As a young gardener, I understood orchids to be difficult, finicky and beyond my horticultural skills.
Then three plants changed all of that. First was a pass-along yellow cattleya orchid and then a pass-along encyclia butterfly orchid. Both proved easy over the years, so I moved them to Tyler with me. Then after having my confidence boosted, I picked out a blooming phalaenopsis orchid at the nursery when I started here in the fall of 2016, and it’s been trouble-free and blooming ever since.
I’ve since added three others and can see why the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service made the phalaenopsis a Texas Superstar selection. They are beautiful and they are easy.
Phalaenopsis, the moth orchid, is one of the best orchids for growing in the home. Temperatures for phalaenopsis should usually be above 68 degrees F at night, and range between 75 and 85 degrees F during the day for fast leaf and root growth. Although higher temperatures force faster vegetative growth, higher humidity and air movement must accompany higher temperatures and the maximum should not exceed 95 degrees F. Night temperatures around 60-65 degrees F and day temperature not to exceed 78 degrees F are desirable for several weeks in the fall to initiate flower spikes. A sudden, drastic change in temperature can cause bud drop on plants with buds ready to open.
The bottom line: Grow them inside during the winter and outside on a partially shaded patio, deck or garden table during the spring, summer and fall. Do not put them in full sun during the summer or they will be burned. Before the first frost in the fall, bring them back inside.
They grow easily in a bright window, with little or no direct sun. Sitting on a table far from a window will not produce any blooms. No matter how bright your indoor lights seem, most homes are too dark and too dry for jungle-loving orchids. Use artificial lighting if available.
Water is especially critical for phalaenopsis. Because they have no major water-storage organs other than their leaves, they must never completely dry out. Water plants thoroughly and do not water again until nearly dry. In the heat of summer outdoors, this may be every other day. I water mine once a week in my office window.
Humidity is important for phalaenopsis, with the recommended humidity being between 50 and 80 percent. Since this is more humid than we like it in our homes, misting them helps, as does sitting them on a tray full of gravel and shallow water. I sit my pots in a sealed window box that I pour a bit of water into each week or when I’m on vacation. It’s extremely important that the roots don’t sit in water, so make sure to remove them from their decorative containers, which often don’t have drainage holes.
Phalaenopsis orchids need regular fertilization, so I feed them half-strength, water-soluble fertilizer every time I water them.
Repotting is best done in late spring when the pots are root-bound, so we’ll save it for another article.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. You can follow him on Facebook at Greg Grant Gardens, read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, or read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com).