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Care of Phalaenopsis Orchids – Moth Orchids


The name Phalaenopsis means “Phalaen-like” which refers to Phalaena which is a group of large moths. The flowers of Phalaenopsis orchids resemble these moths in flight; hence it is also called “Moth Orchid”.

Phalaenopsis is an orchid genus which consists of about 60 species, including Phalaenopsis amabilis, Phalaenopsis aphrodite, Phalaenopsis deliciosa, Phalaenopsis equestris, and Phalaenopsis sumatrana. It is one of the most popular orchids grown thanks to its easy culture.

Its native habitat includes Southeast Asia north to the Himalayas and extents along the Pacific Rim from Taiwan’s Orchid Island in the north to and through the Philippines, in particular the islands of Polillo, Palawan, Zamboanga del Norte and Mindanao, and all the way south to Northern Australia.

Most Phalaenopsis orchids are epiphytic orchids. This means that they derive the necessary moisture and nutrients for their survival from the air and the rain found in the local environment.

A few Moth orchids are lithophytes meaning they grow in and around rocks. When growing in the wild lithophytic orchids get their moisture and nutrients from moss, rain water, litter, and their own dead tissue.

Moth orchids exhibit monopodial growth which means they grow upward from one single point. Additional growth comes from that point as it grows taller each year.

The flower stalks begin their growing from the “growing point” which is located at the junction of two leaves generally found just above the soil and bark level. Indoors the flowers once in bloom may last two months or longer.

The leaves of Moth orchids are thick and elliptical in shape. Depending on the light exposure the color of the leaves ranges from dark green indicating low light exposure to light green indicating high light exposure. As new leaves grow at the top, older leaves at the bottom turn yellow and fall off. A well maintained Moth orchid may have more than ten leaves and possibly multiple flower stalks.

Some plants form a new plant on their flower stalk. This new plant is called “keiki”. The term “keiki” is the hawaiian term for baby or child, and literally means “the little one”. Roots start to develop from this new plant. As soon as the roots are about one to two inches long the new plant can be cut off the mother plant and be planted in a new container filled with an orchid growing mix.

Phalaenopsis are low light orchids and thrive in an eastern, or shaded southern or western window. They also thrive under common grow lights. But Phalaenopsis orchids do not like full sunlight and may develop leaf burn as well as shorten the life of the flowers.

As Moth orchids are monopodial, they do not have pseudobulbs to store water. Therefore they are not drought tolerant. During their growth period they need to be watered when their exposed roots show a silvery white color. This means watering them about once a week depending on the surrounding humidity. The potting mix should be slightly moist.

During their flowering period watering them every ten days to two weeks is sufficient. The higher the humidity the more important it is to provide proper airflow around the leaves and roots. During the growing period Moth orchids appreciate to be fertilized weekly at one quarter strength of the manufacturer’s recommendation. During the flowering season they need to be fertilized only once per month. To improve flowering some gardeners use a fertilizer high in Phosporus and Potassium during the fall months of September and October.

Phalaenopsis orchids like warm temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit although they adjust to normal house temperatures in the 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit range. The higher the temperature the more important it is to provide proper humidity.

Blooming time for Phalaenopsis orchids is usually in late winter and early spring. Their long lasting flowers open in succession with sometimes 20 flowers open at one time. To induce flowering cooler night temperatures ranging from 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit are recommended.

Moth orchids grow in potting mixes which are designed for orchids and provide rapid drainage. If planted in containers, it is important that these containers provide good drainage meaning they have enough drainage holes at the bottom. They may also be grown in hanging baskets or mounted to wood where humidity is set at a greenhouse level.

When watering or misting it is of utmost importance to make sure there is no water left in the growing tip. Any remaining water at the growing tip may cause it to rot and die. Therefore it is best to water and fertilize in the morning. If there is some water left at the growing point, it can be removed easily with an absorbent paper towel.

Repotting of Moth orchids should be done after their blooming period every other year.

Phalaenopsis orchids, like most tropical plants, can be successfully grown when one follows proven and tested guidelines rewarding gardeners year after year with their exquisite, colorful, long lasting flowers.

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Thanks for taking the time to write this imformative blog. Phalaenopsis hybrids are such popular plants and yet many people find them difficult to keep once they have finished flowering. I'm sure your guidelines will be of help.

I'm glad you mentioned some species Phals as some of them are really beautiful. I particularly like P.cornu -cervi, P.hieroglyphica, and P. fasciata.Most of the species need to grow on bark so are not so easy to keep as a house plant.

8 Jan, 2011


thanks for all the info Bob I've now got 4 orchids--3 large and 1 small. With advice from Spritzhenry I've successfully got the small to be covered in lovely creamy flowers and one of the large to grow a new flower spike that will hopefully flower. They are in a room with a west window-- which thanks to you I now know is suitable-- and I don't like moving them for fear the lovely flowers will all drop!. Beautiful --unusual plants I wouldn't have grown so well without friends on Goy

8 Jan, 2011


Thanks for this blog Bob. I have been growing Moth Orchids for some time now, mostly by luck I might add. It amazes me how the stem gradually appears and then finally the flowers. It is always worth the wait as these wonderful blooms last so long.

8 Jan, 2011


Lots of very useful info in this blog, Bob. I don't have any orchids myself but I often see them here in the supermarkets & at £5 each they are a really good buy! I'm only going from memory but I think these maybe the ones on sale at the supermarket where my wife works. If you'd posted a couple of photos to illustrate this blog I might be a little surer.

I'm adding this blog to my favourites so I can quickly find it another time.

9 Jan, 2011


Bob very interesting blog .

And thank you for taking the time to write .

I have a number of different orchids think 14 .

I do have a few phals a long time since seen them at £5 though Balcony think last one I bought was £13 .

Have seen them reduced to £7 and if you are lucky can get one.

If its phals I prefer to buy a 2 stemmed phal.

But much prefer my dends and its interesting to watch them repruduce.

8 Feb, 2013

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