House Plants

A Great Orchid: Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis orchid

I am not an orchid aficionado. I cannot get Cattleyas to flower, Dendrobiums never rebloom for me, while lady slippers’ flowers last too short a time for me to appreciate them. However, I love, adore the most popular houseplant today, Phalaenopsis. For all those who have a brown thumb when it comes to houseplants, I urge you to try growing Phalaenopsis.

I arrived at the Phalaenopsis fan club rather late in life. A dear friend, an orchid expert, gave me my first plant, but little did I realize how passionate, how maternal I would eventually feel towards that orchid. When I couldn’t get it to rebloom, I fretted, I stewed. Meanwhile several knee replacements generated more Phalaenopsis, so I began to take it personally when my collection of orchids failed to rebloom.

Phalaenopsis Orchid Care for Beginners

This is the perfect orchid for the beginner because (1) it is easy to grow; (2) its flowers last a long time, often up to three months; (3) it comes in a huge variety of colors; (4) it is also widely available. The trick is to get it to bloom again and again. It is of utmost importance that you don’t throw it out as soon as the blooms have gone.

When I first tried growing Phalaenopsis, I treated it as a house plant, watering it once or twice a week and feeding it weakly every week or so. It didn’t like this treatment and quickly developed unsightly viruses on its leaves.

Orchids have several requirements that you have to follow. First, they need light, not direct sun, and will not flower if placed in an area of low light density. Second, they should never stand in water. If they are going to bloom, they require lower temperatures, and they like to be grouped together—it’s better to have two orchids rather than a solitary one.

Over my kitchen sink I have a window with a large shelf facing north and it turns out that this is a perfect place to grow Phalaenopsis. The plants never receive direct sun but get plenty of light—and most importantly, they receive cooler temperatures, especially at night. Some experts recommend moving the Phalaenopsis out to an area of the garden for the summer where it will receive filtered sunlight. My plants are happy in this window so I don’t follow this advice.

Phalaenopsis Orchid Watering

Ice cubes solved my watering problem. Now you might shudder at using ice cubes, as many orchid experts do, but I can only tell you what has worked for me—and I hasten to remind one and all that I’m not an orchid specialist. Every Sunday, each orchid receives approximately five ice cubes that supply their weekly dosage of water.

Other Phalaenopsis Orchid Care Tips

I now forgo the orchid food. I have no idea whether they are receiving enough nutrients; I can only tell you that they are thriving. An added advantage is that I don’t have to worry about a buildup of fertilizer salts.

I have learned never to cut off the flower spikes unless they have turned brown. Previously I would snip off the stems in an effort to tidy them up, not realizing that the stems will often generate new growth and additional flowers.

The result of this lack of care has had awesome results, perhaps not for the orchid expert, but for me, an orchid novice. Every fall, winter, and spring my Phalaenopsis have an incredible surge of flower production—in fact, many produce more blooms now than they had when first purchased. One Phalaenopsis I have had for six years and it’s cheerfully producing flowers on a regular basis.

Once I stopped nurturing the Phalaenopsis, they began to perform. I have discovered one thing about orchids and me: A happy Phalaenopsis delights me.

After joining the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners in 2003, Kit Flynn now has emeritus status. She also writes gardening articles for the Durham County Extension Master Gardener newsletter, an online magazine “Senior Correspondent,” and “The Absentee Gardeners” column for “The Blowing Rocket” with Lise Jenkins.