Thursday, February 28, 2008

Basic Phalaenopsis Culture

As a plant geek I often field questions about orchids and plants in general. I actually enjoy this, since like most people I like to talk about the things I'm most passionate about. But it has occurred to me that people might appreciate and benefit from a series of plant care and techniques posts. This is the first of several I have planned. If you have requests, please let me know.

Basic Phalaenopsis care seemed like a great place to start since many people get a Phal as a first orchid. Most of the species and hybrids are adaptable and easy to grow in typical home conditions (although there are some species and some rare hybrids that have special needs, but these are also less commonly available).

• Light: An unobstructed East or West facing window is best. South facing with some midday shade or a sheer curtain is ok. Fluorescent lights (2-4 tubes, 8-12 inches from plant) may also be used.

• Water: More orchids are killed by too frequent watering than anything else; but don’t be afraid to water your plants. For Phalaenopsis hybrids, water when media is dry about 2 inches down—test with your finger. Water freely from the top of the media, letting pot drain. Do not leave sitting in water. They will need water once per week on average, adjusting up or down with seasonal changes in temperature and humidity.

• Feeding: Use a ½ to ¼ strength solution of balanced fertilizer about once per month.

• Temperature: Average house temperature is fine (65-85F).

• Other: Repotting is recommended every two years. Misting leaves is not recommended. I do not recommend pebble trays either. The plant will adjust to the humidity levels in your house.

Soon to follow: posts on repotting and mounting plants. Stay tuned! :)


Anonymous said...

i see you said how far away the hals should be away from the lights, if you are using fluorescent lights with 2-4 bulbs. i have four bulbs, and that information is greatly appreciated, because i cant afford a light meter to measure the light levels. could you tell me how close you keep your catts and hard-cane dens? thank you very much!

SapphireChild said...

I don't generally keep those under fluorescent lights as they don't really give off light at a high enough intensity, with a few exceptions.
(1) small seedling stage, as in just out of flask. I may keep them with the phals for a few weeks to months before moving them to higher light in an effort to 'graduate' them to their final destination.
(2) Some of the lower-light cattleya hybrids or related species can be bloomed under fluorescent lights. This includes a some of the Sophronitis and a very select few of compact Cattleya species. Refer to for more information. These and hybrids relying heavily on these can be kept at a distance of about 6 inches or less from the tubes.
(3) You can supplement otherwise too low light from your windows with fluorescent lighting. For example, if you have an apartment with only East facing windows (1-2h direct sun), you might try hanging a 2 tube fixture over your plants, probably within 10 inches, to enhance the natural light. This would require some experimentation, and may not work for all Catts and higher light Dendrobiums.

Alternatively, you can use a high intensity lamp for your Catts, such as those sold by Hydrofarm. They are rather pricey, however.

Incidentally, although some folks will substitute a "shop spotlight" or mechanic's HID 500-watt lamp, I recommend against that. I did it for a while. They tend to arc and fry themselves if used for long periods of time, becoming a fire hazard. Don't be tempted.

Anonymous said...

thank you for your input.

but i dont have any windows available. how much do the high intensity lights usually run? because im on a VERY tight budget. are there any other solutions? its in my asement, so the only available lighting is from a tiny 12x8 window, and that doesnt help much.

i met you at the susquehanna OS meeting,i bought a small catt and a phal seedling.

anyways, im not sure what to do now, so any help is very appreciated.

SapphireChild said...

Well, price somewhat depends on exactly what you're looking for. I use a 1000W metal halide. The bulb itself is $120, plus you'd need a ballast and reflector, and optionally a track. So most likely out of the budget options. However, you most likely don't need that at this point in your orchid career. It would be excessive for a couple plants. So maybe what you want to do is on one end of your plant area, mount a 150W or 250W halide lamp or a compact fluorescent equivalent to give extra light for your higher-light-needs plants. You should be able to get these at the hardware store. You may even be able to find full spectrum bulbs (I think Philips makes them, Hydrofarm also makes them I think), and you should be able to find clip on or wall mount fixtures that just plug into the wall.

The compact fluorescent option is best, as the halide ones generate a lot of heat, which is inconvenient for close quarters.

Anonymous said...

that is definitely out of my budget!

I have 31 'chids in my collection ATM. and around 15 of them need higher light, like catts do.

i have them on a metal shelf unit, like you suggested at the OS meeting.

you can see pictures here

after looking at the link and pictures of my set up, where do you suggest i put the compact fluorescents?

thanks :D are you going to be at the Susquehanna OS show in october?

SapphireChild said...

Put them where they won't be in your way, either on one end or in the middle, at the same level as the standard bulbs, and point them in. Put your catts closest to them of course. It isn't an emergency, your catts won't die, they just aren't likely to bloom under standard fluorescent only. Adding extra spotlights will hopefully boost the light enough.

Maybe in a few years you'll have better windows, too. :)

Anonymous said...

i dont understand where i would hang them, there isnt room in the middle, because there are two fixtures with two bulbs each, and there isnt room. would it be sufficient if i clipped it to one of the poles that run lateral and hold the shelf up? and just clipped it as high as i could and angled it in?

thanks alot!

maybe in a few years ill have a green house! and more orchids!

SapphireChild said...

I mean on the edge of the shelf at midpoint, not dead center of the shelf. Just move it around until you find a good spot.

Anonymous said...

okay, so if i add that extra light, do you think that would be enough light to successfully bloom my high light catts and dens?

thank you very much!!!

by the way, i LOVE you blog :)

SapphireChild said...

I think it is more likely than without, but I've never actually tried this approach before so I can't say for certain. As long has you have a high intensity bulb - 150 watt or 150-watt-fluorescent-equivalent or more - I'd expect it to be pretty high probability. It will only work for a small group, though. So if your collection of high light stuff changes dramatically you should probably start saving up for a swanky hydrofarm 500 or 1000 watt fixture.

Sabeehah Adam said...

Hi I'm wondering if you could help me. I was given an orchid as a gift and it was flowering but now it's seemed to stop and the leaves have got some marks on them that don't look too healthy, I'm not sure what to do or how to help my plant now. Is there any advice you can give me?

SapphireChild said...

Hi Sabeehah,
Can you share a photo? That might help.

In general, dropping flowers isn't much to worry about. Could be they are just done flowering for now, or sometimes they get grouchy about being moved between dramatically different environments and eject their flowers in protest. Doesn't necessarily mean there is any thing going on with the plant.

However, marks on the leaves might be something to worry about, so it is worth examining more closely. Please also let me know how you are caring for the plant.

Sabeehah Adam said...

I'm not sure how to send the pictures exactly, do you maybe have an email address I could send them to? I keep my plant in my room, it's near an eastern facing window that gets a lot of light, it's not directly in the light so it won't get sunburn. I water the plant every 5-6 days depending on the weather and I've recently added a plant food when I water it, following the instructions on the bottle. It says to add a certain amount to the water and water as usual, I've only just begun doing this so obviously there won't yet be any results or anything

SapphireChild said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SapphireChild said...

I received your images. Good news: There is nothing wrong with your plant. Actually it looks pretty excellent. What you are seeing is a natural color pattern found in some Phalaenopsis species, such as Phalaenopsis schilleriana and philippinensis, plus a couple others, but not all species have it. Likely your plant has one or more of these in its ancestry. In the species themselves these patterns can be strikingly beautiful, but the patterns don't always come through well in later generation hybrids - too dilute.

Unless you live in a tropical or subtropical region where light is very strong, I would actually suggest pulling back your curtain to allow the plant to get 1-2h of direct sun in the early morning. Early morning sun is gentle, not very hot, but will give the plant the extra energy it needs to grow and flower well every year.

Sabeehah Adam said...

Hi there, I was gone away this month and left my plant with my brother in law. He watered it as usual kept it in the correct place and things but now the stick is dried out and yellow. What do you suggest I do? There's still one green stick on the plant but that isn't growing, the leaves are also still green.

SapphireChild said...

Hello! I recall your plant had two old inflorescences on it (flower stems). On most phalaenopsis species and hybrids, these do generally only last for a single blooming season, though sometimes they stick around a year or so and put on new flowers randomly some months later. When it is blooming season, the plant will make a new stem or two for flowers as long as it is healthy and getting about the right amount of light. So, no need to worry. If the leaves look good, it is probably fine and just done with that stem.

Based on what we know about the plant by the appearance and habit of the leaves, it probably falls into the majority category for phalaenopsis of early spring bloomers. They can be manipulated in a greenhouse to bloom out of season, but under normal conditions in your house you'll likely see new flowers around then. In winter/late winter, start watching for the new stem to appear. Advice on spotting them early (for the impatient gardener) can be found here:

Sabeehah Adam said...

Thank you so much, really appreciate all the help