Growing Phalenopsis Orchids
Traditionally regarded as exotic and fragile, many species of orchids have been available as undemanding houseplants only recently. Modern cultural methods now produce plants that boast blooms of myriad stunning shapes and colors and that are easy to care for in the home. Although most orchids originally came from tropical and subtropical climates, modern plants bred for home use are remarkably adaptable. Phalaenopsis is one of the best orchids for growing in the home. It is called the moth orchid because the flowers resemble that insect and thereby attract pollinators.
Locating Orchid In Home
Phalaenopsis love modest light and good humid conditions, much the same conditions preferred by African violets. Finding a spot with perfect conditions in a home is not all that difficult, but does take some care. You need to find the right light, proper temperature range, and be able to create some humidity for the plant.
Light is easy to provide for Phalaenopsis. Unlike other orchids and most flowering houseplants, they do not want real bright light and direct sun. They grow easily in a moderately bright window, preferably with little or no sun. An east window is ideal in the home, with its little bit of morning sun. A shaded-south window with a sheer curtain or west window is acceptable. In northern climates during the winter, a full south exposure is okay since the sun is much lower in the sky and provides less harmful light.
Artificial lighting works well with this plant. Usually four fluorescent tubes is one fixture are placed 6 inches to one foot over the leaves. Run the lights for 12 to 16 hours a day.
Phalaenopsis like it warmer than other orchids. Temperatures for Phalaenopsis should usually be above 60ø at night, and range between 75º and 85º during the day, temperatures found in most homes in the winter-time. If the temperature is in the higher range make sure there is good air movement and sufficient humidity to support the more active growth. Night temperatures of about 55ø are desirable for several weeks in the fall, in order to initiate flower spikes. You might place the plant in an unheated guest room with proper lighting during this period. Greatly fluctuating temperatures can cause bud (drop)on plants with buds ready to open.
Humidity is important to Phalaenopsis. The recommended humidity is between 50% and 80%. In the home, set the plants on trays of gravel, partially filled with water. Don't let the pots actually touch the water below the surface of the gravel. Mist the plants in homes with hot air heating systems, or during dry weather in the morning only.
General Orchid Care
Phalaenopsis will usually have a growth period and a dormant period each year. It is difficult to predict that period in general since it will vary among the many different kinds of plants. During the growth stage, green foliage is obviously developing. When that stops, you can suspect the plant is moving into its dormant stage. Usually this happens in a home-based plant in late fall. About all you do is cut back on the fertilizer and let it rest. It'll start growing again in a month or so.
Fertilizer should be applied on a regular schedule, especially if the weather is warm when the plants are most often growing. Twice a month applicatins of high-nitrogen fertilizer (30-10-10) are appropriated in warm humid conditions. When flowering is desired, a high-phosphorus fertilizer (10-30-) may be applied to promote blooming. Some growers apply fertilizer at 1/4 strength with every watering; this is best for warm, humid conditions. When cooler, or under dull conditions, fertilizer should be applied once a month.
Water is especially critical for Phalaenopsis because they have no major water-storage organs other than their leaves. They must never completely dry out. Plants should be thoroughly watered and not watered again until nearly dry through the pot. In the heat of summer in a dry climate, this may be every other day; in the winter in a cool northern greenhouse, it may be every ten days. Water only in the morning, so that the leaves are dry by nightfall, to prevent rot from occurring on the leaves.
Flower stems on certain hybrids of Phalaenopsis can be forced to rebloom by cutting the tip off after the initial flowering. Only healthy plants should flower repeatedly.
Potting is best done in the spring after blooming. Phalaenopsis plants must be potted in a well-draining mix, such as fir bark, tree fern, various types of stone, sphagnum moss, or a combination of these media. Potting is usually done every 1-3 years. Mature plants can grow in the same pot until the potting medium starts to decompose, usually in two years. Root rot occurs if plants are left in a soggy medium. Seedlings usually grow fast enough to need repotting yearly, and should be repotted in a fine-grade medium. Mature plants are potted in medium grade medium. When mature, a plant may stay in the same pot size for may years, but must have the medium changed. To repot, remove all the old medium from the roots, trim soft, rotted roots, and spread the remaining roots over a handful of medium in the bottom of a new pot. Fill the rest of the pot with medium, working it through the roots, so that the junction of the roots and the stem is at the top of the medium. Keep the plant shaded and humid, but drier in the pot for several weeks to promote new root growth. A vitamin B-1 solution may be helpful in establishing plants.
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