Phalaenopsis Culture

These plants originate mostly in S.E. Asia especially in the Phillipine Islands where they thrive in the deeply shaded warm and humid rain forest.

They require a minimum temperature of 20C to prosper and never allowed to dry out. Because they are 'warm' growing and have lower light demands than many other genera, they are more easily grown as house plants and recommended for beginners.

Phals as they are called have showy flowers up to 12 centimetres across and as many as a dozen or more on a stem, which makes them a very striking and popular orchid.

They are also quite easy to grow if their cultural requirements are met. In the greenhouse a warm growing location is required and also a humid one, but great care must be taken with light intensity. Even under 70% shade-cloth the light is too strong in the Summer and extra shading is required. In my solarium, I locate them in the shade from overhead high light loving orchids such as Cattleyas and and I also use hanging veils of Spanish Moss suspended from the rafters. The Spanish Moss is mostly removed in the winter when daylight is much weaker. When in bloom, the plants can always be brought into the house and set on a table for enjoyment and then returned to the glasshouse for growing on, when blooming is over. Phals also grow very well under artificial light such as florescent or metal halide types, and 'growlite' stands are available commercially. The florescent light suits Phals, but the lamps have to be raised when the flower spike begins to get tall.

A good potting medium is a mixture of course bark (or chopped coco nut husks) and sphagnum moss, the latter being used in thin layers about 1/4 inch thick.This provides good drainage and also retains moisture without the medium staying too wet. Different growers use many different growing mediums, but I have found the above works best for me. Repotting should be done when the plant gets too big for the pot. This may happen every year, but 2 years would be a maximum length of time as the medium will start to breakdown, becoming soggy and killing the roots. I usually repot soon after blooming is finished which allows the plant to grow new leaves and roots ready for blooming next winter.

Use rain water if possible for watering, but if Municipal water must be used, let it stand overnight to release chlorine. In any case, the water should be luke warm and do your watering in the morning, to avoid wet leaves overnight, which can easily cause crown rot, which is usually fatal. Also, when watering do this thoroughly so that excess water pours out of the drainage holes. When to water depends largely on the weather and season. In Spring and Summer when the plants are growing strongly, water and fertilize regularly, especially on sunny days. I use pot weight to determine when to water as there is a significant difference in weight between a wet and dry growing medium. This is a better method than just watering on a set time and the technique is not difficult to learn. In Summer, I use a balanced fertilizer such as Plant Products 20-20-20 (which also contains necessary trace elements) in the ratio of 1 tsp per 2 gallon bucket of water. In Winter, I reduce this amount by half. Other growers may use different fertilizers. I water with fertilizer 3 successive times, but on the 4th time I use plain water only, to wash away any surplus salts.

I do not locate my Phals outdoors in the Summer as some growers do, but great care must be taken to avoid burning the leaves and allowing insects to damage them.

As far as insects are concerned, Mealy Bugs are the main problem with these plants and they can be very persistent once established. It is vital to check your plants every few days, especially under the leaves to look for small,white, cotton like blobs and if you find some to take action immediately. Spraying insecticide is not very effective unfortunately because the cotton like covering gives the bug a water-proof protection. Direct application to the leaves using a swab dipped in diluted rubbing alcohol will kill and remove the bugs including the very small white crawlers and a small brush can also be used to get into the crevices. You must repeat this action as needed every few days until they no longer appear, but continue checking. For large collections of Phals in greenhouses, where it is not possible to check every plant regularly, growers are forced to use powerful systemic insecticides which poison the whole plant and are most effective in dealing with Scale and Mealy bugs. Unfortunately, these insecticides currently are no longer available to hobby growers, because they are so toxic.

Not to end on a negative note, more advice can be obtained from other Orchid growers on this topic and I hope to update this page in the future.

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