“I can resist anything except temptation.” (Oscar Wilde, in Lady Windermere’s Fan)Two years ago, Home Depot led me into Temptation’s clutches with a two-for-one coupon for orchids. It was January; the weather was frigid; deep snow covered the ground; and the house was now devoid of its colorful Christmas cheer. I was weak, just helpless, I tell you, and I brought home two Phalaenopsis orchids. Only the most hard-hearted, resolute individual would have done any differently!
The blooms on these orchids lasted for months. I think it was May before the last one faded and fell. I set the plants outside then, read articles about orchid care and re-blooming strategies, but, honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever see them bloom again. After all, aren’t orchids hard?
Well, apparently not, because last May, both of these lovelies bloomed again. Unfortunately for one, “Bad Kitty” knocked it over and broke off a bloom stalk:
Once all the flowers have fallen off the spikes, I cut the spikes off and set these tropical plants outside to enjoy the summer’s heat and humidity. Make sure all danger of frost has passed before doing this. They prefer filtered light and light shade conditions; mine do well with an eastern exposure where they see only the very early morning sun. The first year, I allowed the plants to get too much direct sunlight and now the leaves have permanently sunburned spots:New leaves largely hide the sun blemishes, and the leaf did not rot, so I just let it be.
I water the plants with plain water every seven to ten days. Occasionally, if I think of it, I add some liquid houseplant fertilizer (8-7-6) to the water. This is the time when new leaves grow.
In the fall, when the weather starts to cool, I bring the orchids inside to the master bathroom, a bright, west-facing room, with no direct sun exposure, thanks to the frosted privacy windows. Both the light conditions and the high humidity there make it an ideal wintering spot. It’s handy to have the orchids so near the bathtub, too!
Phalaenopsis roots will rot with too much water. I have found success in watering them thoroughly on calendar dates that end in zero. By “thoroughly”, I mean I drench them! I set them, with their plastic saucers, on the floor of the tub, and water them with tepid water first from the top, being very careful to prevent water from getting into the crown of the plant, and then I go on to fill the saucers to overflowing. I let them sit there for an hour or two so the clay pots can absorb some water, and then I dump the water from the saucers and return the plants to the corners of the tub. Don’t let the plant sit in the water indefinitely!In late November or so, I start adding a small amount of bloom-booster fertilizer to the water. The one I use has no urea and an analysis of 11-35-15. The higher phosphorus levels are supposed to encourage flowering. It’s better to err on the side of under-fertilizing than over, since the roots will burn if too much is used. In order to rinse out any excess salts, I omit the fertilizer every three or four times and use just plain tap water.
Once a month or so, I set the plants in the shower stall as soon as I get out, so they can enjoy some extra warmth and humidity.
By January, my orchids put out flower spikes. It can be difficult at first to tell the difference between a flower spike and a new root. A tiny, mitten-shaped bud at the tip is a sign of a flower spike:Once the spike grows four to six inches, I insert a metal support into the growing medium and attach the spike to it so it will grow vertically instead of horizontally. It will take at least three months for the spikes to grow tall and begin to bloom. Until then, I maintain the same routine and leave them in the bathroom. Once the flowers open, I bring the plants downstairs to enjoy their beauty. I keep them out of direct sunlight and continue to water and lightly fertilize them, more frequently now that they are in a room with higher heat and less humidity.
My orchids are not without problems. Somewhere along the way, they became infested with mealybugs. The sticky, white fuzz in the picture below is a sign of a mealybug infestation, and, if you look carefully, you can see some of the ugly bugs themselves:
While I haven’t been able to eliminate this problem, I do manage to keep it under control. My weapons of choice are rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, and cotton swabs:I soak a cotton ball with the alcohol and wipe down the affected leaves. I use the swabs to reach inside tight spots and crevices. I know I would get closer to eradicating the pests if I would treat them more aggressively, as often as very two weeks. Luckily, the mealybugs have never gotten so bad that they hurt the plants; nor have they spread to my other houseplants. (Knocking on wood with crossed fingers!)
Phalaenopsis also seem susceptible to split leaves: I’ve read many articles about this phenomenon, and no one seems to know what causes it. The consensus is that as long as the leaf shows no signs of rot, there is no reason to take any action.
If any leaves do become mushy and rotted, the suggested treatment is to sterilize a pair of scissors and use them to cut the leaf off below the affected area. Then coat the raw edge with cinnamon to prevent further infection. One of my orchid’s leaves is inexplicably missing a large chunk, and I’m keeping a close eye on it to determine whether such treatment is necessary:
If leaves become too badly sunburned, that can also lead to rot, but mine did not get to that point.
I’ve had my orchids for just over two years now, in their original pots. It’s likely that the growing medium has decomposed into dirt by now and does not drain water as well as it once did. Therefore, my next orchid adventure will be re-potting these plants in the early summer, after the current bloom cycle is over. Hopefully it will be a success and I’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful blooms of the Phalaenopsis for several more years to come!