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Orchids are beautiful and colourful flowers that are easy to care for once you have found the most suitable environment for them—preferably on a sunny windowsill.
The Phalaenopsis (also called a moth orchid) is an orchid genus of approximately 60 orchid species and is one of the most popular types of all. It is native to the mountains of the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, northern parts of Australia and the Philippines, but nowadays you can simply buy any of these flowers in a shopping centre or from a florist.
The orchid usually has only a few leaves that grow from a single stem. When one of the leaves start to wither, the plant usually starts to grow a new one immediately. Between the leaves grows the flower stem that can have more than ten flowers on it when it is blooming. If the orchid is kept properly, the flowers can last for up to five to six months.
I bought my last Phalaenopsis in January 2012, and it was in bloom until June. About four weeks after it lost its flowers and I cut the previous flower stem, it started to grow a new flower stem, and I could already see at least five bigger and smaller buds on it.
This article will cover the following:
- What kind of sunlight an orchid needs.
- How often to water your plant.
- The ideal temperature for your flower.
- How to give your flower enough humidity.
- How to prune and repot your orchid.
- Why it's a good idea to give your flower a nutrient solution.
1. How Much Sunlight Does My Orchid Need?
Orchids thrive on light. For the Phalaenopsis, a south-facing place where it can get about 12 hours of sunlight per day is best (on many websites, I have read that a Phalaenopsis only likes places with low lighting, but according to my experiences, this is not true—the more, the better). Although you must not expose it to direct sunlight, only indirect.
You know that your orchid gets enough light when its leaves are bright green and fleshy, and it grows a new leaf immediately after another withers. A dark green colour indicates that the flower doesn't get enough light while reddish blotches (and later dark, black blotches) on the leaf indicate way too much light or direct sunlight and sunburnt leaves. Also, when the plant gets too little light, it won’t start to grow flowers.
Don’t start to worry when a leaf of the orchid starts to get yellowish—this just means that the natural lifecycle of the orchid came to a point where it feels it has to grow new leaves instead of some old ones.
2. How Much Water Does My Orchid Need?
This plant only requires watering every five to ten days. These orchids natively live in moist environments and rainforests, but they don’t like to be overwatered—this will easily make the root start to rot. In fact, the Phalaenopsis prefers to be kept almost dry between waterings.
Also, make sure your plant never ‘sits’ in water as this will cause it to rot as well. Only water it if you look at the bark under the plant and see that it is dry or approaching dryness.
As you will read under the ‘humidity’ section, feel free to place your plant in the sink and give it a light shower with tepid water once a month instead of just watering it. After these showers, always let the plant drain off the excess water.
If you suspect that your plant got too much water and is about to start to rot (its roots are brown, soft and mushy), repot the orchid as soon as possible.
3. What's an Ideal Temperature for My Orchid?
In their natural habitat, orchids usually live in warm temperatures where the thermometer shows 20 to 35°C, but by living indoors they got used to temperatures between 15 to 35°C as well. Temperatures lower than 15°C can cause the plant to become frost-bitten and die soon after that while temperatures above 35°C cause a heat stroke that can result in the plant dying.
Ideally, the daylight temperature is somewhere between 25 and 30°C and at night orchids prefer a 6-8°C drop in temperature. Despite common belief, orchids do not start blooming earlier if they are exposed to constant temperature drops during their life.
4. What's the Best Environment for My Orchid?
This is the most difficult issue to overcome when caring for an orchid, as 60-70% humidity is the best for the plant. This level is usually very high for a normal family home, so occasionally lightly mist the plant with a small bottle and take it to the sink and give it a light shower with tepid water at least once a month.
For the best environment, place a fan in the room on hot days but don’t expose the plant directly to the air and mist the room. These plants need more humidity during winter when there is not that much sunlight, so mist them more often then.
If you can’t provide these things for your plant, set up a small humidity-tray by making sure the pot has a high underlay, so you can place it in a small amount of water in a way that the root itself will still not reach the water under it or place gravel into a tray and put the plant onto this and water the gravel (double-check that the plant still does not reach the water). That way, the water will evaporate during daytime and this will create a nice humid environment in the pot.
5. How Do I Prune My Orchid?
After all the flowers fall from the flower stem, you must cut the old stem just above the leaves—the closer to the soil, the better. After this, the orchid will start to grow a new flower stem.
If your orchid looks too small or you can't see new leaves growing, then you better cut the new flower stem off to encourage the orchid and not to let it weaken itself by ‘sending’ all the nutrients to the new flowers.
Also, check the plant weekly and cut down all the dead roots and leaves if necessary.
6. When Do I Need to Repot My Orchid?
Normally, you only have to repot your orchid every few years when you can see signs that the pot is too small for the flower.
You surely have to repot your orchid when you see loads of green roots crawling out of the pot on its edge. You can start repotting when your flower is not in bloom as this is the best time to cut down the stress caused by repotting to the flower.
Simply carefully dig out the plant, cut down its died, brownish and soft roots and then place the orchid into the middle of its new pot with the roots down. Add the special, moist orchid soil (bark) until it reaches the bottom of the lowest set leaves. Wait a few days—preferably a week—until you start to water the plant as usual.
Also, you must prepare to repot the plant if you see that the special soil, the bark under the orchid, is starting to break down and decompose.
7. When Should I Give My Orchid a Special Nutrient Solution?
According to my experiences, all of the above tips are not always enough to keep the orchid happy and healthy. Even with the best care in the best environment, it can start to get weak and its leaves can become parched after a while.
To solve this problem the best solution is to give it some kind of special nutrient solution specifically made for orchids every third or fourth week when you can clearly see that the leaves may need some more nutrients.
What About You?
© 2012 Sophie
Marika on September 28, 2019:
thank you for your advice. it was very helpful
Terry Porter on August 09, 2016:
Thank you Alvin, this was very useful information. I have orchids that need repotting and plan to use your method.
Marie Ryan from Andalusia, Spain on June 30, 2015:
In my little town , the local council have just installed a fabulous orchidarium, so I am all excited about orchids at the moment! Thanks for a very interesting article.
Sophie (author) from United Kingdom on October 03, 2012:
Thank you for commenting, Alvin.
I hope you will find as many joy in caring for these flowers like I do :).
Alvin Chua (deaf) on October 03, 2012:
I like to plant orchid. Thank you for teaching me how to arrange what you showed. It is very interesting.
Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on July 06, 2012:
A useful article for anyone interested in caring for orchids.
Sophie (author) from United Kingdom on July 04, 2012:
It is my pleasure, I hope your flowers will bloom again soon :)
cardelean from Michigan on July 04, 2012:
Thanks so much for your great information! I am definitely going to give some of these ideas a try and hopefully I will see some great blossoms on my orchid. :)