Danny Flanders

Moth Orchids Widely Available at Reasonable Prices
Orchids always add a touch of sophistication and elegance. They are widely available and affordable. Group several plants together for a striking arrangement.

It’s just not fair: Orchids have this bum rap for being some of the most finicky plants to grow. And don’t even talk about getting a second bloom out of them. Most frustrated indoor gardeners just toss them once that last flower’s gone.

Yet, the truth is orchids are some of the easiest plants to grow if given the proper exposure, potting mix and right amount of water. Just ask Becky Brinkman, longtime manager of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Fuqua Orchid Center, home to one of the country’s largest collections of species orchids. There, envious visitors corner her every day for advice on what they’re doing wrong with their own plants. So much so, that Becky has come up with her Eight Ways to Kill Your Orchid:

1. Water it every day.
The most frequently asked question is “Do you water the orchids every day?” The answer is, “No, but we check them every day.” Checking means looking at the potting mix to see if it’s dry. A good grower learns to recognize the change in color that accompanies the drying process.

2. Establish a watering schedule for your orchid. Make it conform to your schedule. Water it on the same day of the week that you go to the gym, or the grocery store, or the car wash. This one is really tempting. But let’s say it’s September. Did you notice that yesterday was one and a half minutes shorter than the day before and that the sun is now lower in the sky than it was in July? Your plant did. So, two months from now, when your orchid receives one less hour of light and considerably weaker light intensity, does it make sense to water with the same frequency?

3. Water your orchid whenever you water your other plants.
Convenient, yes. Good horticulture, no.

4. Water your Phalaenopsis orchid with ice cubes.
Tell me you don’t do this. In nature a moth orchid seldom experiences temperatures below 60 degrees. And you’re thinking about applying ice water to its roots? Why not just put it in the freezer for a day?


Try Growing One of These Moth Orchid Varieties 12 photos


5. Find out where your orchid is native to and water it when the Weather Channel says it’s raining there.
This strategy wouldn’t work even if you and your houseplant lived in its country of origin. Microclimate matters more to an orchid than macroclimate. Even if your condo is located in the rain forest, the kitchen window microclimate where your potted orchid resides is different from the microclimate within the tree canopy outside.

6. Force it to live its entire life in a beautiful pot with no drainage holes, in a dense soil mix, and smothered with florist’s moss.
I know you received it from the florist this way, and it looks great, I admit it. But shouldn’t they know better? The florist’s priority is how the plant looks, not how well it grows.

7. Force it to live its entire life in the same soil mix that the grower put it in.
After two years an orchid mix is history. Orchids in conventional peat moss-based houseplant soil should be sold with “Buyer Beware” stamped on the pot. The structure of peat moss (and composted pine bark) is too fine and too dense to be a good long-term medium for plants that in nature grow in trees. It retains loads of water and breaks down quickly. Peat-based mixes are cheap, widely available, uniform, sterile and lightweight (meaning inexpensive to ship). Young orchids reach flowering size rapidly in this mix, saving production time and labor, and then can be swiftly passed along to the consumer.

8. Bring your orchid to the Garden’s Orchid Care Clinic on the coldest day in January. On the way home leave it in your unheated car while your visit every store in the mall.
Oh no. More blood on my hands.

Becky’s bottom-line basic advice is this:

  • Plant your orchid in a coarse-textured potting mix that promotes air circulation, such as the combination of bark/charcoal/perlite.
  • Give it intense sunlight (an east-facing windowsill is good).
  • Let the plant dry out a little between waterings.
  • Don’t overdue it with the fertilizer (cut the dosage by half for these light feeders).

15 Comments About this Article

  • Teri Taylor
    buy a regular orchid mix .. It works great and takes the guess work out.

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • Cynthia Hartley
    Great. I could not find any last time; will make a POINT of it next time. THANK YOU,

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • Jaye Marie Rome
    I treat my orchids with benign neglect, and I have at least one in bloom for probably 10 out of 12 months of the year. I have three phals right now in variouse stages of bloom...spike, bud and bloom. Two just finished blooming in December. I also have a cattleya variety that blooms twice a year for me on new growth, which is wonderful. I water when the potting mix is dry to the touch (I check moss from the bottom of the pot, through the drainage hole). The Cattleya is in bark, so that dries out faster. In the past, I've made the fatal mistake of overwatering orchids potted in moss, so they ended up with root rot. They are all in my northeast-facing bay window, where they get plenty of early morning light. I pull them away from the window a bit in summer as it gets very hot there and the phals especially don't like the heat. Like you, I never got that whole, "put an ice cube in it daily" routine. I can only hope that by the time the cube melts, the temp of the water is a little closer to tepid.

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • Teri Taylor
    I now have three opened and 13 more getting ready to open on the same plant . Absolutely beautiful... :)

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • Cynthia Hartley
    Kaye Marie Rome: very helpful. Thank you!

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • Sue Clark
    These were all great ideas. Received 2 orchid plants for Valentines day. They were shipped from a grower in New Jersey. Needless to say the blooms were all wilted and dead. I do not know what kind they are. No info was shipped with them and can't get in info from grower. If you are not buying/ordering they do not talk to you. Have never had orchid plants before. Can you recommend a good book to read on orchid care? Does that spike with nothing on it get trimmed off? Help. Thanks for any info.

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • Cynthia Hartley
    A window in a bath shower with morning sun worked best for mine. Mine love the humidity. Do not put the ice cubes on them once a week. That doesn't even make sense. They thrive in humid climates with sunlight diffused by tree leaves. Just love and talk to it! :-)

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • Teri Taylor
    they make a regular Orchid potting mix . I got mine at my local supermarket florist. Also they need to be put in a pot either with holes in the side or in a terra cotta pot with a good drainage hoe in the bottom . They must be allowed to dry out between waterings . also to keep the humidity up , I placed mine on a large glass plate with stones on it . you set the pot directly on top of the stones and put water on the plate . this works well to keep the humidity up . Please do not put Ice cubes on top . it will cool the root systems down too much .Allow your water in your watering vessel to sit at room temp before you water . And one more thing , get a orchid plant food . Feed every week if not flowering ,every two weeks if in bloom ... Make sure your not over powering with too much food in your watering can .. :)

    Posted 2 months ago

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  • NadiasNana
    My daughter gave me a phal about 4 years ago for Mother's Day. I never cut the spikes until they are BROWN and obviously spent. Every year, it has produced more blossoms after the first bloom, and then the one year old spikes bloom again. So far I have 2 new spikes every year. So every year, I have had at least 4 bloom producing spikes, and this year it looks like I may have 5!!!

    Posted 1 month ago

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  • NadiasNana
    I also have another one that I purchased. It got moved to a window that had that stupid e-glass and eventually almost died. I nurtured it back to semi-good health, and then it sent out 3 spikes, but instead of producing blooms, it produced pups, 2-3 on each spike. I waited until they sent out roots, and then planted them in orchid mix. Now I have 7 new plants (one didn't make it). Can't wait until they bloom!

    Posted 1 month ago

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