Lots of folks are quick to assume that orchids are finicky plants that are tricky to care for, but this isn’t necessarily true— the orchid family is one of the largest plant families in existence, with loads of exotic varieties that have very different needs. Luckily, here at Mother Nature, we carry one of the easiest types of orchid to care for: phalaenopsis, otherwise known as the moth orchid!
The Moth Orchid
The moth orchid is a monopodial orchid, meaning it grows upward from a single stem. Year by year, it will produce a couple of leaves near the end of the stem, and the older leaves near the base will begin to wither. Eventually, you’ll be left with a long-stemmed plant that droops from the weight of the new leaves and blossoms that appear along its top. As it matures, aerial roots will spring out from the potting medium. Typically, they bloom for a few months at a time, but if conditions are ideal, sometimes your moth orchid will repeatedly bloom for over a year!
Unlike most orchids, the moth orchid is quite content on a sunny windowsill here in Powell River, and doesn’t need tropical weather to stay bright and beautiful. When choosing your orchid, try to find one with healthy, firm, dark green leaves, and aerial roots with light green tips.
How to Care for Orchids
Moth orchids thrive in drier conditions and don’t require a soil medium. In the wild, they grow out from the bark of trees under shady canopies of foliage. To mimic these conditions, we grow them in moss or bark-filled pots and keep them in indirect sunlight, so they don’t get scorched from too much sun. A little bit of a temperature drop at night will encourage them to bloom, so we recommend keeping them at around 21 to 24 C during the day, and between 16 to 19 C at night. If you have a sunroom that naturally warms up a bit during the day, an orchid will be right at home as a centrepiece on the coffee table.
As far as watering goes, be careful not to overdo it. Always make sure the growing medium is totally dry before watering again. Waiting about 1-2 weeks between watering should suffice. It’s easiest to just run it under some room-temperature tap water, and let it drain out the bottom of the pot before placing it back in its spot. Stagnant water at the bottom of the pot can lead to damp roots, and your orchid definitely won’t like that.
To encourage reblooming after its blossoms have disappeared, nip off the stem just above the highest node (the knobby joints in the flower spike). It will very likely spike again and continue to rebloom, but eventually, you may need to stake it to help keep it upright as it grows longer and leggier.
Since orchids don’t sit in soil like most plants, the need for fertilizer isn’t as high. They’re accustomed to sitting on tree branches and getting doused with the occasional rainfall, so they aren’t really in need of much supplementary nutrition. That being said, a little will go a long way with moth orchids, so a simple 20-20-20 fertilizer diluted to half-strength applied monthly should be fine— otherwise, you can buy a fertilizer specifically formulated for orchid care.
The first rule of transplanting orchids: never do it while they’re in bloom. No matter how much it looks like your orchid needs to be repotted, just wait until the blooms are spent, because it will run the risk of losing all its flowers if you repot it at this point. Generally, a moth orchid should be transplanted every two years or so. If you’re unsure if your orchid requires repotting, check for these signs:
- It has lost all of its leaves near the base of the stem, and the stem is getting weak
- Its bark medium is decomposing and becoming mushy like soil
- The plant and its roots have become too large for the pot
- The moss or bark is soggy and not properly draining
Special orchid pots with holes in the sides as well as the bottom are the best option available. When repotting, buy one that is slightly larger than the previous pot, but don’t go too big, or else your orchid will be compelled to focus on developing more roots instead of directing its energy toward blooming. Plastic or terracotta pots are both fine, but since terracotta is porous, you’ll need to water a little more frequently.
Before going ahead with the transplant, water your orchid a few days in advance. Moistening the potting medium helps to reduce the shock of transplantation, so your plant is less likely to get fatigued. On transplant day, take your new medium and soak it in a bucket of water for around an hour, then remove it and strain it.
Trim off any dead leaves or roots from your orchid with a properly sterilized cutting tool. You can sterilize your pruning shears by boiling them, wiping the blades with a disinfectant, or heating the blades up over a flame, then cooling them under some tap water. Any cut ends should be treated with fungicide or some cinnamon from the pantry (a surprisingly effective alternative!).
Place your orchid and its roots into the new pot ever so gently, so that the base of the lowest leaf is around a half-inch below the rim, directly in the centre of the pot. Sprinkle the new medium into the pot, and lightly press it into place around the roots until the base of the stem is covered. Once it’s in there, try tilting it a little bit from side to side. If your plant is flopping around, try pressing in a little more growing medium so the orchid is secure. Help the medium settle by giving the bottom of the pot a few gentle smacks.
For the first few weeks after transplanting, your orchid may need a little bit more water than usual to help it get established. Mist it regularly instead of drenching the soil medium, and once the roots are growing and the plant is settled, give the medium one thorough watering. When it’s fully established, you can carry on with watering it every 1-2 weeks as usual.
While mastering the art of orchid care can seem a bit daunting, the moth orchid is definitely a good starter option. Once you’ve got the basics of moth orchid care figured out, you’ll be amazed at how vigorously they’ll bloom when conditions are right. Stop by and visit us at Mother Nature here in Powell River and we’ll help you find the perfect orchid to get you started on this fun new plant care endeavour!