Gardening: Moth orchids aren’t that hard to grow, maintain

Orchids have the reputation of being expensive and hard to grow. Not true for the Moth Orchid, Phalaenopsis. These Orchids are often found for sale in grocery stores, large box stores as well as greenhouses. The cost varies dependent on the size of plant and place of purchase.

The flowers of Moth Orchids are available in a seemingly infinite array of pinks, reds, yellows and whites.

When purchasing an Orchid, choose the color then look for plant with multiple flower stems. Choose between a plant purchasing a plant in full bloom, a mass of flowers, or one with some flowers and many buds. An orchid plant in full flower makes and impressive show that can last for a long period of time. A plant that has tight unfurled buds will gradually open new flowers and theoretically, last for a longer period of time.

The health of the plant can be seen in the roots. A healthy Moth Orchid’s root tips are bright green.

Moth Orchids are easy to grow as there temperature requirements are similar to those of most houses, 21-27 C (70-80 F) during the day and 15-21 C (60-70 F) at night. Higher or colder temperatures can cause the plant to drop flowers.

As they are tropical plants they do require more humidity that the average building especially in winter. This can be remedied by placing the plant pot in a tray that contains rocks and water. As the water in the rocks evaporate the humidity in that area increases.

Moth Orchids are understory plants in the tropics, meaning they are shaded by larger plants. The east window provides similar light. West and south windows tend to be too sunny unless covered with a thin curtain. They do their best in an east window. According to the American Orchid Society, the color of the leaves indicates how the light levels are affecting the plant. A plant that is receiving the correct amount of light should have olive green leaves. Dark leaves mean too little light while a red edge indicates the light is too bright.

Orchids in buildings are usually planted in a moss or bark mixture but in the wild, they are found hanging from trees or clinging to rocks. Neither place is known to hold much moisture.

Check the moisture level in the potting medium before watering. If in doubt, allow hold the water as the plant does better with too little moisture as opposed to too much. An ice cube a day might work for people but it is better to use water that is kept at room temperature. Water either by placing the roots under running water or by setting the roots in liquid for five to 10 minutes. Once the potting medium is soaked, remove all the excess moisture. Moisture in the crown of the plant can cause rot so avoid watering the foliage.

Expect to water the plants planted in a moss medium less often than plants in bark as moss has a higher water holding capacity.

It is recommended that the orchid be fertilized weekly. Either use an orchid fertilizer and follow the instructions or a balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20. When using a balanced fertilizer reduce the amount of fertilizer by half. To avoid a buildup of salts, flush the potting medium, allow water to run through, once a month.

Once all the flowers are spent, the spike should be removed. Cutting back to two buds will encourage the plant to put out a new spike within six to eight weeks. Cutting back to the level of the leaves will result in the plant putting out larger flowers next year.

Add color to the house or office with an orchid. They have a long lasting flower and can be inexpensive.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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