Orchid Care. I love these plants. They are one of the best air purifiers, their blooms are gorgeously exotic, most don't have a fragrance (good for us with allergies!), and they bring a sense of style into your home. My first orchid was given to me from Billy, now husband who at the time was my boyfriend, and while we were living in Hawaii. The best place to receive such a gift! Although a sudden burden to bear, without knowing at all how to care for them! When I moved back to Arizona, orchids were still the gift of choice from Billy and I wanted to be able to take care of them properly. I researched Phalaenopsis Orchid care through books I rented at the library and also helpful orchid forums on the internet.
Since my first orchid it has been about 5 years of loving and appreciating these special plants. I now take care of ten plants, and would have more if space allowed. Throughout these years, I've gotten countless requests from people on how to care for orchids, how to get them to re-bloom, how to get healthy green leaves that aren't droopy, how to get healthy roots that aren't brown, etc. So I've decided to do a post on it to share with those of you who might have the same questions as the people walking into the salon (where I work) have. My only specialty is Phalaenopsis Orchids. I haven't tried other varieties, so I'm not sure if these techniques are the same for the others.
Phals are the most popular orchid variety sold in many stores across the U.S. They are given as gifts or even bought to bring some style into the home, but once the blooms fall off, people assume the plant has died. This is not the case! Phals kept in normal household climates only bloom once a year, twice if you're lucky, three times.. please, share your secrets! During the rest of the year, the plant may be considered "ugly" by many people's standards. The plants display green leaves with crazy tentacle-like roots reaching up into the air. I have grown from thinking them "alien-like" to love and adore them, even in their ungloried state. The large orchid leaves are wonderful air purifiers, and detox your home environment, more than many other household plants. Although I love the greens, I do, like all of us, chase after those blooms-to-be-envied on all of my plants.
There are many things to consider when caring for your Phaleanopsis Orchid. Although it seems daunting at first, once you soak in all of these concepts, you'll realize why and how all of these steps affect your orchid. It becomes second nature after awhile, and your plants will begin to flourish.
Oddly enough, the position of your plant is very important. Make sure your orchid is near a window. They love bright, indirect sunlight. My plants do amazing in a window that gets afternoon sun, and the sun moves across the plants, never blazing down directly on one spot for too long. Also, contrary to common thought, orchids shouldn't be in a humid bathroom. The humidity resting on the leaves will cause dark, black dots to grow. This is a fungal disease, and should be avoided. Especially do not spritz your orchid with water!
Once your orchid has found a comfortable spot, don't move it! Keep your plant in that spot and in the same direction until it has bloomed. The only time to move it is during the time the plant is in bloom, and the flowers are open. Then you can move it to give the leaves another way to grow towards the sunlight. If your plant is "dormant" and does not have a spike or blooms for that matter, try as hard as you can to keep it where it is at. Too much change may prolong your waiting for more blooms, and if you do get blooms, you risk the awful chance of having a twisting spike, where the flowers may unfurl into themselves every which way. (I made this mistake once, and after all that time waiting for the plant to re-bloom, once it did I was so disappointed with the kinked-up display!)
Good lighting will make your green leaves perk up and become a healthy, lighter green. Dark, drooping leaves indicate not enough light.
Water once a week for plants in bark. Water once every week and a half to two weeks if in moss. If your plant is in moss, feel the soil. Only water if the soil/moss is dry. Orchids do best on less water than over watering. (Over watering will make your leaves soggy and fall off, and your roots rotten and brown. And under watering, leaving the plant dry for a week or more, will cause your orchid to shrivel up and die.)
Don't believe the "one ice cube a week" care tip! If you have been doing this, you may notice how brown and slightly mushy your roots have become. Some people I know still get beautiful blooms doing it this way (and I guess that is the point for many people) but I like having a holistically healthy plant, from roots to blooms.
How I water: I take each individual plant under the sink and water with a steady stream of room-temperature water. Not freezing, and not warm! Let the water run through the plant for a minute or two until you can see the water reaching most of the roots. (If you have an orchid in a decorative pot with no drainage, water it for less time, and let rest for one minute. Come back and tip to the side, draining out all excess water.)
Running water brings oxygen to the roots. Drainage is a must for orchids so that they don't get mushy roots. (Again, do not spritz your orchid with water!)
Orchid fertilizer is sold at most home improvement and garden stores. I only fertilize my orchids twice a year. Right after blooming, when all of the blooms have fallen off. And again, right before blooming season which for me here in Arizona is March. Fertilize in March, before the spikes start shooting up. The earliest spikes have begun growing for me is March, but usually it's more like April or May. As for the fertilizer, follow the directions on the container for how much to dilute with water. Usually it's about a scoop diluted with a gallon of water. Remember, the trick is to not over fertilize, but doing so in good timing secures precious blooms to come.
Blooming is the most frequently asked question when it comes to orchids. If you follow all of these tips and my advice about position and watering especially, blooms are sure to come. Remember that orchids only bloom once a year, twice if you're lucky. Have patience. Some orchids are trouble plants and do not re-bloom even every year, and instead hold out for a couple to three years.
Orchids will bloom if they have the perfect balance of sunlight. They also like a chilly night and do not do too well in the heat.
Signs of blooming to come. The leaves start to display little beads of sap. The base of the plants, sometimes extending a little onto the leaves' edges become a purplish hue. It is especially important that if you notice these signs to not move your orchid, unless of course it is to a better window. But if moved, keep the leaves facing the same way (ie: away from the sun or towards the sun).
The spike begins to grow which is typically a lighter green, without the sheath of white as roots have. It comes to a slanted point and will continue to grow upwards. This is called the spike, and you will soon notice how it differs from the roots. Once the spike has reached about 4 or 5 inches, loosely tie or clip it to the bamboo stick that came with your plant. Every three inches of growth, tie again to the stick for proper support and beauty.
The spike will come to its full length and begin to reveal small buds. This is the really coveted part of getting to see how many blooms your plant will boast. When the buds open and fully reveal the flowers, they will remain in bloom for 4 months approximately, some less and some more.
At this point feel free to move your orchid (this is the only "safe" time to move it). Take notice of the way the green leaves have shifted towards the light. It is best to strive for balance, so move your plant directionally so that the leaves will grow back to center (rather than totally shifting over one side).
Sadly, the day will come when your flowers begin to fall. When the last bloom has fallen, wait a week and watch the spike to see if it starts turning brown or if it stays green. If it stays green you have the option of keeping it to see if another spike may take off from the original spike. The second spike will probably not be as impressive, but they are blooms nonetheless if you so desire to see what happens. If you cut the green spike, that is fine too, and you allow all of the plants energy to go towards the next full bloom rather than to the barren spike.
If it starts to turn brown, use sterilized scissors to cut the spike off at just about the first or second node. The nodes are the little nodules along the spike. Cut above the node to promote a new spike from that original spike, but usually a whole new spike will sprout out of a different point altogether. It's just nice to keep your options open.
The only time to repot an orchid is when it has clearly out grown its container. Always remember that orchids prefer a tight root system, and like to be snug inside of their container. It is overgrown when you have the orchid base showing, because of so much growth, with many roots growing outside of the container. Never repot when your plant is in bloom. Preferably repot right after blooming, and the spike is cut.
When you repot your supplies should include a container with good drainage, clean river stones, and proper soil. The typical home improvement stores do not carry the right mix although they boast "orchid potting mix". This mix is too loose and will hold too much moisture. Visit your local specialty garden store (here in Prescott it's Watter's Garden). Purchase the "orchid bark," which is superior to planting with moss in my opinion. If you are able to fit it into your budget, another good accompaniment to the bark is Hydroton Natural Clay Pebbles, although not necessary. With bark you can water your orchid on a regular basis, rather than having to wait until the moss dries out before watering, or accidental over-watering.
On the day of repotting. Lay out plenty of newspaper. Tilt out your orchid. With sterile scissors, cut away any brown or rotten roots. Don't go overboard. Do not disturb the inner clump of roots and soil. The less disturbance of this area the easier your orchid will re-acclimate. In your container, add three or four river stones. This promotes proper drainage. If you were able to buy the Hydroton Pebbles, add them at this point, fill about 1/4 of the container. If you were not able to buy the Pebbles, add a little bit of the orchid bark instead. Tuck in all of the orchids roots to the best of your ability, without snapping any. Tuck the plant into the container as centered as possible. Add bark up to the base of the plant. Lightly press and gently shake to help settle around the roots. Add more bark until the base is covered. Keep in mind the bark will disintegrate over time. Water orchid thoroughly and sit in a nice sunny window. Don't disturb the position of the plant for a few months, or until after it's first re-bloom if you can.
I wish you the best with your orchids, and hope you are able to appreciate these beautiful plants a little bit more. If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask, I love talking orchid!