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How to Grow Phalaenopsis — Moth Orchid

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Phalaenopsis–commonly called Moth Orchid–is a genus of tree-dwelling (epiphytic) orchids with thick, broad, leathery leaves, and long sprays of white, cream, pale yellow, or light lavender-pink flowers. Flowers are 3 to 6 inches wide.

Phalaenopsis require warmer growing conditions than most orchids, usually in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit. They also prefer fairly high humidity. These requirements for growing success make Phalaenopsis more for advanced amateurs than beginners.

Phalaenopsis flowers are often spotted, barred, or have contrasting lip colors. Flower sprays can reach 3 feet long. Flowers often bloom throughout the year and remain in bloom for many months.

Phalaenopsis is a genus of about 50 species of mostly evergreen, mainly epiphytic orchids. They are native to lowland forests in the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia.

Get to know Phalaenopsis 

  • Plant type: Epiphytic orchid
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 14-15
  • Hardiness: Tropical outdoors
  • Temperature: day, 70° to 85°F (21° to 29°C); night, 60° to 65°F (16° to 18°C). 
  • Height and width: 6 to 36 inches (15cm-1m) tall and 8 to 18 inches (20-45cm ) wide depending on the variety.
  • Foliage: 3-6 broadly obovate or oval upright or semi-pendent, fleshy, mid-to dark green leaves, sometimes mottled.
  • Flowers: The waxy flowers, resembling butterflies or moths, open in succession along arching flower stalks which can then remain in bloom for up to 5 months or more. 
  • Bloom time: Often throughout the year; blooms open up to 5 months or more. 
  • Uses: Houseplant. tropical gardens
  • Common name: Moth orchid
  • Botanical name: Phalaenopsis
  • Family name: Orchidaceae
  • Origin: Lowland forests of the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia
Moth orchids, Phalaenopsis
Moth orchids, Phalaenopsis

Where to plant Phalaenopsis 

  • Light: Bright light from northern or eastern exposure; shade from direct sun at midday. Does well under artificial light, needing 12 to 16 light hours daily. Good circulation of fresh air. 
  • Soil: Fir bark mixed with chopped tree fern fiber. Best when grown in pots in the greenhouse. In the home, does well in slatted baskets, on a section of a tree limb, or on a slab of tree fern fiber allowing the aerial roots to hang freely. 

When to plant Phalaenopsis 

  • Set Phalaenopsis outdoors only in tropical regions.

Planting and spacing Phalaenopsis 

  • Space Phalaenopsis 8 to 18 inches (20-45cm ) apart depending on the variety.

How to water and feed Phalaenopsis 

  • Water: Water freely from spring to autumn, mist daily. Keep growing medium evenly moist; never allow the plant to dry out. Mist aerial roots frequently. Humidity, 50 percent to 70 percent. 
  • In winter, water sparingly and keep the foliage dry.
  • Feeding: Proportioned feedings of a balanced all-purpose fertilizer with each watering, year-round. 

Phalaenopsis care 

  • Phalaenopsis rests briefly after vegetative growth stops; this is not easily recognized. At cooler times of the year continue watering but give slightly less and lower humidity. 
  • Support the racemes and cut back flowered stems to a lower node to encourage the production of more flowers.

Gowing Phalaenopsis as a houseplant

  • Grow Phalaenopsis in a room with cool temperature in the fall and average to warm temperature the rest of the year.
  • The light should be bright from fall through spring and limited in summer; humidity should be high.
  • Grow in a well-drained, soilless medium with extra fir or redwood bark or osmunda fiber.
  • Keep the medium evenly moist at all times.
  • Fertilize twice monthly when the plant is growing or flowering; use a complete liquid fertilizer.

Phalaenopsis pests and diseases 

  • Phalaenopsis can be attacked by mealybugs, scale, slugs, snails, and whiteflies. 
  • Check for bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.
  • Petal blight, bacterial soft rot, pseudobulb rots, and cymbidium mosaic can occur.
  • Iron deficiency can cause problems.

Phalaenopsis propagation 

  • Cuttings of plantlets appearing along stems can be rooted
  • Some species produce plantlets on flower spikes. 
  • Phalaenopsis can be propagated from seed.

Phalaenopsis varieties to grow 

  • Phalaenopsis amabilis. Epiphytic orchid with broadly oval leaves to 20 inches long; bears 6 to 20 snowy white flowers on a slender stalk; white and yellow lip has red markings; blooms from fall through winter. 
  • P. lueddemanniana. Epiphytic orchid with oblong leaves to 12 inches long; bears 3 to 4 white flowers with pink markings; purple lip has a yellow base and light-colored markings; blooms appear at different times throughout the year. 

Phalenopsis frequently asked questions

Q: What is the best growing temperature for the moth orchid – Phalaenopsis?

A: The optimal growing temperatures for Phalaenopsis are 70° to 85°F during the day and 60° to 65°F at night.

Q: What kind of light does Phalaenopsis want?

A: Phalaenopsis wants bright light from northern or eastern exposure. Give phalaenopsis shade from the direct sun at midday. It can grow well under artificial light, needing 12 to 16 light hours each day.

Q: How do I water Phalenopsis?

A: Keep the growing medium evenly moist; never let the plant dry out. Mist the aerial roots frequently. Reduce watering in winter.

Q: How do I feed Phalenopsis?

A: Use an all-purpose-orchid food. Fertilize twice monthly when the plant is growing and flowering.

Q: When should I repot Phalaenopsis?

A: Repot the moth orchid when the plant has outgrown its pot or when the growing medium has deteriorated. Do not worry if a few roots grow outside the pot. Repot when active growth begins and when new roots are visible.

Q: What growing medium does Phalaenopsis want?

A: Grow Phalaenopsis in a well-drained, soilless medium with extra fir or redwood bark or osmunda fiber.

Q: Should I remove faded blooms from moth orchid Phalaenopsis?

A: Yes. If faded blooms remain on the plant, the plant will be weakened. Pinch off faded bloom regularly.

Q: When do moth orchids rest?

A: For the most part, Phalaenopsis stays in flower almost all year round. The plant will rest briefly after vegetative growth stops. You must pay close attention to notice slowed growth.

Q: How do I propagate Phalaenopsis?

A: Remove and plant the small plantlets that form on the flower spikes.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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