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New to orchids? Read this.

Discussion in 'Orchid Culture' started by KellyW, Aug 30, 2014.

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  1. KellyW

    KellyW Orchid wonk Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Redding, California, USA
    Here is a generic post I have been working on. Maybe it will answer some of your questions.

    Phalaenopsis questions ...
    The majority of "first orchids" are Phalaenopsis hybrids that were purchased from a grocery store or big-box home improvement center. They are not difficult to grow but do have some basic needs if you hope to keep it thriving and have it rebloom. For general information and care tips for your Phalaenopsis orchid this link will provide some useful information: Novice Phalaenopsis Culture Sheet

    Q. I just bought a Phalaenopsis orchid and don't want to kill it. How do I take care of it?
    The first thing to do is make sure that the plant is in a pot that drains well. Often the plants from grocery stores or home improvement stores are in pots without drain holes or the pot may be wrapped in foil or mylar that will hold water. If the roots stay wet too long they will rot and your plant will die.

    Look to see if the growing medium (sphagnum moss or bark chips usually) is fresh and not mushy or rotted. Even if the medium looks good you should repot your plant when the current blooming is finished. (See the discussion, below, on how to repot a Phalaenopsis)

    The best way to water a Phalaenopsis is to flood (or flush) the pot weekly. Take it to the sink and run what ever water you normally use (tap, rain, etc) through the pot. Run at least 3-4x the pot volume into the pot so you get a good flow through the pot. This helps prevent an accumulation of salts and fertilizer residue. Depending on your conditions and medium type you should probably water like this once per week.

    To continue to thrive you will need to fertilize your orchid occasionally. The method and timing will depend a lot on how much time you are willing to spend. Many growers suggest using a dilute solution with every watering, others will fertilize on a different schedule, perhaps once per month. However, almost all growers will suggest that you look at the directions on the fertilizer container and only use 1/2 as much as is recommended. So, if the directions say to use 1 tablespoon per gallon of water you should only use 1/2 tablespoon per gallon.

    Place your plant in a location that gets bright light but never direct sun.

    Q. How often should I water my Phalaenopsis?
    A lot depends on what medium it is growing in and other factors such as humidity and temperature. If it is growing in sphagnum moss it should need water less often than if it is growing in bark. With Phalaenopsis you will want to flood or flush the pot over the sink and let it drain. The growing medium should be airy and drain quickly. Don't water again until the medium is almost dry. Under my house conditions I usually watered once per week in the summer and once every other week in the winter. Until you get a good feel for watering here is one easy trick. Get a bamboo or wood shish-ka-bob skewer or any long thin piece if wood. Insert it into the pot all the way to the bottom and leave it there for at least 1 minute. Pull it out and see if it is moist. Sometimes, if your hands are calloused and dry like mine tend to be, it is easier to feel the moisture by laying the skewer or stick on your cheek. If the stick is dry you need to water. If it is moist you can wait a little longer. After a while you will just know when you should water. A lot of people determine when to water by picking up the pot to feel the weight. After a while it becomes easy and you will wonder what the big problem was.

    The "crown" is where all of the leaves come together in the center of the plant. Don't let water stand in the crown. If water gets in there while watering you will need to remove it with the corner of a paper towel or soft cloth. If the crown stays wet it encourages rot which will kill your plant.

    A few other watering tips:
    Do not water your orchid by putting ice cubes in the pot. This is a myth and is actually bad for your plant.
    If you have plants in terracotta pots and plastic pots the ones in terracotta will need to be watered more frequently. So, if time is a concern for you, keep your orchids in the same kind of pot (either plastic or terracotta or glazed ceramic, etc). Just make sure the pots drain well.

    Q. Ice cubes and wilting leaves? What am I doing wrong?
    All the flowers fell off and the spike is starting to brown. The leaves seem to be becoming more limp and I'm not sure what to do to save my plant. I've moved my plant to brighter light since I noticed my leaves were really dark green and that hasn't seemed to help. I was only watering three ice cubes a week so I'm pretty sure I didn't over water. Please help.
    A. First, the concept of watering orchids with ice cubes is a myth and is wrong. Phalaenopsis are tropical plants that like warmth so use water, not ice.
    Make sure that your pot is well drained (has a hole(s) in the bottom). You don't want the roots sitting in water. You will want to water heavily about once per week. Take the plant to the sink and run water through the pot so that the bark and roots get thoroughly soaked. Don't water again until the bark is almost dry.
    The spike dying is normal. With good sharp shears cut the spike off about 1/4 - 1/2 inch from the plant. With proper care you should get a new spike next spring.
    With the spike removed and a good watering regime you should see the leaves start to get plumper and the new leaf should develop normally. Basically, I think you were under-watering by using the ice method.

    Now for light. Phalaenopsis like bright but indirect light. Make sure it never gets direct sunlight.

    If you have some plant fertilizer mix up some of that at 1/2 the recommended strength and use that about once per month. You can adjust the frequency and method of fertilizing to fit your conditions as you gain experience.

    Just by making these few changes you should start to notice some improvement.

    Q. How far back should I cut the bloom stems when they stop flowering?
    With a Phalaenopsis orchid you can cut the flower stem (inflorescence or spike) back to 1/2 inch (1 cm) above the last node (swelling) below the blooms and they will sometimes produce another spike with more blooms. Most of the time these blooms are smaller and fewer than the first. You also have to consider that this is adding extra stress to the plant. So, Its up to you whether or not you think the plant can handle blooming again and you want a few extra blooms. Most of the time it's best to cut the bloom stem off at or near the plant. This will give the plant a rest period and let it regenerate for another great blooming.

    There are many different opinions on whether, or in what circumstances, the spike can be left for reblooming. Here is one video that describes the process.

    Q. How do I repot my Phalaenopsis?
    Each person would probably give you slightly different directions on repotting and the type of potting mix to use. If you only have one or two orchids you can buy a commercial orchid bark product that may be only bark or may have some other ingredients included. For Phalaenopsis orchids get a bark or mix that is coarse so that it provides good air to the roots. It may be labelled as "medium" or "coarse" or "bark for Phalaenopsis Orchids", etc. The commercial products that are made for Cymbidiums will not work for your Phal because the particles are too fine. Here is a good video to give you the basics of repotting.
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    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
    orchid127, BZB, Plantman and 4 others like this.
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