use Orchid Focus Bloom throughout the year with every other watering.

There are two options to encourage a Phalaenopsis to re-flower again:

Before all the flowers have dried and while the sap is still rising, cut the stem right off about 1 cm above the third or fourth node (eye) depending which one looks bigger. The node will then soon start to produce a side flowering stem. This way the plant will flower sooner that the alternative method but the flowers will be a bit smaller. If the stem is not cut before the last couple of flowers have dropped it is less likely that it will produce a side flower stem.

Whether the orchid will produce a side flower stem or not depends on many factors such as the time of the year, how healthy the orchid is etc. The main factor, though, is whether the orchid is one that naturally produces side stems. An orchid that normally produces branching flower stems will have them when at on display in the garden centre.

Alternatively, wait till the flowers drop off naturally and cut off the stem at the base. The plant will probably then make a new leaf before it produces the next flowering stem. Place the plant in a cool place for a month to six weeks. This will promote new growth and new flower spikes. When a new spike shows, move the plant back to warmer conditions. With this method the plant will take longer to flower again but the flowers will be as large as the ones on the previous stem.

If the orchid has two flowering stems at the same time it is advisable to try the first method on one stem and the second one on the other. It is more likely to re-flower on the same stem if you try on only one.

Sometimes a new plantlet (often called a ‘keiki’) grows from the nodes of a flowering spike when all the blooms have gone. Leave these to grow to form a new plant. When the plantlet shows signs of aerial roots, spray them with Orchid Myst to keep them moist and healthy. When you have 3-4 roots of about a couple of inches in length and at least two to three leaves, then carefully remove the little plant by cutting the old flower stem above and below the small plant. You can then pot it in a small pot. Feed, water and especially spray well. The plant will be identical to its parent but it will take some time to flower.

Assuming you buy an orchid growing in bark it is best to repot a Phalaenopsis 12-18 months after you buy it and thereafter every 18-24 months. If you buy an orchid in sphagnum moss it is best to repot it as soon as it stops flowering as moss degrades very quickly and dries very abruptly. The main reason to repot an orchid is to replace the bark which degrades over time and it starts going mushy and holding too much water. The best time for repotting is spring or autumn when the plant is not in flower and the roots are actively growing (you can see green/brown tips at the end of the roots). However, a healthy vigorous orchid can be repotted even when in flower.

It is important you use a bark repotting mix (5-10% of moss and coir is fine) and not soil or a ‘bark based’ compost, ‘peat-based’ compost or any ‘compost’ for that matter. These growing mediums keep retain too much water, do not drain well and will ‘suffocate’ the orchid. Orchid Focus Repotting Mix is peat free, consists of more than 90% bark and it is perfect for orchids.

Clear pots are not strictly necessary but they allow the plant roots to photosynthesize and it is a good way to see when watering is needed or detect any root problems. What is necessary is for the pot to have adequate drainage (many large holes at the bottom) and provide the plant with good aeration (a dome at the bottom of the pot). As most clear pots (but not all) are made specifically for orchids they tend to fit the above criteria. If a clear pot has a dome you can trust it, as it has been made specifically for orchids.

Click on a link below to for a repotting demonstration:

Phalaenopsis Repotting demonstration 1. A straightforward repotting

Phalaenopsis Repotting demonstration 2: Repotting a neglected orchid with a long stem and a ‘keiki’

Phalaenopsis Repotting demonstration 3: Repotting an orchid with a long stem

No flowering

If your Phalaenopsis does not flower at least once a year then the most likely cause is low light, especially if the newer leaves are larger than the older ones (which indicates lower light compared to previously). Move to a brighter position.

The other, less likely cause is very high temperature (constantly above 22oC) which is unlikely to occur in most houses. 

White or yellow spots on the leaves

If this happens in the spring it is very likely to be damage from direct sunlight. Move to a less bright position.

Shrivelled leaves

If you see shrivelled leaves check the roots. If the roots are also shrivelled and silver then the likely cause is lack of water. Give the plant plenty of water and spray it regularly. Adjust future waterings accordingly.

If the roots are brown and mushy then the likely cause is overwatering which has damaged the roots so the plant cannot take up water. The plant should not be watered for a while, but spray it regularly with Orchid Myst. Only resume watering when you can see new roots. When a plant does not have any roots it cannot take up water so spraying is by far the best way to limit the damage and prevent water loss while the plant is recovering.

Small brown raised spots on the leaves

These are most likely scaly insects. Remove with a cotton bud dipped in methylated spirit and wipe the leaves clean regularly to prevent an infestation. Additionally, spray with SB Plant Invigorator as per the instructions on the label.

White ‘threads’ on the leaves and/or white fluffy insects in the plant crevices

These are most likely mealybugs. Remove with a cotton bud dipped in methylated spirit and wipe the leaves clean regularly to prevent an infestation. Additionally, spray with SB Plant Invigorator as per the instructions on the label. After the first signs spray at least four times every four days to kill off any remaining insects.

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