Moth Orchid Care – How to Grow Phalaenopsis Orchids


The moth orchid is one of the most commonly available orchid plants and is very amenable to indoor life. These beauties are frequently available at grocery stores in a variety of colors and patterns, including white, pink, purple, green and yellow. However, moth orchid care is not as straightforward as their ubiquity might suggest. 

Caring for an orchid indoors can be one of the most rewarding gardening endeavors for an apartment dweller—or even an avid gardener! In this article, I’ll cover the basics of moth orchid care, including watering (hint— it’s not two ice cubes a week!), light, temperature, and how to get your orchid to rebloom. 

Let’s get started with our essential tips for moth orchid care:

proper moth orchid care results in beautiful blooms like this pink and white example

Light requirements

Orchids live in jungles and forests in the wild, often growing in and on trees. This means that they naturally receive dappled, filtered light—never harsh, direct light. 

It’s generally said that moth orchids love ‘bright, indirect light’, but what does that mean? Normal indoor lighting (from lightbulbs) is not usually enough, since it’s not as bright as sunlight and is missing some of the wavelengths of light that plants use for photosynthesis. If you have very little sunlight, you can place your orchid under bright ‘daylight’ or cool white bulbs that have more of those wavelengths plants need. Specialized grow lights are not necessary. 

If you do have access to natural light, the best kind is filtered or indirect, such as sunlight bouncing off a white wall or coming between blinds. However, direct sunlight can be very hard on the plant by making it too hot and even sunburning it. In the USA, light from an east- or south-facing window provides the right kind of light, whereas north- and west-facing windows can get really harsh light at certain times of day.

One way to keep an eye on whether your moth orchid is getting the right amount of light is by looking at its leaves. If they’re a dark, emerald green, they’re not getting enough light, and are creating more chlorophyll to compensate for this. If the leaves are becoming yellowish-green or red, your orchid is getting too much light.

Temperature requirements

One of the reasons moth orchids do so well as houseplants is that they are semi-tropical and thrive at similar temperatures to people. In fact, most household temperatures will work well for phalaenopsis plants, who will find daytime averages between 70 and 80°F and nighttime temperatures between 60 and 70°F quite hospitable.

It’s important that there’s a difference between the day and night temperatures, as this will help them store energy at night and encourages blooming when it’s that time in their growth cycle.

Soil requirements and potting

The easiest way to keep tabs on the watering and root health of your moth orchid is to have it potted in a clear plastic pot. While this might be unappealing on its own, it’s easy to use a cache pot to cover that plastic pot. The clear interior pot should have many holes to allow for aeration. 

Like most orchids, phalaenopsis orchids should be potted in a mix of moss and bark. The bark helps provide surfaces for the orchid to attach to, while not absorbing too much water. The moss helps retain water and hydrate the roots. The mix can also include charcoal, which helps purify the water and retain some water, and perlite, which aids with drainage. 

If you don’t want to spend your time mixing soils, there are commercially available orchid soil mixes.

An orchid soil mixture and clear pot with aeration will ensure the orchid roots don’t drown or rot, which is a major issue. In nature, orchids generally survive off the rain that is caught in the crooks of trees, as well as the water held by moss on tree bark. The showers are usually brief and drain over the course of the day.

Watering requirements

Orchids should be watered by submerging their pot in water for at least 5 minutes (and then draining) about once a week. You can take a peek through the clear pot to see if it seems dry—you should water a little before all the water has evaporated from the potting media.

During the hibernation period of your orchid, watering, temperature, fertilization, and light can be reduced.

Fertilizer Requirements

Orchids really love to be fertilized, as they come from nutrient-rich ecosystems in the jungle. For example, growing in the crook of a tree, they get nutrients from leaves and detritus that fall into that crook and are being broken down. 

It’s recommended to feed orchids “weakly and weekly”— that is, they love dilute fertilizer, but will require it often. This simulates the constant flow of nutrients in their native habitat. Full-strength fertilizer will burn the roots. Your moth orchid will thrive if you feed it with specialized liquid orchid food. It usually is diluted to about a teaspoon per gallon. 

Propagating

Under special circumstances (such as stress), phalaenopsis orchids can produce keikis or ‘baby orchids’. However, you can buy a keiki production hormone at specialty plant stores that can help you start growing a keiki for propagation.

This is the easiest way to grow another phalaenopsis plant, and it will be a clone of the parent plant, rather than an offspring. Otherwise, you will need to cause the plant to seed, and growing orchids from seed deserves its own article.

Pests and problems

There are many pests and diseases that can plague phalaenopsis orchids. 

The four main visible pests are mites, thrips, scale insects and mealybugs. Mealybugs are small, fuzzy-looking white bugs that can be found on the leaves and in the crooks between leaves. Mites are tiny, leaf-colored bugs that move quicker than other baddies. Thrips are a tan to black, narrow, winged bug that feeds on the orchid’s sap and drains its energy. Finally, scale bugs are a tan to black bug that is oval-shaped, rounded, and lies flat to the stems and leaves of the orchid.

Effective non-chemical treatments for these pests include applying rubbing alcohol with cotton wool or using insecticidal soap.

In terms of invisible diseases, the most common is root rot, which may be noticeable if the roots are mushy or smelly in anyway, or you suspect you may have been overwatering. The solution for this is repotting in sterile media after cutting off any rotten roots.

Toxicity

Fortunately, the phalaenopsis orchid is not toxic to dogs, cats, horses or people, including children.

Common questions on moth orchid care

Why are the leaves of my moth orchid are turning yellow?

The most common cause of this is too much light. This plant prefers filtered light or even light shade, so moving it to a more suitable area will help.

My moth orchid has lost its flowers, will it rebloom?

Your plant may enter a period of dormancy (resting) after flowering. You can encourage your moth orchid to rebloom by giving it the ideal growing conditions. Continue to water it weekly and provide a specialist orchid fertilizer according to the season. Ensure that the night time temperatures drop compared to the day, which may require moving to a different place.

About the author 

Paul - Better Houseplants

Loves orchids and foliage houseplants. Always trying to be a better plant parent. Let's get growing!

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