Phalaenopsis Orchids: How to Care for Them and Get Them to Flower Again

Phalaenopsis orchids are the most available and affordable orchids on the market. They are also the most popular orchid worldwide and one of the most popular houseplants for people to own.

Commonly called Moth Orchids, they can be found pretty much anywhere that sells houseplants, including grocery stores!

In the horticultural industry, Phalaenopsis orchids are referred to as Phals. This post will use the shortened name as well!

Today we will dive into why Phalaenopsis orchids are so popular, where they are found in nature, how to care for these plants, and more!

Table of Contents

This post is going to focus on the common type of Phalaenopsis orchids that are sold everywhere, likely including your local grocery store. These particular plants are Winter-blooming Phals, where temperature drops induce blooming.

There are also less common Phalaenopsis orchids which require different conditions to thrive and bloom. Some of these less common varieties will be covered in a separate post in the future.

Do Phalaenopsis orchids make good houseplants?

Phalaenopsis orchids are wonderful houseplants. They will grow and bloom in moderate lighting and are not fussy about humidity.

The plant itself is beautiful with or without blooms.

The green, glossy leaves provide a natural architectural vibe to a space and are wonderfully succulent.

When an orchid is flowering, the flowers remain beautiful for long periods of time.

The blooms on Phalaenopsis orchids can last from 2 to 6 months!

They are one of my absolute favorite houseplants because they are so easy to care for once you know a few small tricks and the reward of caring for them successfully is huge!

How to Identify a Phalaenopsis orchid

The easiest way to identify a Phalaenopsis orchid is its flowers.

The flowers consist of 5 petal-like growths. The 3 smaller “petals” are actually sepals and more ovular. The two larger, more round petals are true petals.

The leaves are green, glossy, and somewhat succulent. They grow in alternating directions of left to right, 180 degrees apart.

Where are Phalaenopsis orchids found in the wild?

These orchids are native to Southeastern Asia, with the largest number of Phalaenopsis species in the Philippines.

Phals are epiphytic and lithophytic plants, meaning that they cling to trees, shrubs, or rocks with roots exposed.

In the photo below you can see how the orchid’s roots are sprawling out and grabbing onto the bark of the tree.

Why would plants choose to cling to trees rather than root in the ground below? They are able to receive a lot more sunlight near the top of the forest canopy than from the ground.

Photo by: Franz Anthony, iNaturalist, Source

After seeing a Phalaenopsis orchid in the wild, it becomes obvious why we need to provide a lot of aeration around the roots of our Phals we grow as houseplants.

The forests that Phalaenopsis orchids grow in do experience some seasonal shifts which signal to the plant when it is time to bloom or grow.

Their native forests also remain relatively humid throughout the year.

The orchids absorb the water they need from both the humidity in the air and the rain running over their leaves and roots.

In the case of these common Phalaenopsis orchids, a slight drop in temperature tell the plant it is time to bloom.

Why would cooler temperatures trigger blooming?

The reason temps play such a major role in flowering is that those temperatures signal the change of seasons and the onset of the rainy season. More rains mean more bugs for pollination, more nutrients and higher humidity for continuous growth and seed pod development. After 6-8 months the seed pod breaks open as the dry season hits its peak, giving the seedlings a chance to be blown around, land, and start growing with a friendly fungi without being immediately washed away by heavy rains.

From: Advanced Phalaenopsis Care: Summer vs Winter Blooming Phals on herebutnot.com, Source Link
Photo by: tinusoberholzer, iNaturalist, Source

How to care for Phalaenopsis orchids indoors

Light

Phalaenopsis orchids can tolerate a decent amount of light, as they grow near the canopy of the forest with direct sunlight diffused only through tree leaves and branches.

Phalaenopsis orchids thrive in East or West windows, where they receive a few hours of direct sunlight with bright, indirect light the rest of the day.

They can also be grown in a southern window, but may need to be pulled back slightly or be placed behind a sheer curtain or blinds to diffuse some of the sunlight.

Northern windows are usually too dimly lit to provide an orchid enough light to bloom and grow. There particular windows are well-suited to plants that grow on the forest floor and generally stay terrestrial plants, like Aglaonema or Chinese Evergreens.

Water

The easiest way to water is to observe the color of the roots.

When Phalaenopsis roots are fully hydrated, they will be a rich lime green.

When the orchid needs water, its roots will turn a silvery, papery green.

If you can’t see the roots or prefer a different method:

Press your finger into the potting mix. If it feels dry or just slightly moist, give the plant a good drink. If the mix is wet or very moist, give the orchid more time to dry before watering.

Phalaenopsis orchids do not tolerate overwatering well. The plant is not used to sitting in water for any length of time and will quickly rot if left in wet conditions for long.

They are more tolerant of underwatering, but underwatering can also be harmful if done too frequently.

The photos below show the before and after of silvery, ready-for-water roots and newly saturated, green roots.

Here’s another photo of well-saturated roots that look bright green through the plastic pot.

Potting Mix/Substrate

There are 3 main potting mix recommendations that I’ve seen and have used myself:

#1 100% Sphagnum moss

#2 100% Orchid bark

#3 A mix of sphagnum moss and orchid bark

#1 100% Sphagnum moss

100% Sphagnum moss can work if the orchid is not placed in too large of a pot and the sphagnum is monitored for deterioration.

Moss will break down and compact more quickly over time, increasing the possibility of root rot.

#2 100% Orchid bark

100% Orchid bark allows for maximum drainage and air around the roots. However, some people may find that this mix is too well-draining and not allowing the roots to get the moisture they need.

#3 A mix of sphagnum moss and orchid bark

Using a mixture of both sphagnum moss and orchid bark can be very successful because it allows for good aeration/drainage while also maintaining some level of moisture.

Which is best? That is totally up to the grower. I’ve successfully grown orchids using all three.

My favorite is the mixture of moss and bark, though, because it seems to provide the orchids both the moisture and air that they need around their roots.

Some people also add in horticultural charcoal, which is chunky and airy, while filtering impurities.

I do add charcoal to many of my plant’s pots, but almost never with orchids. Why? I don’t know! Maybe I’ll change that this year. 🙂

Pot

Phals are often potted in either flexible, clear pots with a drainage hole, a clear plastic pot that has holes and slits on the sides and bottom, or a net pot.

I will insert a picture from Amazon of each of these below.

Flexible, Clear pots on Amazon

Hard, clear, plastic pots with holes and slits on the sides and bottom on Amazon

Net Pots on Amazon (used for plants that like a lot of air flow and for plants potted in passive hydro and hydroponics setups)

Why clear pots? An orchid’s roots can photosynthesize and will tell the owner a lot about the plant’s needs and health. If the roots are beginning to look discolored, it may be a sign of rot or other disease. If the roots are silvery, it’s time to water. If the roots are a vibrant green, the orchid is happy.

If the orchid has been in an opaque container long term, the roots may not be green, but white-ish. This is okay and not a reason to be concerned.

Why so many holes in the pots? The pots are designed to maximize air flow to minimize the potential for root suffocation and rot.

While all of the pot types mentioned have worked for me, my personal favorite is the hard plastic pot which is clear and has holes on the sides and bottom.

I like that it allows for good air flow while also doing a pretty good job of holding in the potting mix.

Humidity

Phalaenopsis orchids, like most houseplants, appreciate humidity. However, they also do just fine in normal household humidity.

Fertilizer

Orchids need regular feeding to have the nutrients available to bloom and grow.

They can be fertilized using any type of fertilizer. The most common types for orchids is foliar feed and liquid food.

Liquid fertilizer is usually added to a watering can on water day.

Foliar feed is typically sold in spray form that you can just spray on the leaves of the plant and it will absorb the nutrients through the leaves.

To learn more about fertilizing, click here to read my post on all the basics

I fertilize orchids using both foliar and liquid food with success.

My preferred foliar spray is: Cute Farms Orchid Plant Food Fertilizer Mist

This spray fertilizer is an N-P-K of .02-.02-.02. It is a super low dose which allows it to be used regularly without nearly any concern for burn.

My preferred liquid fertilizer is: Espoma Company Organic Orchid Plant Food, 8 oz

This liquid fertilizer is an N-P-K of 1-3-1, higher in phosphorous to support blooming.

It is organically sourced, meaning that it has natural stuff in it and provides both the macronutrients (N-P-K) and lots of other important nutrients as well.

Signs of healthy Phalaenopsis orchid growth

Orchids that grow larger leaves than the previous ones

Happy plants will continue to grow larger, fuller leaves. If the plant isn’t producing larger leaves, it is possible the plant isn’t receiving enough light, isn’t being fertilized enough, or isn’t happy with the water it is receiving.

Orchids with healthy, plump aerial roots.

You can see several aerial roots from the orchid pictured below. One is particularly large and growing in an upward direction like the bloom spike. The aerial root is on the left, the bloom spike is on the right.

Does your orchid need aerial roots? Yes, they can use their aerial roots to absorb moisture and nutrients.

Can your orchid live without the aerial roots? Yes, which is why some people cut them off. I would never personally do this though because the orchid grew them for a reason.

Bright green or silvery green, plump roots

Healthy orchids will have plump, green or silvery roots as well.

Potential signs of issues: dark or discolored roots, roots that look wrinkled or collapsed. Avoid these orchids if possible.

Flower spikes that produce blooms

Healthy plants will not drop their buds when trying to flower. Bringing a plant all the way to flowering is a sign of a happy plant.

Are Phalaenopsis orchids safe for pets and kids?

Orchids are considered safe and nontoxic. Some orchids are used in cooking and to brew tea. Only the vanilla orchid’s fruit (the vanilla bean) is widely cultivated for consumption though.

Want to learn more about growing the vanilla orchid as a houseplant? Click here to check out that post!

How to get your Phalaenopsis orchid to bloom again

The truth is that many Phalaenopsis orchids can bloom again without any intervention from the owner, but there are some specific things orchid owners can do to increase their chances of getting more blooms.

We will talk about what those are in this section!

#1 Ensure your orchid is receiving enough light.

Orchids in too dim of conditions won’t be able to obtain the amount of energy needed to bloom.

#2 Provide a temperature drop at night.

I’ve seen sources that recommend up to a 10 degree temperature drop, but I’ve never provided that large of a drop and I still successfully bring my orchids to bloom.

We only drop our temp a few degrees at night to provide cooler sleeping conditions and that has been enough to encourage blooming.

#3 Provide water and fertilizer regularly

Ensuring your orchid doesn’t sit in too wet or too dry of conditions will set your orchid up for success.

The orchid also needs regular nutrients to be at its healthiest.

The healthier the orchid is the more likely it is to bloom.

What to do with new bloom spikes

When orchids decide to bloom, they will push out a long stalk upon which flower buds will grow. This long stalk is called a bloom spike.

When new bloom spikes begin to grow on an orchid, most people secure them to a stake.

Why do you need to stake your bloom spike?

Technically you don’t. The spike can grow however it wants and will often be healthy and fine to bloom.

The reason why most people stake it is because they want the flowers to be pushed up vertically and cascading above the plant.

It is also possible for the orchid spikes to snap under the weight of the buds and flowers when the cascade is particularly large. So another benefit of staking the orchid is to help support the weight of the flower cascade.

The plants, when left to their own devices, are likely to grow the spikes horizontally in the direction the light is coming from.

If you do want to stake your bloom spike, you’ll want to begin fastening it to a stake when it is still a light, lime green color. This means it is still flexible and young.

Dark green bloom spikes are often hardened in their position and can break if forced upward onto a stake.

What to do with the bloom spike after the Phalaenopsis orchid is done blooming

When an Phal is done blooming, I just leave the bloom spike in place. It is possible for the plant to rebloom from the same bloom spike or to grow an additional bloom spike from a node on the current spike and I don’t want to miss that chance!

The orchid below was blooming in late fall of 2020. You can see that it had 2 bloom spikes. I decided to leave the bloom spikes on the plant to see what would happen.

The spike on the right dried back a bit and then pushed out a new spike that resulted in the two blooms on the right! If I had removed the bloom spike, I would have missed out on these 2 pretty flowers.

If the bloom spike is dried up and brown, I will remove the spike. Otherwise, I just let it hang out and see what happens.

The orchid below is ready for its bloom spike to be removed. The spike has completely dried up and turned brown.

Can you remove the bloom spike? Yes, you can. The plant doesn’t need the spike for survival and some people intentionally remove them to ensure the plant focuses on growing leaves and roots rather than flowers.

What are some common pests, diseases, and issues for Phalaenopsis orchids?

#1 Crown rot

Orchids are not accustomed to having water sit in their crown. The crown is the place where the leaves meet and grow from (the middle of the plant).

This area is depressed, leaving space for water to sit. If water sits for too long of a time, it can allow harmful bacteria to grow which will rot the orchid.

To avoid crown rot, either water beneath the leaves or use a cloth to remove any water that has gathered in the crown after watering.

#2 Root rot

Orchids are very susceptible to root rot because their roots are not used to sitting in high levels of moisture for any period of time.

To avoid root rot, ensure that your orchid is planted in a well-draining media with a pot that provides additional aeration.

Also choose a pot that is just slightly larger than the root ball to ensure that there is a little room to grow, but not a lot of room for excess moisture to sit.

To learn more about root rot and what to do to treat it, click here to read the post.

#3 Bud Blast (when an orchid drops its buds before flowering)

Bud blast is when your orchid decides to stop trying to flower and drops its buds. The cause of bud blast is often incorrect care or pest/disease.

What do I mean by incorrect care? Some examples of incorrect care: overwatering / underwatering, not providing enough light, large temperature fluctuations or drafty conditions, nutrient deficiency due to lack of fertilization

What do I mean by pests/disease? All of the other common problems in this list are potential causes of bud blast: root rot, crown rot, and bad bugs and insects

#4 Mealybugs

Mealybugs are white, fuzzy little bugs that love to hide in and between leaves, roots, and flowers.

You can find them anywhere on the plant, but they are especially fond of new growth.

If you see white, cottony build up somewhere on the plant, it is very likely to be mealybugs.

To learn more about mealybugs and how to treat them, click here to read the post.

#5 Spider mites

Spider mites are tiny pests that are often found on the undersides of leaves and can create webbing between plant parts.

The spider mites themselves are often too small to catch until they are in large numbers. People may suspect spider mites early when they see tiny discolored dots appearing on the leaves from where the mites feed or webbing between leaves and stems.

To learn more about spider mites and how to treat them, click here to read the post.

#6 Aphids

Aphids are small, tear-drop shaped plant pests that like to feed on leaves and stems. They are often found in groups and are one of the more easily identifiable pests for me.

You can find them in lots of colors, but yellow and white seem to be the most common ones on houseplants.

To learn more about aphids and how to treat them, click here to read the post.

While the list above is the most common problems, orchids can have any other pests and diseases, so make sure to check over your plant often!

Watering Orchids with Ice Cubes – good or bad?

There is a company that promotes using ice cubes to water an orchid weekly. While it is sometimes possible to keep an orchid alive providing ice cubes, it is not possible to provide your orchid with the best care if you are using ice cubes.

Watering orchids, which typically prefer room temperature conditions, with ice cubes is akin to telling a human they can only bathe in a tub of ice cubes. In other words, don’t do this to your plants!

It should be noted that the company doesn’t grow the orchids to the point of sale using ice cubes.

If you really want to water your orchids with ice cubes, I recommend putting the ice cubes in a cup and letting them melt to room temperature before pouring the water on your plant.

You are much more likely to find success with this method when you let the water reach room temperature first.

I do still wonder if it won’t be enough water over the long haul, but it is a much better place to start!

Dyed Orchids – good or bad?

There are orchids commonly available which sport a bright blue color. They gained this color through dye injection and will not maintain the color over time.

Any new buds or blooms will revert to their natural coloration.

I’m not sure what the dye injection does to the health of the plant, so I don’t have a comment on that.

My recommendation is to just avoid orchids available in colors that are too good to be true (because they aren’t natural) and choose an orchid that you find attractive in its natural state.

Tell me in the comments below if you decide to try a Phalaenopsis orchid!

Phalaenopsis orchids are extremely easy to find, inexpensive to buy, and pretty easy to care for.

In my opinion, they make fantastic houseplants and anyone who is interested in them should give one a try!

Did you decide to try one out after reading this post? Tell me how it is going in the comments below.

Did I miss some information? Share the info in the comments and I’ll update my post.

Happy Growing!

2 Comments

  1. Pat

    Thank you for this article on orchids. It was informative and helpful in caring for my orchid.

    Reply
    • Colleen

      Thank you for the positive feedback!! If there are any other topics you’d like to read about, please send them my way and I’ll cover them!

      Reply

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