How to care for a phalaenopsis orchid

Phalaenopsis Orchid Photo by Aldo Fernandes Azevedo from Pexels
Photo by Aldo Fernandes Azevedo from Pexels

Phalaenopsis orchids or ‘moth’ orchids (also known ‘phal’ for short) are having a moment – and it’s no surprise. These slender plants are topped with delicate flowers, their petals spread out like wings. They are eye-catching and suit most decors, adding a touch of elegance to any room in your home.

However, many proud new orchid parents are soon disappointed when their new leafy friend starts to lose its lustre. Often this is because they have not been cared for properly (or they’ve been given too much care). It’s important to remember that moth orchids are a whole plant – not just the flowers – so they need to be treated as a living thing with changing needs as it grows and develops. It might mean a little more effort, but you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful plant that will bring you many years of enjoyment.

And luckily, phals are among the easiest orchids to look after as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

Best conditions for phalaenopsis orchids

With species originally hailing from tropical rainforest of New Guinea, Asia and even Queensland, phalaenopsis orchids thrive in humid environments. Make sure you place them somewhere warm with filtered sunlight – or artificial light, if needed – and ideally in a spot where the air isn’t too dry (this is why orchids make such great additions to light and bright bathrooms).

Mini Purple Phalaenopsis Orchid Plant in a Ceramic Base

Mini Double-Planted Phalaenopsis Orchid Plant in a Ceramic Base, $130. Shop here.

Don’t overwater your orchid

This is probably the number 1 mistake people make with orchids. Just because they love a damp environment, doesn’t mean they need a lot of watering. Too much water can lead to root rot, so it’s essential that your orchid has good drainage. Stick to a 7- to 10-day watering schedule and if you’re not sure if it’s time to water it, just stick your finger in the soil; if the soil feels wet and sticks to your finger, then wait a couple more days, but if it comes out mostly dry and clean, it’s time to water.

When to trim your moth orchid

Growing those stunning blooms takes a lot of energy, so when the flowers die, giving your orchid a trim can help it conserve energy so that it can grow back brighter and better. If just the tip of the ‘spike’ (the long stem that the flowers and buds grow from) has started to go brown, then you could cut the spike about 2cm above the highest ‘node’ (the nobbly bits on the spike) in hopes of the spike growing a second branch. This method may result give you new flowers more quickly, though they are likely to be a little smaller than before.

However, if the spike has gone completely brown, the only thing left to do is to cut all the way down to the base; this will mean you’ll have to wait longer for the flowers again, but your plant will look lusher when it reblooms. If your orchid is looking a bit lifeless, it might also be worth trimming the spike back so that your plant can direct more energy on growing new leaves and roots.

Large Phalaenopsis Orchid
Large Double-Stemmed Phalaenopsis Orchid, $140. Shop here.

How to make an orchid stem grow straight

Orchids always grow towards sunlight. Placing an artificial light source directly above your orchid will encourage it to grow straight, though that may not always be practical. The best way to control the direction your orchid grows is to stake it. Once the spike has grown about 5cm, gently, but firmly, place a stake next to it, then attach the spike to the stake with a clip or twist tie, adding more clips as the spike grows until just before the part where it starts flowering. It’s important to start staking when the spike is still young and flexible. Once the spike hardens, attempting to stake it could cause it to break.

Can you repot a phalaenopsis orchid?

Absolutely! Younger plants in particular benefit from repotting to give them more room to grow. The best time to repot your orchid is after the blooms have finished and you’ve trimmed the spike. Make sure you use a pot that allows for air and drainage (netted pots are great) and that you use a potting mix especially formulated for orchids. You might also like to use a humidity tray to keep your flowering friend happy.

Three simple rules for caring for phalaenopsis orchids

While it’s true that phals require a little more TLC than some other house plants, their care routine really all comes down to these three things:

  • Give them moderate sunlight
  • Don’t water them too often
  • Trim them back after flowering

As long as you follow these simple rules, you’ll be the best plant parent to your phalaenopsis orchid.

Single Mini Orchid Plant
Single Mini Orchid Plant in Natural Jute Bag, $55 each. Shop here.

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