Orchids have the reputation for being rather temperamental plants, not at all easy to grow. And of course, among the some 26,000 species and 100,000 orchid cultivars, there are some and perhaps even many that are indeed very demanding. However, the orchid most sold in garden centers often these days, the moth orchid or phalaenopsis (Phalaenopsis cvs), is a snap to grow. It doesn’t react all that quickly to your ministrations, but still, it’s no more difficult to grow than a cactus.
When you bought your phalaenopsis, it was probably in bloom … and the flowers likely lasted a month or more. It’s not that attractive a plant without flowers, but the good news is that, when given acceptable conditions, most phalaenopisis will bloom again.
You still have to be patient: most phalaenopsis flower only once a year, usually at about the same date as they did last time. So, if your orchid has just finished blooming, it may take 9 to 10 months before you see signs of new flowers. That said, some phalaenopsis do have the ability to bloom more than once a year, especially when conditions are truly ideal.
If you can’t wait 9 months, there’s a trick you could try! It’s called forcing and no, it’s not cheating! It might give you bloom in only 8 weeks to 2 months. You can read more about that under the subtitle Forcing Phalaenopsis to Bloom at the end of this article.
Remove the Old Flower Spike
Unless you want to force a second flowering (again, see Forcing Phalaenopsis to Bloom below), when the last flower fades, simply cut off the old flower spike about an inch from where it joins the stem. No harm comes if you don’t, but do you really want to see dead or dying flower spikes accumulating on your plant, do you?
Getting Your Phalaenopsis to Bloom Again
If you want to see any plant, orchid or not, bloom again and again, you have to give it good growing conditions. For a phalaenopsis, that means, above all, good lighting.
Phalaenopsis bloom best where they receive good light all day and even some direct sun, ideally in the morning. An east window perhaps, or a bit back from a south or west one. Avoid spots where there is no direct sun at all (a north window, for example), but also locations where the sun beats down so heavily that the plant overheats, often a problem on spring and summer afternoons. Where heat is a problem, move the plant back from the window or draw a sheer curtain between it and the window during the hottest hours of the day.
You can also grow a phalaenopsis under fluorescent or LED plant lights kept illuminated about 14 to 16 hours a day.
Back in the days when orchids grew in regular flower pots—green or black plastic or terracotta, ones with a drainage hole in the bottom—, it was common to water phalaenopsis from above, carefully pouring water through the mix, then catching any excess in the saucer underneath so it could be thrown out. But you hardly ever see commercially grown orchids in regular pots anymore. Instead, they’re all double-potted … and that radically changes the way you need to water them.
Double-potting means the plant itself is set in a “grow pot,” often made of transparent plastic with multiple drainage holes, but you rarely see it. Instead, the grow pot is hidden inside a cachepot, a container with no drainage holes. The current trend is to use grow pots that sit so tightly inside their cachepots that there’s essentially no space between them. And that’s a problem, because you can’t see if you’ve underwatered or watered too much. The main cause of orchid death these days is rot due to plants sitting constantly in water inside those opaque cachepots … a situation their owner knew nothing about.
That being the case, the easiest way to water a double-potted orchid is by soaking the root ball in water.
Do this when the orchid potting mix feels dry to the touch (often after about a week to 10 days). If the mix still feels moist to the touch, don’t water yet. Wait a day or two more.
To soak the root ball, just leave the pot in its cachepot, but water abundantly with lukewarm water, pouring it in slowly until you can see water rising up to just below the pot’s rim. Leave the plant there to soak for 10 to 15 minutes, thus allowing the roots to absorb all the water they need, then remove the grow pot from the cachepot and allow it to drain thoroughly. Next, empty any surplus water that is left in the cachepot. (Rather than bringing your orchid to the sink to do this, why not bring a pail to the spot where you grow your plant, then pour the drainage water into that?) Finally, replace the grow pot in its now empty cachepot. Your orchid is now good to go for at least another week!
Just don’t forget and leave the plant soaking in water for several hours: that could lead to rot!
Try not to wet the leaves when you water, especially if the plant is in full sun or at cooler temperatures, as that could mark the leaves permanently. If you accidentally get water on the leaves, gently wipe it off with a soft cloth.
Normal indoor temperatures are perfect for phalaenopsis, although they don’t mind a bit of a dip at night, down to 50 ° F (15 ° C), during autumn and winter. For some cultivars, this can help stimulate flowering.
Phalaenopsis greatly appreciate good atmospheric humidity: 50% to 60%. However, during the heating season (from October to April), the relative humidity in the average home can easily drop to less than 30% and that can either prevent flowering or cause any flower buds under formation to abort. To improve the situation, grow your orchid on a humidity tray: a tray filled with stones, expanded clay pebbles or gravel. When you water, pour extra water into the tray and the water will rise up into the stones by capillarity and slowly evaporate, thus increasing the ambient humidity.
Light fertilizer applications (try an orchid fertilizer diluted to a quarter of the recommended dose), applied from spring to fall, may also help improve the quality of the bloom, but even if you never fertilize, most phalaenopsis will still rebloom quite readily.
Forcing Phalaenopsis to Bloom
The information above explains how encourage a phalaenopsis to flower normally … but you can also try forcing a second round of bloom.
A well-established phalaenopsis will often flower a second time from a dormant bud found lower down on the old flower spike. (Don’t try this on immature plants: it will only weaken the them.) To encourage this, instead of cutting the old flower spike nearly back to the base when the flowers fade, trim it back to just above the second node (bulge on the stem) from the bottom. The dormant bud is hiding inside this node. When the flower spike is cut back, this often stimulates the formation of a secondary spike that may, depending on the cultivar, carry only new flowers, but sometimes enough to create quite a display.
Phalaenopsis orchids are not difficult to rebloom. Give them just a bit of basic care and wait patiently. They’ll not only bloom again, but can rebloom annually or biannually for many years to come!