Episode 65: Phalaenopsis - aka moth orchids

Phalaenopsis ‘Diffusion’ by Double H Nurseries.

Phalaenopsis ‘Diffusion’ by Double H Nurseries.

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Phalaenopsis orchids are the most ubiquitous of flowering houseplants: love them or hate them, you can’t escape their good qualities, from their ability to survive in the home to the longlasting flowers. In this episode I gather the best care tips for your moth orchids, decode all the Phalaenopsis jargon and find out whether you really do need to water these plants with ice cubes (spoiler alert: the answer is no).

In this episode I find out how to look after moth orchids properly from watering to repotting with Raffaele Di Lallo, take a visit Double H Nurseries, the huge orchid nursery on the south coast in England, to find out about the latest developments in orchid breeding, and offer up an extended Q&A with orchid expert Susanne Masters.

Orchid care tips: the basics

Watering

Forget dropping ice cubes into the pot once a week: this probably won’t kill your orchid outright but could chill the plant and cause water to be left sitting on the crown which could cause rots. 

There are two watering methods that work:

The ‘under the tap’ method - run the pot under tepid water for 30-60 seconds. Drain thoroughly and return to its cachepot. 

The soak method - leave the orchid inside its outer cache pot or move to the sink or bath and  fill with tepid water to about half way up the pot. Leave for bout half an hour, then drain all the water away and make sure there is none sitting in the bottom. 

Wondering what type of water to use? Tap water is fine, and won’t do your orchid any harm, but if you have access to rainwater this is always preferable. 

Humidity

Orchids like a reasonably humid environment, which you can create by sitting your pot on a gravel (or Hydroleca) tray with some water at the bottom, or misting: I don’t bother to mist, as it’s too much hassle to mist and my orchids don’t seem to mind. 

Feeding

Phalaenopsis doesn’t need a huge amount of nutrients in the wild, so regular houseplant fertiliser will be too strong, but you can use it at quarter strength, or use a specialist orchid feed. Some growers suggest giving tomato fertiliser as a way of triggering blooming but I haven’t given it a try. 

Light

Up in the tree canopy, orchids are happiest in bright light and will even take a bit of direct sun, but you’ll know if you have overdone the light because the leaves will start to tinge red or even develop straw-like patches. If that happens, move it further away from the window, or add a net curtain. The leaves should be mid-green rather than deep green, which probably indicates the orchids are in too much shade. 

Potting medium and repotting

Orchids will only need repotting every two to three years: leave it any longer and the chunky bark potting medium will start to break down and prevent the roots from getting the air they need. 

Photograph: Beth Otway.

Photograph: Beth Otway.

There’s more to Phalaenopsis … 

Pumpkin Beth aka Beth Otway is a horticulturist and holder of the National Collection of Miniature Phalaenopsis - she has written a blogpost for janeperrone.com about some of her species which are rather different from the usual suspects of moth orchids you can pick up in a supermarket. Do go and have a read! You’ll find Pumpkin Beth on Twitter here.

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Typically the widely-available moth orchid hybrids have not offered much in the way of scent, but a new series of small Phalaenopsis from British Orchid nursery Double H are distinctly whiffy - in a good way. ‘Sunny Smell’ is a gorgeous pale yellow orchid with a citrus scent and pinky-purple ‘Diffusion’ - pictured at the top of the show notes.

They don’t pack a massive punch in terms of scent - don’t expect the penetrating smell of a hyacinth - but they will waft around pleasantly if you place them somewhere within striking distance of your nose. The picture to the left shows the unnamed, nutmeg-scented orchid I smelled at Double H. You can find out more about Double H’s scented orchids here.

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If you’re wondering about the dyed orchids discussed with Dan Pass of Double H, here’s a taster…

The dye is injected into the flower stem to be taken up by the flowers, and a range of colours is possible - some more desirable than others! Once the dye is in, the hole is sealed with some wax.

These are experimental colours being tested by Double H. I think you may be able to guess which one had the nickname ‘Incredible Hulk’…

More on this week’s guests

Raffaele Di Lallo with just some of his plants…

Raffaele Di Lallo with just some of his plants…

  • Raffaele Di Lallo (pictured) is also known as OhioTropics - his new Phalaenopsis care ebook is now available from Amazon. We last heard from Raffaele in our episode on ferns

  • Suzanne Masters is an ethnobotanist and orchid expert: you can follow her on Twitter as @ethnobotanica and her website is here.

  • Dan Pass gave me a tour at Double H Nurseries.

On The Ledge on tour

I’m conducting an evening of ‘Plant Therapy’ at Epanoui in Bedford, UK on October 4 - you can find out more and book tickets here.

On the evening of Friday October 26 I'll be bringing a live show of On The Ledge to the RHS London Urban Garden show, with special guests including Alys Fowler and all kinds of leafy fun! Put this date in your diary NOW!

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Credits

This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy DropsAn Instrument the Boy Called Happy Day Gokarna by Samuel Corwin and Oh Mallory by Josh Woodward, all licensed under Creative Commons, and Hot Lips by Bill Brown and His Brownies.