Encourage Your Phalaenopsis Orchid to Bloom - An Exercise in Patience!

There are over 45 species of Phalaenopsis orchids (a.k.a moth orchids) and they are the most popular orchid in the world. Popular due to their ease of care and ability to stay in bloom for months at a time. Their flower colors are endless and these orchids also come in miniature form. 'Phals' are an epiphytic flowering plant native to China, India, Taiwan, the Philippines, Southeast Asia and Australia. Phals can be found in trees and secure themselves to branches with aerial roots without harming the tree. The aerial roots are those long green tendrils jutting out at odd angles from the base of the plant. Phals also grow amongst rocks close to rivers and moss covered tree roots.

Moth orchids absorb nutrients from decaying plant, insect, and animal matter and take moisture from the humid air. If you are new to Phalaenopsis orchids I would encourage you to study their natural growing environment to give you clues as to how to provide an optimal growing environment in your home. 

People often perceive all orchids as specialty plants that need an immense amount of time and care. Yes, there are some that do need the extra care but the Phalaenopsis is not one of them. If you are just starting out or thinking about growing orchids, this is the one to buy. A healthy moth orchid will grow for years and bloom at least once a year.

Customers that are just starting out growing Phalaenopsis orchids often do not know what to do with them once the flowers drop off or have had a phal for months without seeing another flower spike come out from the plant.    

In order to help your orchid bloom again, it needs the following:

First and foremost; a ton of patience on your part. Phals are slow growing.  Accept it, live with it and don’t sweat the small stuff. :) Do not repot an orchid that is budding and blooming.

Humidity – In their native habitat Phalaenopsis orchids are used to 50 – 100% humidity. If you can supply 50-60% you are doing well.  A humidifier is the best or a pebble filled water tray.  Do not let the orchid pot sit in water. Phals do not like to be constantly wet. In fact you can let them almost totally dry out before watering again. A bright bathroom location is the best really. I have mine on a shelf over the kitchen sink as there is more humidity there than anywhere else in the house.

Phalaenopsis orchids often flower for one to three months. Do not fertilize during the bloom period.    

Once all the flowers have dropped off the flower spike and it begins to turn brown, cut the spike back to 3-4 nodes with sterilized pruners/scissors. Leave the spike at no more than 8-10 cm. tall.

The orchid then needs to rest. It is like a tulip bulb in that it needs to regain the energy/nutrients it used up during the bloom period. During the resting phase these orchids will flatten out their leaves, experience some drooping and generally look unwell. This is normal. Do not throw it out! Fertilize every two weeks during this period with a very weak dilution of an all-purpose water soluble fertilizer. By dilute, I mean fertilize at ¼ the recommended strength on the label.

While the orchid is resting, make sure it is in a warm room (18-24 C) in a location that is bright but not in direct sun and away from hot/cold drafts. A south window is only okay if the orchid is separated from the window by a sheer curtain. My mini Phalaenopsis orchid is in a south kitchen window without curtains but the house has an overhang which blocks the direct sun. If the light in your house is too low, you may also have to rely on full spectrum grow lights to provide the light this plant needs to grow and be healthy.

Phalaenopsis orchids usually need repotting every two years. Repot when the flowers have dropped off and new aerial roots are starting to form. If you have to repot, again be patient as the orchid will take some time to adjust to the new medium.

After the rest period, watch for the new growth phase to begin. The orchid will develop new roots and a new leaf or two. Water during this time with warm water and let the media almost totally dry out before watering again. I like to carefully dunk the pot and aerial roots into a bucket of warm water to make sure all lower parts are saturated. Do not let the water sit where each leaf attaches to the main stem. If this does happen use a cue tip or folded paper towel to soak up the water. Keep very lightly fertilizing every second watering during this time.  Water with clear water between fertilizer applications. This helps to wash away any excess salts in the medium. Always empty the drain tray after watering.

When your Phalaenopsis has grown a brand new leaf or two it is time to start the bloom cycle. The new leaf should be larger than the last one.

Move the orchid to a cool area of the home (13 to 16 C.)  This cooling period is absolutely critical to successfully bloom your orchid in the future. Keep the orchid in a brightly lit room or near to a window where it will get enough light and experience the cooler nighttime temperatures.  After two to four weeks the orchid should be sending out a flower spike from between two older leaves located close to the base of the plants new leaves. At this point, move the orchid back to its original warm room. When the spike reaches a height of 5-7 inches, loosely tie it to a stake. Stop fertilizing. Do not move it from this location as it develops buds. 

I would highly recommend that you keep a journal and record this blooming ‘adventure’. Writing all the steps down as they happen will be important in the future and refresh your memory!

Phalaenopsis may not bloom due to lack of light, over/under watering, lack of fertilization, lack of good air flow in the room, aphids, spider mite, mealybugs, root rot, and botrytis (this shows up as small brown spots on the flowers). Fungal diseases that cause yellowing, orange and red spots on the leaves can also be a reason your moth orchid does not bloom. Copper fungicide spray can help this problem if you catch it early. Healthy leaves should be a bright green - if they become dark green, the plant needs more light. 

Yellow or red tinted leaves – too much light. Relocate the plant!

Brown patches, very limp, wilted, leathery or wrinkled leaves – too much or too little water.

Do not use soft water. And always, always use warm water to avoid shocking the roots. Should I use ice cubes, you ask? My answer is no. Phalaenopsis orchids have survived for centuries in tropical jungles in the understory of surrounding trees. Not an ice cube in sight.

Keep an eye on the root system. The aerial roots secure the plant to a tree, support the orchid and take in any nutrients it needs from the surrounding air and decaying insect and plant matter.  A healthy phal orchid root is light green which shows it is taking in oxygen and photosynthesizing. In order to photosynthesize the orchid roots need light and oxygen which is why they are sold in clear or perforated ceramic pots. If a lot of roots begin to blacken, immediately trim off the blackened areas with sterilized pruners/scissors and repot.

FYI – I had my mini phalaenopsis produce a few new buds at the end of the spike after all the main flowers had dropped off. The buds will flower and you can then cut the spike back once it starts to turn brown.

If the potting mix totally becomes degraded, repot immediately to save the plant. It will begin to grow again in a few weeks.

Large Phalaenopsis plants may send out two new spikes per bloom season.    

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