I received a beautiful white Phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, as a gift this Christmas. My dad was an avid orchid collector and had many varieties that he cared for in our home. When my dad was growing orchids in the 1970s and 1980s, they were more difficult to obtain and somewhat rare for a homeowner to have. Now, we can purchase these beautiful plants at the grocery store or other outlets that carry home gardening products.
Orchids are really no more difficult to grow than other houseplants. All plants have ranges for light, humidity, water, temperature and fertilizer in which they will grow best. Once you know what orchids like in these categories you are on your way to success with them as a houseplant.
There are four types of orchids based on their growth habitat. Epiphytes are the most common kind. An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant for physical support. Other types of orchids are: lithophytes, which grow on rocks; saprophytes, which grow in decaying matter; and terrestrials, which grow in soil.
The American Orchid Society recommends the Phalaenopsis (fayl-eh-NOP-siss) as the best/easiest orchid to grow as a houseplant. Its common name is “moth orchid” because the flowers it produces on a long arching stalk resemble moths in flight. The flowers can last from two to six months making it a very rewarding flowering plant for your home.
Phalaenopsis is recommended because it has a lower light requirement than many other orchids. It will grow and flower well in household light. It loves bright light but should not be placed in direct sun.
The Phalaenopsis is an epiphyte. In nature it grows in tropical climates attached to trees with its roots hanging loose in the air. In the orchid’s natural habitat there is usually a good soaking rain once a day and then everything dries out. So the trick is to simulate this environment in your home.
Epiphytic orchids can be grown in a variety of support mediums in the home. A recipe of equal parts fine fir bark, medium fir bark and charcoal works well. Prepackaged potting mixes for orchids can also be purchased. They can also be grown in sphagnum moss and on porous/volcanic stone. It is beneficial to use an orchid pot which has holes in the sides allowing for good air flow around the support roots. Orchids and all houseplants should be grown in pots with holes in the bottom for drainage.
When you purchase an orchid, look at what it is growing in because the frequency that you water your plant will depend on its support medium. The faster the support medium drains, the more often you will have to water. It is important to provide consistent moisture. Allow the growth medium to approach dryness, and then saturate the pot by pouring water through from the top until it drains freely out of the holes in the bottom of the pot.
Do not allow the plant to sit in water and do not water again until the medium again approaches dryness. Flowering plants may require more water in order to support the flowers. Of course, humidity levels in your home will also affect how often you need to water.
Orchids prefer humid environments. Provide them with a humid micro-environment in your home by placing them in a tray filled with pebbles in water. Daily misting is also helpful. Protect them from heating and air conditioning vents.
Phalaenopsis are comfortable in normal household temperatures but prefer nights about 15 to 20 degrees cooler than day. During the summer your Phalaenopsis will be very happy outside in a shaded environment. However, it should be brought inside when temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
The American Orchid Society recommends the following for fertilization. A good general rule is to use a balanced (10-10-10 or 12-12-12 or similar ratio) fertilizer “weakly, weekly.” That is, fertilize every week at one quarter to one half of the recommended dilution on the package.
Orchids will do far better with too little fertilizer than with too much. Fertilizer must be provided on a regular basis because most orchid potting media have little.
More information is available on the American Orchid Society website at www.orchidweb.org. Or, check out https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/PB1634.pdf. Call the Franklin County Extension Office, 101 Lakeview Ct., 695-9035, or email DL_CES_Franklin@email.uky.edu for printed information or additional questions.