Phalaenopses (phals for short) are one of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow indoors—they can give years of blooms if taken care of properly. Please see photos above to identify this type of orchid, commonly sold in the big box stores, grocery stores, plant nurseries.
Their light requirements are the most important part of successful orchid reblooming. Phals (and most other orchids) will not rebloom if they don't get enough sunlight. Phals require direct sun up to 11:30 a.m. and indirect light the rest of the day. When the temperature gets cold by the window in the winter, this is good as it initiates their flower spike. Sometimes one must take the phal outside in the fall for cooler night temperatures (minimum low is 60 degrees) to help it initiate a spike.
For even MORE blooms—after the last of the blossoms has faded, the flower spike should be cut in half, one quarter inch above a V-shaped node. Many (about 25 percent) of phals will branch and start flowering again on the old spike.
Watering is one of the more tricky parts of orchid care because so many conditions impact the moisture: type of pot (plastic, clay or ceramic), light, type of potting medium, humidity and fertilizer. Stick your finger into the potting medium to see if it feels moist. Short version is to water it once a week, under the faucet for 30 seconds with tepid (not cold) water, early in the day (to let it dry out and discourage fungus and bacteria growth).
Set it aside for ten minutes and water again which helps get the potting medium really wet. Don't get the phal's leaves wet as it will cause crown rot or leaf spots, and no need to mist this orchid.
Fertilize with one-quarter strength of the recommended amount of appropriate fertilizer for three weeks, and just use plain tap water the fourth week (to flush fertilizer salts out of the pot). Buy fertilizer where orchids are sold; get one called Blossom Booster and the other just plain Orchid Fertilizer. Each comes with instructions as to what time of year to apply which type although I mostly use the Blossom Booster.
If you get bugs on your orchid plant, spray with regular 90 perceent rubbing alcohol (even on the flower, it will not hurt it). This will kill the white mealy bugs. For scale, wipe off with a moist tissue, then apply the rubbing alcohol. For spider mites, use a mitecide that is safe for orchids.
I have had phals that had four flower spikes on them all at the same time. It can be done; just help your plant re-bloom with enough sun, and water with fertilizer once a week!
Orchid FRENZY! Join the National Capital Orchid Society at our 34th Annual Orchid Auction on Saturday, February 11 at Behnke's Nursery (11300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, Md, 20705)! Hundreds of blooming orchids to be auctioned from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Preview: 10 a.m., Live Auction: 11 a.m. to 4 pm). Free admission, food on-site. For $2 you can have the plant(s) you are interested in moved to the 'head of the line'! Email me for more information or please go to the NCOS site.
Nancy Burns is a certified Master Gardener, Belle Haven Garden Club President for the past six years, co-author of two award-winning gardening books, member of the Landscape Designers' Group and the Landscape Design Council as well as being completely obsessed with plants and gardening.