Don’t be intimidated by your moth orchid’s delicate-looking flowers. Keeping them happier is easier than you think—just follow these basic care tips!
There’s a good chance the elegant stems and unique, vibrant blooms of a moth orchid has captured your attention at some point or other! These beautiful orchids have become exceptionally popular houseplants over the past decade or so, but they’re also some of the most misunderstood. While moth orchids appear delicate, they’re not as tricky to care for as they seem. With that said, they do have very different needs from most of the other common tropicals that find their way into our homes. Here’s everything you need to know about caring for moth orchids!
What is a Moth Orchid?
Moth orchids, also known as phalaenopsis, is a member of the massive, and highly diverse, orchid family. It gets its name from the recognizable shape of its flowers, which feature two prominent petals that resemble a moth’s wings. They are a monopodial orchid, which means they flower from a single stem. Their typical life cycle can cause some confusion about the health of the plant; it’s common for the large leaves to wither and die as the plant prepares to flower. It can take up to three months for the orchid to produce its blooms, but once the blooming begins, the stem is often loaded with several long-lasting blooms. The moth orchid’s flowers can hang around for up to 3 months!
After flowering, the plant will produce many aerial roots that help the plant collect enough energy for reblooming. If you keep your moth orchid in the right conditions, it may rebloom for you every 8-12 months.
“Moth orchids are a type of plant called epiphytes, which are basically plants that grow on top of other plants rather than in the soil.”
Moth Orchid Light Requirements
Before your moth orchid can brighten up the corner of your home office, you’ll need to ensure it has the correct light conditions! Moth orchids prefer the light of a moderately bright windowsill. In the wild, these orchids grow under tropical canopies out of direct sunlight. Bright indirect light, such as the light that shines through a sheer curtain, is just right for them. Too much direct sunlight can cause a scalding effect on their leaves. You can tell your orchid is healthy if the leaves are dark green and feel firm to the touch.
For these plants, warmth is nearly as important as light. Orchids bloom best when kept in temperatures between 69˚F to 75˚F during the day, and between 60˚F and 66˚F at night.
What Kind of Soil Do Moth Orchids Need?
Moth orchids are a type of plant called epiphytes, which are basically plants that grow on top of other plants rather than in the soil. The native environment of the moth orchid is on mossy tree trunks in rainforest settings. For this reason, you’ll often see orchids growing in a combination of moss and bark. Your orchid will be happiest in a growing medium like this; you can often find special orchid mixes that mimic the orchid’s original habitat.
Drainage is essential for your orchid’s survival. In addition to the right potting medium, your pot will need to have large drainage holes through which water can flow freely. Orchid roots cannot tolerate standing water.
Watering Moth Orchids
Watering is probably the number one thing that trips new moth orchid owners up! These beauties really don’t need a lot of water. In fact, overwatering is a common reason why they tend to look “sick,” which can lead a panicked plant parent to water them even more. The growing medium should be allowed to dry out completely between waterings, which can take about a week or two. Water your orchid two or three times per month by letting water run through the growing medium and through the drainage holes at the bottom. Let excess water drain through into a saucer and dispose of it right away, so the roots aren’t left to soak.
Should You Fertilize Moth Orchids?
Moth orchids aren’t heavy consumers of fertilizers, but they do benefit from appropriate fertilization. Use an orchid-specific liquid fertilizer formula and add it at half-strength to the orchid’s water. Mixing it at half-strength is much safer for the plant than accidentally over-applying the product.
Fertilize every time you water when the orchid is actively growing, and during the winter or while the orchid is in bloom, reduce the frequency to around once per month.
With the right care, your orchid can last for many years! Along the road, you may run into a few bumps–but don’t let something like the odd pest or puzzling behavior discourage you. You can always stop by our Bettendorf garden center if you have any questions about your moth orchid or any other plant in your collection. Your orchid is a lot tougher than it looks, and our team is here to help you with any concerns you may have!