Re-Blooming Phalaenopsis

Phal. "Little Sunny"

This post is by special request. One of our most loyal readers has asked me to write about getting (or persuading) phalaenopsis, or moth orchids to re-bloom, and I am happy to oblige. Better late than never…..

My first “phal” was purchased at a local market, as so many of them are. I took it home and immediately began researching the species. But it was only after talking with experts at orchid shows and joining an orchid club where the members knew much more than I did that I actually began to “get” orchids.

I’ll cut right to the chase. Here’s the most important thing (in my humble opinion): find out where the orchid you bought grows in the wild. That way, you can have a better idea of how to grow it at home. The idea of buying something beautiful, something alive, and tossing it after it flowers is abhorrent to me. It is such a waste. Anyway, having a resting orchid gives you an excuse to buy more orchids, because that way you will have different plants blooming at different times. Yay!

Phal. "Yellow Butterfly"

Phalaenopsis Revealed

Back to phals. These orchids are epiphytes. They don’t live in the ground (although some other orchid species do). They attach to trees and hang there, absorbing moisture and nutrients from the air. That means the one surefire way to kill a phal is allowing its roots to stay wet so they rot. They must have good air movement (as there would be high on a tree branch) and cooler temperatures – 60s and 70s are fine.

If you look at your plant, you will  notice that there are two different kinds of roots: ones that go down into the potting medium and those other gnarly ones that sit on top. Those surface roots are covered in velamen, and when you water the plant with the sprayer in the sink (as you should) that velamen will turn green as it absorbs the water – something I enjoy watching.

A blue ribbon phal at an orchid show

Potting

Orchid people can debate the merits of various potting media for hours.  I just use what makes my plants happy. For phals, I buy a coarse potting medium that contains mostly bark. Again, remember that the roots like to have air circulation, and air travels through the medium. I buy my various potting media from Kelley’s Korner, (link below) but you can get yours wherever you wish. I do not like sphagnum moss for orchids and if I buy one that is planted in it, I repot the plant as soon as possible. I don’t find that sphagnum allows enough air circulation, and it’s hard to get the water to penetrate it  properly.

Here’s another very important tip: it’s important to allow new potting medium to soak in water for about a week BEFORE you use it, so it is properly saturated before you stick a plant in there. If you plant an orchid in new, dry medium, every time you water it, the medium will suck away all the moisture and your orchid will die of thirst. As for when to pot, my experience is that phals really don’t care if you re-pot them while they’re in bloom, although my gardener’s instincts tell me I should wait until the flowering is over. I don’t always, though, and the plants are fine.

To re-pot, remove the orchid from the old pot and examine the roots carefully. Cut off any that are black or shriveled. Phals need re-potting when their potting medium starts decomposing and turning into soil. Every couple of years should be good enough.

Put a bit of your saturated medium in the bottom of the pot. Use the same pot or one only very slightly larger. Hold the plant in the center of the pot, kind of suspended in the air, and dribble the medium around it until it surrounds the plant. Do not shove it down into the pot, or try to pack the roots in. The plant will be wobbly for a while, so be careful when you move it. Water it well with Superthrive to help stimulate root growth.

Mini phal "Timothy Christopher"

Water and Food

I water my phals thoroughly every week at the kitchen sink, spraying the medium for at least a minute, and then letting the excess water run out. Don’t let water accumulate in the plant’s crown, because it could cause rot. If some gets in, just stick the tip of a paper towel down there to get rid of most of it.

I also feed my phals, and all my other orchids. Here’s my routine: one week, plain water. The next week, Superthrive. The third week, plain water, and the fourth week, fertilizer. These days, I am using Michigan State University’s “Tap Water Special” which is available at orchid shows and at Kelley’s Korner, or you can find it elsewhere online.

Light

It’s important to provide your phalaenopsis with enough light. Mine sit in various windows throughout the house and do well in different exposures, although the southwest side can get a bit too toasty in the summer. Anything except shade is ok. Use common sense and move your orchid around until it seems happy. Pay attention. If the leaves wrinkle, it’s not getting enough water. If the leaves get yellow scorching on them, move it to a less sunny spot.

Large phals at an orchid show

Where to buy

I prefer buying my plants directly from the growers. That way I’m not paying a middleman  – or woman – and I get healthy “well grown” plants, as they say in the orchid world. They’re often cheaper than the ones in the big box stores, too. But feel free to succumb to temptation wherever you find it. Just make sure you are buying a healthy phal. Use your gardener’s eye and check for insects, dead foliage, wilting buds and flowers etc. These are all signs of severely stressed plants that might not recover when you bring them home. Please do not fall for those pathetic “Just Add Ice” orchids. A couple of ice cubes a week is not even remotely enough water for a phal, and they hate cold water besides. This is a dumb idea aimed at lazy people, which we gardeners are not.

Also remember that the phalaenopsis species is way more interesting than the typical white phal that the designers on television seem to be obsessed with. There are minis and spotted ones and a whole range of interesting colors.

Feel free to write me with your phal questions. If you pay attention to your plant and really try to be sensitive to its needs, it will reward you with re-blooming – the ultimate prize for orchid lovers everywhere.

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About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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20 Responses to Re-Blooming Phalaenopsis

  1. cj wright says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I picked up a bag of orchid bark on a whim about a week ago, just hoping that my pitiful orchids would do better in that. Mine are in sphagnum moss, alas! The bag is still unopened and I’m glad I waited for this post, dirtynailz. Your tip on soaking the bark for a week is very helpful and not mentioned in the potting instructions on the bag. I’m glad I waited. Sometimes it really is better to do nothing for a while.

    I’m really glad you mentioned the southwest windows. Most of the info I’ve gotten says that’s the best spot, but it didn’t work for me. Are grow lights too intense for an orchid?

    I can’t wait to see how my orchids respond.

    I have a question about reblooming. When might I expect to see something happening after repotting them?

    Also, a friend of mine has an orchid that sent up a stem and made two little buds, but they wilted away before opening. What is a possible reason this happened and how do we prevent it?

    And one last, maybe odd, question. Since orchids live in branches, can we attach an orchid to a branch and skip potting altogether?

    Thank you so much, dirtynailz. Hope I didn’t overwhelm you with too many questions.

    cj

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    • dirtynailz says:

      Glad to be of service, CJ!

      Grow lights work well for orchids, but yours should do just fine in a bright window, as long as the sun doesn’t get too strong. I move some of mine from the southwest corner of the house to a cooler spot when the sun gets stronger here.

      I have had phals respond with new growth within as little as a week after re-potting. Since yours are in sphagnum, when you remove them from their pots, you’ll probably find dead roots. Don’t be afraid to cut these off. Just re-pot your orchid in its original pot in the new medium.You may get new leaves and roots instead of a flower spike at first, but that’s all good for the plant, which will thank you for all the TLC by flowering when it’s strong enough.Feeding it will help a lot. What’s your tap water like? Sometimes that can adversely affect orchids, too. Softened water is definitely a no-no.

      Your friend’s orchid sounded like it suffered some form of stress – maybe a sudden change in temperature or too little or too much water. Any of these can cause a plant to drop its buds – which is a huge drag, of course. If the plant is healthy, though, it should recover just fine.

      Regarding orchids living on branches, many species are indeed mounted on bark or other similar things. This works really well if you have a greenhouse, or you’re able to mist them several times a day, but it just isn’t practical for those of us who grow our orchids in our houses where it can get pretty dry, especially in the winter. Phals are not sold mounted, though, although maybe somebody somewhere is doing that. The key is a nice clean, un-rotted bark mix that the water can permeate and then trickle through.

      Please keep us posted on your “orchid rehab!”

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  2. cj wright says:

    Luckily, I don’t have soft water here. I’ll put all your tips into practice and let you know how it goes. I’m off to soak my bark so I can have them ready to go within a week.

    Again, thank you so much for this.

    Like

  3. auntie beak says:

    yes, thanks a million for this post, dn! a friend gave me a phal, and it’s been doing so well (even sent out a new branch of blooms), that i got brave and bought another in the store. this one is in sphagnum, though. guess i’ll have to go get some bark. [is this how orchid-addition starts????]

    Like

  4. HerbDoc says:

    Great post, DN, and I have to give you a two thumbs up for the recent article in the paper! I’ve always wanted to try to grow these as they were my mom’s favorite but have been afraid to do so!

    Like

  5. elderberry says:

    Outstanding DN. I am almost motivated to take the plunge and try one. Like the others, I have always let this plant intimidate me but you make it seem so easy.

    Like

  6. Wendy says:

    This is really helpful and makes me feel like I should try to grow one of these guys. I have a mini that has bloomed for a third year in a row which is spectacular b/c I’m a houseplant killer. We got a couple other ones from the orchid display at the National Museum of Natural History – maybe 2 years ago? Doing nothing. Not dying, but just sitting there. I can be patient.

    Like

    • dirtynailz says:

      I am particularly fond of the minis for several reasons: they fit nicely on widow sills, they usually have more blooms than the big phals, they come in cool colors, and they seem to be relatively trouble-free. I have a white one that’s in bloom about 8 months of the year.

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      • cj wright says:

        8 months!?! How long does it take to rebloom after the last blooms fade?

        Like

      • dirtynailz says:

        It only rests for about 3 months, then it starts to spike again. I love this little plant because it lives happily on my kitchen windowsill and I can look at it while I work. This might sound crazy, but I think plants like to be “where the action is” in a home. Maybe it’s the energy or something, but any time I have had a plant that’s out of the busier rooms in the house it hasn’t been happy. OK, you can call me crazy now…

        Like

  7. cj wright says:

    Not crazy at all! I’m among those who believe that plants are very sensitive. It’s been proven that they respond to many things. Why would they thrive alone? How many of us do?

    Like

  8. Pingback: Zodiactivities for February 27 – March 4: Moon in Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo | Lunar Home and Garden

  9. cj wright says:

    I have just repotted my two orchids following your instructions, dirtynailz. I couldn’t believe how packed one of them was with sphagnum moss. I have enough to top several other plants with it. Now it’s a waiting game. Wish the orchids luck.

    Like

    • dirtynailz says:

      So did you also find blackened rotting roots in all that sphagnum?If you did, I hope you cut them off.
      I think you will be surprised at how quickly your darlings will respond to their new and vastly more appropriate medium.
      Remember to keep us posted!

      Like

      • cj wright says:

        I found some bad roots on both and snipped them. There were lots that had already started disintegrating in one of the orchids. It had enough roots to make a comeback, I hope.

        Like

      • dirtynailz says:

        Good. Sounds like you came to the rescue just in time!

        Like

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