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Caring for your orchid - basic Phalaenopsis care

When buying your orchid you have to remember there are thousands of them and these days supermarkets and DIY stores offer a wider variety of commercial hybrids. 

Phalaenopsis or a 'Moth orchid' is the most common orchid available (see the picture)

ROOTS

Growing a strong orchid that will bloom regularly requires a strong root system. The leaves of an orchid may look great, but if it does not have a robust root system it will not be able to bloom and thrive. Many orchids are sold in synthetic 'plugs' or full sphagnum moss - this way they grow and thrive in their commercial greenhouses but they might suffer greatly grown this way at home. No matter what type of an orchid you are growing, make sure the root system gets enough air (and oxygen) and does not stay wet for a long time.

When you purchase a new orchid it's a good idea to check on the root system and repot if necessary as soon as the blooms fade. What you want to see are robust, sturdy roots. Take it between your fingers and squeeze it - if it feels mushy and it's brownish cut if off with sterilised scissors. Tidy the whole root ball, rinse it off in a sink or hose it down in the garden. Avoid spraying water on the leaves and in the crown.

FLOWERS

Don't be discouraged when your plant drops the blooms. When you purchase your plant it is hard to tell how long the flower was there already, and not all orchids flower for a long time.

You can expect your Phalaenopsis to spike again when they notice the temperature drop, usually in early fall and then bloom in the winter or spring. You can also try to induce it by moving plant to a colder porch any time of the year for 2-3 weeks and then move it back to it's usual warm spot. 

After the blooms fade and drop down you will most likely wonder what to do with the spike. There is many schools - you can either cut down the spike and leave a couple of nodes (the little 'joints' with a tiny triangle sheathe, usually a slightly different shade of green) This way if the plant is robust it will be able to branch out from the same spike and flower again. When your plant is young and not very healthy it'd probably better to cut off the spike completely. You can also leave it as it is, cutting off only the brown and clearly dead parts of it - that will usually result in very long and mostly unsightly spikes, and very often it will also bear keikis (from Hawaiian meaning a baby)

There are exceptions to every rule. Some plants should NOT have their bloom spikes cut. Species such as violacea, amboninsis, cornu-cervi, etc. will only usually have a few blooms at the end of a spike and will bloom sequentially for a long time. 

WATERING

You will hear many contradictory advice about the watering. Some will tell you to water every 7 days, some will say to put ice cubes on top of the rootball every couple of days (which you shouldn't do as this way you're giving your orchid a temperature shock and Phalaenopsis don't like to be cold!)

The best way of doing it is by developing your own routine based on observation. You want your orchid to have a perfect balance between being wet and dry. What usually works best it to wait until the medium becomes dry and you can clearly see roots are silvery-white in colour - you can then take it to a sink to flush down, or if you have it in a decorative pot without holes - fill it up to the top and let it soak for a while. Drain it, shake gently, blow off any water that could have gathered on or between the leaves and put it back in it's usual spot. Simple! Now wait until it dries out again.

Bear in mind as you deepen your knowledge about orchids you will discover many cultural techniques of growing that will contradict with each other, based on the type of medium used to grow your plants in.