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Orchids

How to Care For Your Phalaenopsis Orchid

Light

The Phalaenopsis Orchid likes filtered sunlight. They do well in or directly adjacent to an east window. There should be no curtains on the windows or trees outside to reduce the light levels. A second location is in a south window that has a lace curtain or a tree outside to reduce the light levels to an indirect level.

Humidity

Phalaenopsis like high humidity. Keep away from forced air heat vents. If you are concerned about humidity you can place the pot on a tray of wet gravel that is an inch or two deep. Add water as evaporation occurs. DO NOT let the pot or roots sit in water, this will cause rot.

Temperature

Minimum temperature is about 17°C (62°F) and maximum temperature 29°C (85°F).

Watering and Fertilizing

“Phals” like to have their roots damp, but not wet. In the summer that means watering about twice a week and in the winter, during periods of lower sunlight, about once a week. After purchasing your Phal, in bloom you can regularly fertilize at about half strength (not more) with a general household plant food.

As long as the tip of the spike is alive it will continue to produce flowers. After the tip has died, cut it back to a lower “node” on the stem, and a new spike will likely start.

To Make Your Orchid Bloom Again

Place it in a room with light levels as described above with an average temperature between 18°-19°C (65°-68°C) for 6 weeks. A new spike will form and start producing flowers about 8 weeks after this time.

Growing Orchids Indoors

Most people are unjustifiably scared of growing orchid plants, particularly if they have no greenhouse or conservatory. In fact, if you make an effort to simulate conditions as close as possible to those in their natural home—orchids are less trouble than many other plants. However, the fact that almost all cultivated orchids—even the hybrids—originate in the forests and mountains of tropical and subtropical regions means that suitable conditions are not always easy to achieve.Careful choice of the varieties to grow is the first requirement, for it is obviously very difficult to keep a type that needs steamy jungle conditions in your living room. Even among the plants recommended there is considerable variation in needs and these individual quirks are explained with the plant descriptions.

Basic Requirements

In spite of these variations there are basic requirements common to all orchids—namely heat, humidity and light. And the most important factor is light. The intensity of light that orchid plants receive in the wild varies widely from the Amazon forest to the Colombian Cordilleras and the foothills of the Himalayas. But all tropical and subtropical regions have at least 10 and usually 14 hours of daylight every day of the year. So if you can give your plants at least ten hours of light daily—if necessary boosting natural light with artificial—this will go along way towards achieving good growing conditions. Exposure to light for more than 16 hours a day may prevent orchids flowering. Also, except in winter in cool temperate regions, direct sunlight is too overpowering for most orchids. Turn the pots occasionally so that illumination is even.

The second factor is warmth, which is closely linked with humidity: in general, the higher the temperature, the higher the humidity. Most orchids recommended for indoor growing like an average day-time temperature of 20° to 21°C (68° to 70°F) in summer and 15° to 18°C (59° to 64°F) in winter, with the night temperature 5°C (10°F) lower. The nighttime drop is important and if necessary you should move your plants to a cooler part of the house at night.

Good humidity can be achieved by standing your plants above a tray of wet gravel over a heat source, such as a radiator. Heat evaporates the water and the vapor envelops the plant. If in doubt, use a hygrometer to gauge humidity, and give your plants an occasional fine mist with a sprayer. A humidity level of 50 per cent is usually enough.

Ventilation is a problem linked with humidity. A nicely buoyant, fresh atmosphere—no cold draughts—is recommended. Ventilation is important when growing orchids in a closed terrarium; if this does not have adjustable louvers, a tiny fan can be positioned at the bottom.

More orchids suffer from over-watering than from drought. Modern orchid potting mixtures, containing a high proportion of fir bark, is deceptive since the surface appears dry when in fact the middle and lower parts are very wet. The best advice is to use a moisture-meter and only give water when necessary. Use rainwater or water collected when you defrost your refrigerator, allowing for refrigerator water to reach room temperature. Distilled water can also be used. Much less water is needed in winter than in summer.

Feed your plants only in summer when there are plenty of hours of light. Artificial fertilizers benefit some plants but should be only given well diluted.

Orchids are much like humans and thrive in clean surroundings. Remove weeds, old dead leaves and back-bulbs. (Healthy back-bulbs can be used for propagation.) Use stakes to support the heavy flower heads of plants like Cattleyas, Paphiopedilum hybrids, Cymbidiums, and Odontoglossums; tie the flower stems with raffia when still in the bud stage. The pendulous types, such as many miniatures Cymbidium and some Odontoglossums, should not be interfered with.

Remember to put the plants outdoors on the warmer days of summer. Orchid plants grown outside in clean air will tolerate extremes of temperature and other conditions that would set them back severely indoors.

Growing Positions

You can grow orchids anywhere in the home that has adequate light, warmth and humidity, but the most convenient place for many people is a wide window sill—preferably one that does not receive directs sunlight. The window should be draught-free, double glazed and have an adjustable blind to help control the lighting. If there is a radiator underneath, heating problems are probably solved, but humidity must be controlled.

The best way is to place a metal or plastic tray on the sill, filled about an inch deep with shingle or gravel. Keep this constantly wet. Place the plant pots on inverted flower-pots to keep their bases from direct contact with the wet material and to allow them more air. A group of plants will create a more humid atmosphere than a solo specimen, and these can be grouped in plastic, metal or wooden planter troughs. Some versions have a canopy housing one or two fluorescent light tubes.

Best for the smaller-growing kinds is a glazed terrarium complete with louvers or a fan for ventilation and florescent lighting in the roof. With artificial light and heating, a cellar is an ideal place to grow orchids. You bring them out into the living room for display and put them outdoors in the summer.

Pots and Potting

Various containers can be used for orchids; pots of clay or plastic (preferably the black type), wooden boxes or baskets, rafts made with slabs of wood or fiber, or simply a chunk of osmunda or tree fern.

The potting mixture used for orchids is quite different from normal houseplant mixes and can be obtained from specialty garden centers. It is usually based on shredded fir bark, but osmunda fiber is best and live sphagnum moss is an excellent addition. Many modern mixes contain plastic chippings.

Repot each spring, using a pot big enough for one more pseudo-bulb to grow. Tease out the old fiber from the roots. Remove any dead roots. Carefully pack new potting mix between and around the roots. Crock the pot for drainage.When growing orchids indoors it is best not to pack the potting mixture down too firmly. When using a chunk of wood, fiber or osmunda, pack potting mixture in and around the roots and strap the plant to the slab with copper wire or nylon string.

Artificial Lighting

Controlled manually or with a time-switch, artificial lighting is invaluable for boosting or completely replacing natural daylight.

A simple stand with one or two fluorescent tubes is excellent for growing small orchids, such as the Cattleya, Miltonia and Paphiopedilum hybrids. In larger installations, a combination of fluorescent tubes—’cool white’, ‘daylight’ or ‘ Gro-Lux’ - and ordinary incandescent bulbs will ensure that your orchids grow and flower well. Try using 25 or 40 watt incandescent bulbs spaced evenly between long tubes, which should be about four inches apart. The best combination is about 10 watts of incandescent lighting for every 100 watts of fluorescent.

To ensure even illumination it is best to construct a battery of five to eight tubes and their accompanying bulbs. Use clear plastic sheeting to filter out the harmful ultraviolet rays and place the lamps at least four inches (and preferably six inches) above the foliage.