Deborah J. Benoit, University of Vermont Extension
Do you admire orchids from afar but haven’t considered growing them or gifting them to a plant lover you know? Sure, they’re a pretty plant, but orchids have a reputation as being difficult to grow.
When you think of orchids, do you picture a climate-controlled greenhouse devoted to a collection of beautiful but fussy plants? The truth is, orchids can be grown as easily as any other houseplant. All it takes is a little know-how and some TLC.
Most orchids require similar care, but there’s one orchid you’re likely to see more than the rest. Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) are so common you can find them not only at your local nursery or florist, but also in department and grocery stores.
Orchids come in many shapes, sizes and colors that are hard to resist when in bloom. If you’ve given in to temptation and brought home an orchid in full bloom only to give up on the plant and its plain-looking foliage when the flowers have faded, you aren’t alone.
Moth orchids aren’t particularly expensive, so many people consider them a temporary houseplant, to be replaced once the flowers are gone. After all, that’s what we do with cut flowers. But if you give them a chance, you can enjoy their flowers for years to come.
While your first inclination may be to select the plant with the most flowers, think again. Choose an orchid with many buds. Even small buds will develop into flowers, giving you an extended bloom time with flowering lasting weeks, sometimes months.
When the last of the flowers have finally faded, you may be tempted to cut the stem back, but wait. As long as the stem of a moth orchid is green, it may produce additional buds.
Once the stem begins to turn brown and die on its own, cut it back to where it meets the leaves so that the plant can use its resources to grow and rebloom. During this time, continue to care for the orchid as usual.
Like any houseplant, an orchid will thrive in conditions it favors. Moth orchids prefer temperatures between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit along with bright, indirect sunlight. A grow light also can be used. Orchids are potted in moss or bark rather than potting soil. If repotting, use a similar media.
Water as needed. Depending on growing conditions, that may be weekly or less frequently. Some moth orchids come with instructions to water using ice cubes. While convenient, if the ice contacts the roots or foliage, damage may occur.
A better method is to use room temperature water when the moss is dry. Give the orchid a good watering, letting excess water drain from the pot. Allowing the moss to remain too wet can result in damage to the roots.
Fertilizer can be beneficial, but over fertilizing can burn leaves and roots. An orchid fertilizer can be used according to directions on the package. Alternatively, a urea-free houseplant fertilizer can be used either at half strength once a month when watering or at one-quarter strength each watering.
When your moth orchid is ready to rebloom, it will send up a green stalk that points upward and has a more pointed tip than the paler, rounded end roots. Soon you’ll see buds develop and then the main event, flowers.
So, the next time you’re tempted by the fancy floral display of an orchid, give it a chance. Bring it home. With a little TLC it will bloom again and again for years to come.
(Deborah J. Benoit is a University of Vermont Extension master gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of Vermont’s Bennington County Chapter.)