Orchids tend to get a bad reputation for being tricky to care for, but in reality, they’re no more difficult than any other tropical plant you might encounter. Complete with deep emerald green or even mottled leaves, these orchids really steal the show.
The blooms of moth orchids are what could be considered most confusing to some. When the moth orchid is done blooming, it will either produce new plants from the stem, or the stem will die back. The plant isn’t dead; it’s just dormant.
This very common misconception is just one of many that we will debunk in this article, alongside a detailed care guide on how to keep these orchids happy and thriving. But first, a little bit about where they come from!
About Phalaenopsis Orchids
In nature, there are about 45 different species of moth orchids, but breeders have hybridized countless variations to produce new color variations and growth habits. There are lots of different types of moth orchids, including miniature varieties and giant ones.
These orchids originate as epiphytes, or plants that grow on other plants, in India, China, and much of Southeast Asia. They typically draw moisture from humid air through aerial roots, which they attach to the branches of trees and other large plants.
Moth orchids have gained popularity in recent years as they’ve become increasingly more available in supermarkets and nurseries, marketed as gifts and in floral arrangements. Orchids like these are an integral part of the floral industry today.
It can be difficult to find just the right spot for a moth orchid. In nature, they are accustomed to dappled bright light that breaks through the canopies of tropical rainforests. While most of us can’t replicate those exact conditions in our homes, we can still come fairly close.
A great way to reproduce the same light conditions is to use a sheer curtain in a bright window. Direct sunlight can damage delicate foliage, especially newly emerging leaves, so diffusing the light is important.
If sheer curtains aren’t an option for you, try placing your moth orchid adjacent to a bright window with southern or eastern exposure; this way, the orchid isn’t directly exposed to bright light, but can still reap the benefits of light that bounces off the walls around it.
Despite what some online sources may say, moth orchids cannot survive in dark rooms without sunlight. They are not a low light plant, and will not bloom or grow without enough light to photosynthesize.
Some sources claim that moth orchids can be watered with ice cubes on a weekly basis. Technically, you can do this; however, ice cubes provide very cold water to the roots of a moth orchid, which can shock them. There aren’t any indoor tropical plants that benefit from this.
Instead, there are a couple of other methods that are far more beneficial to moth orchids, considering their warm natural habitats. The first is the soaking method, which involves submerging the bottom half of an orchid pot into room temperature water for five minutes.
This should be done weekly, so as not to encourage any bacterial or fungal growth in the growing medium. Watering too often can cause root rot as well, so avoid letting the bark stay damp for too long.
Another easy way to water is to use a shallow drip tray full of pebbles, and liberally water from the top of the pot once the medium is mostly dry. This way, any remaining water can drain away from the pot while still providing some humidity.
Moth orchids have evolved to grow on the bark of trees and other tall plants, which gives them the opportunity to anchor their roots into the crevices of the bark for a firm grip. Since you probably don’t have any grown trees inside your house, there are other ways to replicate this.
The first is to use an orchid growing medium composed mostly of orchid bark and perlite. The bark retains moisture, while the perlite helps to prevent too much buildup. The combination of these two components works very well for moth orchids, but other additives can help, too.
Another great growing medium is clay pebbles, or leca, which are a fantastic choice for epiphytic plants like moth orchids. The pebbles don’t get soggy, but they can hold onto moisture long enough for the orchid’s roots to pull it out as needed.
Clay pebbles are best used in conjunction with self-watering pots, as the clay can dry out fairly quickly. This way, your moth orchid can draw up the amount of water it needs without swimming in the excess.
It might be tempting to pot a moth orchid directly into a decorative container, but in reality, decorative containers just don’t have the drainage that moth orchids need. Instead, pot yours into an orchid container with lots of holes on the sides, then place it into a decorative pot.
Orchid pots typically come in plastic, ceramic, and terra cotta, but ceramic pots are the best choice. They’re made with several holes surrounding the pot’s sides, as well as plenty on the bottom, as well. Self-watering pots are great for moth orchids, as well.
Most orchids don’t like to have too much room in their pots, so smaller orchid pots are the best way to go, unless your moth orchid really is enormous. They don’t like to be repotted, so wait until roots are literally coming out of the holes to repot; repotting too often can cause stress.
Try to avoid using pots made from porous materials like terra cotta if you don’t water often. These types of pots wick away moisture before it can be absorbed by the roots, which makes the roots dry up to the point where they can no longer function properly.
Tropical and subtropical climates that orchids come from all have the same factor in common: high humidity. The humidity in the air is how moth orchids sustain themselves in nature without having to root in soil.
This works well because moth orchids have aerial roots, or those that stick up and out of the growing medium. These roots are specifically for drawing moisture out of the air and into the roots; they’re covered in microscopic, sponge-like hairs.
Typically, most moth orchids do best in 40 to 60 percent humidity, but this can vary depending on the cultivar and the individual orchid itself. You can tell when the humidity is just right when the aerial roots are a nice, light green without wrinkling or browning tips.
To increase humidity for your moth orchid, try using a humidifier nearby. Another option is to fill a shallow tray with pebbles and water and place it underneath the orchid’s pot. You can also opt to mist the aerial roots with a bottle each day, but this can be cumbersome over time.
Since moth orchids kept in pots can’t steal nutrients from other plants, they need regular fertilizing in order to continue growing and blooming to their full potential. Orchid fertilizers come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them are well-suited for the job.
Fertilizer should be applied every two weeks during the growing and blooming seasons, but should be dialed back to once every three to four weeks during the colder months when the plant is dormant. Moth orchids can be sensitive to full-strength formulas, so dilute if necessary.
For fertilizer sprays, avoid spraying the leaves; the orchid won’t receive all the nutrients you’re supplying this way, and it can cause leaf burn. Instead, spray liberally on pre-misted aerial roots and over the top layer of bark or other growing medium.
Liquid fertilizers can be applied to pre-dampened growing medium, but should not be applied to dry medium. Pre-soaking the bark can help to diffuse some of the chemicals in the fertilizer. Avoid using orchid fertilizer spikes, as they tend to burn the roots if placed too close.