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No-Fail Phalaenopsis Care for Beginners

Orchids 101

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tips for newbies - orchids

When I first started growing orchids, I carefully followed the directions on the label. And, my orchids kept dying. I didn’t give up. I kept growing orchids –  learning by trial, and error, I now grow gorgeous, healthy orchids. This article details what I wish I’d known 12 years ago -Phalaenopsis Care for Beginners.

Foolproof Phalaenopsis Orchid Care for Beginners

  • Keep the potting mix barely damp
  • Don’t use aerial roots to determine if your orchid needs water
  • Orchids growing in sphagnum moss benefit from removing the liner pot
  • If needed, add humidity with a humidity tray

If you want the most basic of bare-bones orchid care tips this article is for you. To properly care for your first orchid, will not need any expensive equipment or specialized training. Instead, I am sharing with you simple things you can do to be on track to successfully care for your first orchid – the phalaenopsis, also known as the moth orchid.

pro tips for new orchid growers

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1- Phals Like Their Potting Mix Slightly Damp

Don’t let phalaenopsis orchids sit in water, but don’t let them dry out either. These orchids do not have water storage in the form of pseudobulbs and need water. The rule of thumb for moth orchids is to keep their potting mix barely moist.

To get a handle on watering orchids, begin by understanding the properties of the potting medium you are using.

Fir bark is a popular potting medium for 2 reasons. First, it is well-draining. Second, it is chunky and allows for air movement around the roots. Both of these elements are essential for healthy orchids. But, sometimes bark can be too fast-draining for phalaenopsis orchids. Phals do not have any water storage. Hence, phals need damp, not soaking potting medium.

The next most popular potting medium for orchids is sphagnum moss – which is highly water retentive. This is great because it keeps orchids from getting dehydrated, but sphagnum moss can result in rotted, over-watered roots.

How to combine the best of both worlds so your phalaenopsis gets a lightly damp mix and lots of airflow in a fast-draining medium: Use fir bark based mix supplemented with a couple of cubes of wool rock.

CLICK HERE,  to learn more about how to water orchids.

2- Don’t Use Aerial Roots to Determine if Your Orchid Needs Water

Check the roots that are growing down into the mix. (I know, that sounds like a no-brainer). When I first started growing orchids, I kept looking at the aerial roots, because hey, they were easy to see, and I’d think, ooh those look dry – and I’d add a few ice cubes to the potting mix.

Don’t do what I did. Instead, look at the roots growing down in the potting medium. Lots of orchids come in a clear, plastic grower pot. These are wonderful because they allow you to look at the roots.

If your orchid is in an opaque pot that won’t let you see the roots, stick your finger or a wooden skewer down into the medium to check for dampness. You can also heft the pot if it feels heavy, the potting mix is wet. If the pot feels light, your orchid is ready for water. This method takes a bit of practice – but it is reliable.

CLICK HERE, to learn more about orchid roots.

3- If You’re Growing an Orchid in Sphagnum Moss, Remove the Plastic Liner Pot

I know, I just recommended clear plastic pots and I still do. These pots give you a front-row seat to what’s going on with your orchid roots.

BUT, if your orchid is growing in 100% sphagnum moss, it may be retaining too much water. By removing the culture pot, the moss will dry out faster and won’t retain as much moisture, and will allow air to the orchid’s roots. It’s a win, win, win.

4- Increase Humidity with a Humidity Tray

Just like orchids need their roots watered, they also need their leaves watered through the water in the air, water vapor. Humidity provides water to the orchid’s leaves and assists orchids as they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. 

If there is not enough humidity in the air orchids close the tiny openings in their leaves, called stomata, and they stop the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. 

Without enough humidity, there is an air of blah about the orchid. It just looks stagnant. The leaves are slightly wrinkly and less shiny. The orchid will look like its suffering. I know that sounds kind of nebulous, but it’s true.

The easiest way to give your phal a humidity boost is with a humidity tray. In its simplest form, a humidity tray is a shallow tray, platter, or plate filled with pebbles and then filled with water. The orchid pot sits on top of the tray filled with water and pebbles. Be sure that the orchid pot does not sit in the water. The orchid roots should not touch the water in the humidity tray.

CLICK HERE, to learn more about why orchids need humidity and how to give them what they want.

Bonus Tips – Phalaenopsis Care for Beginners

If you follow the above 4 tips, your orchids will be in good hands. Just by following that handful of steps, you’ll be far ahead of me when I started with my first orchid. But, if you feel like you’re ready to do more for your orchid, here are a few more easy things you can do to improve care for your first orchid.

5- Location – Location – Location – Provide Bright, Indirect Light for Your Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis orchids do not need as much light as many other orchids, but they still need bright, indirect light. Many people find that a bright east-facing window provides enough light for their phal to build up enough energy to re-bloom.

Protect your orchid from intense or direct light by moving it a few feet away from a window or by hanging a sheer curtain to protect your phalaenopsis from sunburned leaves.

CLICK HERE, to learn more about how to give your orchids more light.

6- Where to Cut the Flower Stalk: 1-inch Above the Base

Unlike most orchids, phalaenopsis orchids can continue to flower on the same stalk. The long flower stalk can continue to produce flowers and the stalk will continue to grow. 

I’ve found that this is not exactly attractive. Imagine a long flower stalk bereft of flowers – until waaaaaay out there on the end you see a flower. This lonely flower is a far cry from the cloud of blossoms that originally graced the orchid.

Remember, don’t let your phal bloom and bloom. There is no trophy for the longest blooming orchid. 

Instead, once the first cloud of blossoms is spent, I recommend cutting the flower spike about 1-inch above the base of the plant. This way, if you do want to try your hand at re-blooming, your orchid will be able to rebuild its strength and grow a whole new flower spike, complete with a whole new profusion of flowers.

To help you further, start by downloading my free cheat sheet to see where to cut the orchid flower spike after blooms have faded to trigger re-blooming. Click here, for the cheat sheet. It’ll be super helpful.

7- Why Did My Orchid’s Buds Shrivel and Die? Discover How to Protect the Buds

When seemingly healthy flower buds wither and drop for no apparent reason, it is called bud blast. Bud drop happens because the orchid’s buds are the most tender part of the plant. Phalaenopsis orchids are vulnerable to bud blast, but it is preventable.

Bud blast is caused by a sudden change in the orchid’s growing environment. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Sudden changes in the watering schedule. Don’t neglect your orchid when on vacation or when you have visitors or another change in schedule.
  • Sudden change in temperature. Be aware of drafts from air vents, exterior doors, fireplaces, wood-burning stoves.
  • Applying fertilizer when buds are forming.
  • Air pollution Use caution when transporting your orchid.

CLICK HERE, to learn more about protecting orchids from bud blast.

8- Phaleanopsis Care for Beginners – Health Checklist 

To give good orchid care you need to be able to prevent, identify, and treat orchid pests and disease. Orchids are generally healthy plants, so don’t get too worried about this section. Though inevitable, at some point along your orchid journey, you will need it.

How to Prevent Common Orchid Pests and Diseases

  1. Keep your orchids healthy. A strong healthy plant is in a much better position to fight off pests and disease than a weak, struggling plant.
  2. Use good hygiene. Sterilize tools when working with orchids. For example, keep your pruning shears sanitized with rubbing alcohol or a flame from a butane torch. Or, use a disposable single-use razor blade to clean up your orchid. Always sterilized tools when working from orchid to another.
  3. Air movement. Do what you can to keep good airflow around your orchids. Turn on a ceiling fan or another small fan. At the lowest setting, point the fan away from your orchids. Weather permitting, crack a window. Air movement will keep fungal and bacterial infections from taking hold of your orchids.

How to Identify and Treat Common Orchid Pests

PEST

IDENTIFY

TREAT

PHOTO

Scale

Hard light, brown bumps
that you cannot scrape
away indicate Boisduval
scale.

With an old toothbrush
and 70% rubbing alcohol,
and a pair of surgical
gloves scrub every nook
and cranny of your orchid.

Mealybugs

Cottony, web-like
substance around the
base of the plant on
pseudobulbs, rhizomes, or
on the underside of leaves

Isolate infected orchids.
Spray the plant with
horticulture oil. This is
most effective when bugs
are in the nymph phase.

Spider Mites

Not all spider mites spin
webs. Because the mites
are so tiny, the best
indicator of spider mites is
tiny indents.

Isolate infected orchids.
Spray the plant with
horticulture oil. This is
most effective when bugs
are in the nymph phase.

Aphids

Look for aphids on the
most tender parts of your
orchid. Look for soft-bodied
green, yellow or black
soft-bodied insects.

Take your orchid outside
and spray off the aphids.
Watch closely. It only takes
one aphid to reproduce
and start a colony.

Ants

Ants love honeydew which
is secreted by healthy
orchids.
Honeydew is also excreted
by aphids and mealybugs

When you see ants, look
for other pests. Otherwise,
a damp cloth will clean up
the honeydew and the
ants will go away.

Snails
&
Slugs

Look at night when they
come out to eat new
growth - including buds
and flowers. Watch for the
slime trail.

Use a product called
Sluggo. Sprinkle it around
your orchids. The snails
and slugs will feed on the
Sluggo and die.

Prevention

Make it a habit to check for
pests when you:

– Water
– Re-pot
–Buy
– Sterilize tools with a
flame or rubbing alcohol

How to Identify and Treat Common Orchid Diseases

DISEASE

IDENTIFY

TREAT

PHOTO

Fungal

Root, rhizome, pseudobulb
rot and leaf spots can all indicate fungus.

To treat fungal and
bacterial infections, use sterilized pruning shears to cut away affected area. Apply cinnamon paste to lesion. For fungal infections, apply beneficial fungi or, a copper-based
insecticidal soap.
For bacterial infections, apply beneficial bacteria,
or refined horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

Bacterial

A spotted or sunken area where water was left sitting; a foul smell.

Treat bacterial infections as you would fungal infections

Prevention

To prevent fungal and bacterial infections, remember three things:

1. Use a fan.
2. Always sterilize tools.
3. Try not to overwater, which leads to rot. Rot leads to infection.

Virues

Viruses are difficult to diagnose. Still, viruses can be
identified by a color break in blooms. A viruses tend to be
in not on plant tissue. Watch for streaking.

To accurately identify a virus you must take a sample and send it to a commercial lab such as agdia.

Prevention

Here’s how viruses are spread: the sap from an infected orchid comes in
contact with a healthy orchid.

To prevent tool transmission
make sanitation a top priority. To prevent insect
transmission, keep insects under control.

Sunburn

Identify sunburn by leaf collapse. As time goes on the leaf will continue to deteriorate. A sunburned leaf will feel squishy.

Remove the burned leaf. Apply a cinnamon paste to the orchid where the leaf was removed.

Prevention

Keep the orchid away from direct sunlight and do not leave an orchid in your car.

– Water
– Re-pot
–Buy
– Sterilize tools with a flame or rubbing alcohol

Double Bonus – Phalaenopsis Care for Beginners

I can tell that you are serious about caring for your Phalaenopsis if you are interested in these tips. These tips will get you much further along on your orchid journey. The previous tips were about how to maintain a healthy orchid in the short-term. 

These tips are for those of you who intend to keep your orchid for years to come. You will enjoy the satisfaction of caring for your phalaenopsis and watching it bloom year after year. 

9- Feed Your Phal

Phalaenopsis, and all orchids, don’t need much fertilizer. They absorb clean rainwater with minimal nutrients. Provide diluted water-soluble fertilizer for your phalaenopsis orchids for stronger root systems, lush leaves, and more abundant flowers.

The key to fertilizing orchids is to remember that less is more. The simplest way to do this is to feed your orchid 2-3 times a month, a complete, balanced fertilizer at ¼ strength.

A complete fertilizer means that the fertilizer contains micronutrients. A balanced fertilizer means that the macronutrients – nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus – are adding in equal proportion. 

On the weeks that you do not fertilize, let water flow freely through the potting media to flushing away fertilizer salts.

CLICK HERE, to learn more about how to feed your orchid.

10- To ReBloom Your Phal, Don’t Discount Temperature 

It is commonly known that orchids without enough light won’t rebloom. What some people don’t realize is that temperature is the other half of the blooming equation.

Temperature changes send signals to orchids telling them what to do at certain times of the year. All orchids experience a growth cycle that includes resting, growing new roots, leaves, and flowers. 

For most of the year, Phalaenopsis orchids need warm temperatures, between 70°-80°F / 21°-26.7°C. Then, for about a month, during the winter, phals need a temperature drop between 55°-60°F / 13°-15.6°C. These cool temperatures are what the orchid needs to trigger blooming.

CLICK HERE, for more tips on how to give your orchids the right temperature to trigger blooming.

11- Re-Potting – Phalaenopsis Care for Beginners

After a while, your orchid’s potting medium will begin to break down and absorb too many fertilizer salts. Both of these situations will kill the orchid’s roots – then you won’t have your orchid any more. 

To enjoy a healthy orchid, you’ve got to re-pot every couple of years or so. 

When to Re-Pot Your Phalaenopsis

The best time to re-pot is after it has finished blooming. And, optimally, when new roots are beginning to grow. The beginning of new roots is especially important for cattleya and dendrobium orchids, and while it is preferable for phalaenopsis orchids, it isn’t a deal-breaker if new roots aren’t emerging.

CLICK HERE, to for more details about when and why you need to re-pot your orchids.

How to Re-Pot Your Phalaenopsis

Re-potting your phal will feel kind of strange if you’ve never done this before. The roots are very thick and stiff compared to other plants you may be used to.

  1. Un-Pot your orchid be taking it out of the pot and picking the potting media off of the roots.
  2. Use sterilized shears to cut away any dead, mushy roots.
  3. Use a high-quality potting mix to re-pot. Do not use regular potting soil to re-pot your orchid. Instead, use a well-draining potting mix. Fir bark is the most commonly used potting mix for orchids. I like to use Bonsai Jack’s Premium Potting Mix. This is a long-lasting, premium mix. I also like to add a couple of pieces of wool rock to help the mix retain more moisture. If you live in a humid climate you may not need to add the wool rock.
  4. Carefully place the orchid in the pot by twisting the roots in one direction and turning the pot in the opposite direction. This will help the roots to curl back into the pot. Add the potting mix as you go.

CLICK HERE, for a step-by-step guide to re-potting orchids.

12- You Don’t Have to Stake the Flower Stalks

This tip optimistically assumes that all has gone well and that your phalaenopsis is growing a new flower stalk. 

When a new flower first stalk emerges, that’s the time to train the flower stalk to grow upward. If you wait too long, it is easy to snap the stalk in half.

I know, at the store all the orchid flower stalks are carefully staked so that the orchids can line up like good, little soldiers. This makes perfect sense for shipping orchids.

Now that your orchid is at home, the original flowers have faded, and, miracle of miracles, you see a new flower spike emerging and it is growing out at a 90-degree angle from the orchid. No worries. You can let the spike grow out naturally, or you can train it to grow upwards.

How to Use Light to Guide the Presentation of the Flower Stalk

The best and easiest way to train your flower stalk is to position the orchid near a window so the new stalk is pointing away from the window. The stalk will then reorient itself so that it grows toward the light source. Keep turning the orchid so that the flower stalk grows upwards in an aesthetically pleasing way. By using this method to minimize the risk of snapping and breaking the flower stalk.

At any rate, you don’t have to worry about shipping thousands of orchids, so it doesn’t matter which direction the flower spike grows.

Practice These No-Fail Phalaenopsis Tips and Feel Joy in Your Orchids

Whether growing your 1st, or your 101st orchid, these plants continue to brighten our days. No matter how experienced (or inexperienced) you are at cultivating orchids, there is still more to learn, and experiments to try.

Remember these 4 phalaenopsis orchid care for beginners tips and you’ll be well on your way to growing gorgeous moth orchids:

  • Keep the potting mix barely damp
  • Don’t use aerial roots to determine if your orchid needs water
  • Orchids growing in sphagnum moss benefit from removing the liner pot
  • If needed, add humidity with a humidity tray

Once you’ve got a handle on the basics of caring for your Phalaenopsis orchid and are ready to fine-tune your expertise, continue to build your knowledge and expertise by experimenting with the more advanced tips.

There’s so much awaiting you in the exciting and rewarding world of orchid culture! 

To help you further, start by downloading my free cheat sheet to see where to cut the orchid flower spike after blooms have faded to trigger re-blooming. Click here, for the cheat sheet. It’ll be super helpful.

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Are your orchid leaves limp and wrinkly?

Get your FREE cheat sheet on how to prevent limp orchid leaves.

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