When we we’re married over a year ago, one of my colleagues sent us a wedding gift- a beautiful Phalaenopsis orchid. I had about zero knowledge of how to take care of orchids, and started fretting about where to position it, how to water it, when to add fertilizer, etc. I’ve got to admit that a lot of what I’ve learnt has been through trial and error. At first I nearly killed my plant by overwatering it and keeping it in the opaque ceramic pot it came in. Luckily, a friend mentioned the plant seemed to be suffering and that it needs to be set free from the pot and repotted in a clear plastic container.
Today I’d like to share with you a few tips and tricks I learnt from caring for our orchid this year, and also experiment with a new potting medium- clay pebbles.
First, a few general rules for caring for your orchid:
Positioning your orchid: Phalaenopsis orchids don’t like direct sunlight. In nature, they thrive in humid, tropical climates, growing on tree branches and between rocks near water streams. It’s pretty tricky finding a place they fancy in your regular home environment. So far our orchid’s favorite place seems to be by our living room window, facing east, in partial shade most hours of the day. Anything darker than that and the plant starts slumping, and anything lighter and its leaves start burning.
Watering your orchid: I know they say orchids like moisture, but from my experience, if you don’t want your plant rotting, it safer if you let it stay on the dry side. I try to water ours no more than once a week, and in the winter months sometimes even every 10-14 days. The best is to check the potting medium- if it still looks wet, I hold on watering. If it looks dry- it’s ok to go ahead and water. Make sure your orchid pot has drainage holes at the bottom! I find that the best way to water our orchid is to place the orchid pot in a large plastic basin or container filled with distilled water (only the roots need water, don’t let the water level reach the leaves) for about 15 minutes, and then let all the water drain out from the holes at the bottom of the pot into the sink before returning the orchid to its tray near the window.
Fertilizing your orchid: I use liquid orchid fertilizer every two weeks when it blooms, and once a month when dormant. The easiest is to add the fertilizer (read the instructions for quantities) to the distilled water I use to water the plant. Use the same method mentioned above- let the orchid sit in the fertilized water for about 15 minutes, and then let the water drain in the sink before returning the orchid to its favorite spot near the window. Forgot to use fertilizer for a couple of months? No biggy. Our orchid still flowered even when I used less fertilizer.
Pruning, repotting, and general maintenance: As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to repot your orchid every 1-2 years. This is your chance to check the orchid’s roots and see that your orchid is happy and healthy.
Here’s what our orchid looked like after if finished blooming a month ago:
Since I had recently purchased a new clear glass ikea plant pot, I decided now would be a good time to repot it (glass looks nicer than plastic).
Another problem I faced was I saw tiny aphids crawling around the roots of the plant. So I wanted to be able to rinse the orchid roots under water to try and get rid of them.
I asked my friend Nadav to drill a hole in the Ikea pot ( remember we said how important proper water drainage is?) I’m actually surprised the pot doesn’t come with holes to begin with.
I then gently lifted the orchid out of the plastic container, careful not to injure the roots in the process.
After cleaning away the potting medium and removing the dead leaf, the orchid roots looked like this-
I took a pair of clean scissors (I cleaned my scissors with soap and water, dried them, and then sprayed them with 70% isopropyl alcohol just to make sure they were completely sterile. You don’t want to introduce viruses to your plant) and started trimming the roots that looked dry/brown and dead to me. Anything green was left untouched. If I wasn’t sure- better safe than sorry, I just let them be.
The next step (and actually a bit experimental for me) was to take clay pebbles instead of orchid potting medium and repot the orchid.
The reason I decided to try clay pebbles was that I suspected the aphids that infested my plant were introduced via the potting medium last fall. I was looking for an alternative potting medium that wouldn’t host parasites as easily, and found a post on an Israeli gardening forum where one of the gardeners tried replacing her potting medium with clay pebbles. It turned out to be a huge success, with her orchid thriving. Since I have a lot of clay pebbles anyway at home (I use a hydroponic system for growing herbs), I decided to give it a try.
The last step was to trim the spikes, or stems.
I took my scissors, cleaned them again, and cut the spikes about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the node, which is the little bump or connector you see between two sections on the stem.
I chose to cut the orchid above the base node, because last year I trimmed the stems halfway and I didn’t like the way the spike regrew sideways. I much prefer the plant conserve its energy during the winter months and regrow new spikes from the base.
After trimming the spike, take a cotton swab, dip it in water, and sprinkle with cinnamon. then gently swab the tips of the raw spikes.
Doing this prevents your orchid from contracting illnesses.
Your’e done! put your orchid back in its favorite place, and don’t forget to show it lots of tender loving care (: