Flowers, Orchids

Phalaenopsis Orchid 101

March 8, 2016
Orchid101 White Spread

My very humble orchid brag. The white phalaenopsis orchids were taken from my friend\s floral studio after the spike were removed for arrangements. They all rebloomed under my care.

After I posted the above picture on my Facebook and Instagram page, I kept getting questions about how to care for, and how to rebloom, orchids. Many of my friends think that orchids are fussy, but the truth is they, or at least the common phalaenopsis sold everywhere, are quite easy to care for.

In this post I will only discuss phalaenopsis orchids, as I have successfully rebloomed these guys. You can easily find basic information about them online, so I will write this post as a Q&A, answering questions that I get most often from friends.

  • How often do I need to water my orchid? People keep saying don’t overwater it, but what does that mean?

That depends on how a couple of factors, such as how hot or cold your environment is, and how humid it is at your place. Phalaenopsis orchids like moisture, but they also need to dry out in between waterings. My environment is relatively cool with about 50% humidity. In the cooler months, I water once a week. In the summer, I will water every 4 - 5 days. If you live in a tropical place, you may want to water everyday. If you live in a cold climate but you have the heater on, the heat can be drying, and you may need to water more than once a week. 

A good way to judge when your orchid is thirsty is by looking at the roots. If the roots are silvery, you can water. If the roots are still green, you can wait one or two more days.

Orchid101 Dry Roots

When the roots turn to a silver color like these, and the pot looks dry, you can water the orchid.

Another factor to consider is the potting media. Different media will retain a different amount of water, affecting how often you need to water.

  • So how do I know what media my orchid is in?

If your orchid is in a decorative pot, take it out and inspect the roots and potting media. See examples below.

Orchid101 Good Pot

Normally phalaenopsis orchids are planted in a clear plastic pot that have holes or slits for air circulation. The media is usually bark chips or big chunks of charcoal. You can water this little guy once or twice a week.

Orchid101 Moss Pot

A not-so-good scenario is when the roots are packed into a ball of sphagnum moss like this. The moss absorbs and retains a lot of water, which can easily lead to root rots. You need to water a lot less often for orchids planted in sphagnum moss like this one, perhaps just once every two to three weeks. 

  • Can I just pour water over the orchid?

The short answer is no, you should never pour water over your orchid if you are growing it indoor at home. Standing water between the leaves and in the crown can cause crown rot, aka kill your orchid. The proper way to water is below:

Orchid101 Soaking

Fill a vase or bucket with enough water to reach an inch, or 4cm, below your orchid pot. Carefully dunk the orchid into the vase like in this picture and let it soak for at least 5 minutes, longer if you have time. Never ever let water get too close to the base of the leaves to avoid getting water in there. After 15 - 30 minutes, take the orchid pot out of the water and drain completely. 

If your orchid is planted in sphagnum moss, also dunk it in a small bucket of water but let it soak for only a couple of minutes. Make sure to drain completely, and only water every two weeks.

Orchid101 Wet Roots

This is what the roots look like when they have been watered - green and sexy. Oh yeah….

  • The leaves look droopy. What’s wrong?

Limpy, leathery leaves usually mean that your orchid is thirsty, which is easily curable by watering it. However, they could also be caused by rotting roots, which prevent the orchids from absorbing moisture and nutrients. To figure out if the roots are good or not, you’ll have to inspect the roots. And if you do have root rots you will have to repot the orchid. I will do a separate post on this topic.

Orchid101 Dead Roots 2

Example of a sad orchid with pathetic rotting roots, desperately in need of repotting.

  • Should I spray the leaves and flowers? You know, give it some moisture.

The short answer is no. Indoor growing environments usually don’t have enough air circulation to properly dry off the water, so spraying may cause mold buildup, or worse, crown rot. As long as you water properly, you should be fine.

  • Can I put my orchid on my window sill for people to admire?

As long as the orchid is not in direct sunlight, it should be fine. Come on, even us human need sun protection, so do orchids. Intense heat from the sun can burn the orchid. If you want to put it near a window, make sure it doesn’t get any direct sun by using a sheer curtain or blind. Phalaenopsis orchids don’t need that much light anyway.

  • What about a fan, AC, or heat?

Air circulation is always good to prevent mold and nasty bugs. It is also a good idea to place a small fan near your orchids after watering to help dry out the roots. Don’t place your orchid directly in the flow the AC or the heater, as both can be too drying and may cause blooms to drop.

  • And temperature?

As long as you’re comfortable, your orchid will be. If you grow your orchid outside, make sure to shield it from direct sun in the summer to avoid sunburn. And bring it indoor when the temperature drops below 55F (13C).

  • The roots are crawling out of the pot, I don’t like them. Can I cut them off?

NO!!! No no no!!! Those are aerial roots, and they signal that your orchid is happy. Under no circumstances should you ever, ever, ever cut off those aerial roots. Ok?

Orchid101 Wet Roots

Don’t you even dare cut off those sexy green roots. Put those scissors down!

  • The flowers all dropped. When will my orchid bloom again?

Whoa whoa hold on, growing orchids takes patience. Phalaenopsis usually bloom once a year, twice if you’re lucky, so don’t expect it to bloom again right away. Make sure that your orchid is healthy year-round, and it will likely start spiking in late fall or early winter. A drop in temperature will trigger new spikes. 

You can leave the old spikes and hope that it will form new buds or a secondary spike. If the spike gets dried or turns yellow, you should cut it down to the base of the plant.

  • Should I fertilize?

You can use a fertilizer especially formulated for orchids. In general, I like to dilute it to at least half, or a third, of the recommended amount to be safe. Too much fertilizer can burn the roots. 

Okay, that was pretty exhaustive. Good luck with your orchid adventure. Remember, have patience, like, wait-a-few-months patience, and your phalaenopsis orchids will reward you with pretty blooms.

Orchid101 Pretty Cart

My pretty white phalaenopsis blooms.