“Moth Orchid” – The Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift

San Antonio Express News
Gardening, Etc.
Sunday, February 12, 2006

By David Rodriguez

Today is Sunday, February 12, and Valentine’s Day is only two days away! You haven’t forgotten February 14, have you? That day is the traditional day for lovers. I tell my wife, Gina, that every day that we are together in this world, is just like Valentine’s Day. The symbolism of sending flowers to your loved one is obvious; many people no longer realize that there are flowers other than a dozen roses that say “I Love You.” This would be a great opportunity to visit your local nursery or garden center for that great seasonal, unique gift plant. Who knows, this might become a weekly routine. Your loved one would really enjoy a unique and different plant on a weekly basis. Remember, that most nurseries carry a great assortment of gorgeous, seasonal-blooming, floral-quality plants. This is a great alternative to purchasing a bunch of roses that usually dry out or bloom out in two days.

The tradition of giving and receiving of flowers was once part of an elaborate and lengthy courtship in which many different types of flowers were used to show one’s expressions. Each flower represented a different message. One of the most unique and prettiest plant to consider as that gift is the “Moth Orchid.” It is a beautiful, yet easy-to-grow indoor plant. “Moth Orchids” are almost pest free, require little maintenance, and thrive in low light conditions. The greatest feature of the “Moth Orchid is the large, long-blooming, beautiful, and uniquely gorgeous flower spikes. Read on for more information and general care guidelines on “Moth Orchids.”

The “Moth Orchid” is in the genus Phalaenopsis, pronounced (fal-uh-NOP-sis). The name, Phalaenopsis, comes from the Greek word phalanaia, meaning “moth” and opsi meaning “appearance.” The name was given by the Dutch botanist, C.L. Blume who, after the first specimen was found in 1752 in the western part of Java and named Phalaaenopse amabilis (being one of three national flowers of Indonesia), likened them to tropical moths in flight. Today with breeding and cultural growing conditions the “Moth Orchid” is available in a large array of beautiful colors. Valentine colors are pink, while others are white with colored lips, yellow, spotted or striped like peppermint candy. The wedding favorites are large white flowers with yellow in the lip. All of these will bloom for several months with the proper care.

In the home, “Moth Orchids enjoy a spot near or in a bright window. Avoid direct mid-day sun, but early morning or late afternoon sun is acceptable. A window that is facing west or east would be ideal. In darker or cloudy environments a shaded, southern window would be best. If needed, supplemental lighting with fluorescent lights placed about 1 foot above your “Moth Orchid” is recommended. In a home greenhouse, consider using heavy shade cloth (especially during the summer) to limit light levels to 1,000 – 1,500 foot candles.

“Moth Orchids” normally flower once a year, initiating a new bloom spike in the fall of the year and flowering during mid-winter/early spring. Exposure to cool temperatures (50-55 degrees) for at least a few days in the early fall may encourage spikes to develop sooner. Frequently, a secondary bloom spike will form after the first has finished blooming. In order for this to happen, you will need to leave the old bloom spike on the plant.

“Moth Orchids” grow best with the humidity at 50% or higher. Most homes have a humidity of about 35%. To create high humidity around your “Moth Orchid,” place gravel in a saucer and place the plant on the gravel. Pour water into the saucer and keep level with the top of the gravel. Do not allow the water to touch the bottom of the pot. This will create a micro environment of high humidity right around the “Moth Orchid.” Misting helps, but does not substitute for the saucer technique. Misting can cause leaf spot diseases if there is not good air circulation. Try to mist with distilled, and never directly mist the blossoms.

“Moth Orchids” do not like to be dry to the point of wilting. Water thoroughly and then not again until the media is nearly, but not completely, dry. The frequency of watering will depend on the type of media the “Moth Orchid” is growing in and its growing environment. Watering once every week to ten days is a good starting point. Heating our homes in the winter time lowers the humidity and possibly increases the frequency of watering patterns. If the plant is allowed to wilt, it will weaken significantly and /or die. NEVER ALLOW WATER TO TOUCH THE FLOWERS, as this will shorten their longevity.

A slow-release fertilizer with equal proportions of N-P-K (14-14-14) should be used every three months as directed. Supplement with a good water-soluble fertilizer every four weeks at half strength. During the blooming season, you might consider a blooming plant formula that contains elevated phosphorus levels.

“Moth Orchids” should live a long time. This means you have to know when and how to repot your plants. There are two reasons for repotting a plant. 1) It has outgrown its current container; 2) The plant’s media has decomposed and no longer is aerated well enough to maintain its healthy roots. Proceed by removing the “Moth Orchid” from its container and let the old media fall away with a light shake. Trim away any old dead roots. Position the plant in a new container and add the new orchid media, letting it settle around the roots. Using only a media for orchids containing bark, stone, perlite, sphagnum moss will provide the aeration your “Moth Orchid” needs. Resume normal fertilizing and a watering schedule.

“Moth Orchids” should be monitored for aphids, mealybugs, mites or other critters. Normally, insects or mites are not a problem. If such critters appear, remove with a soft cloth and spray with a tender leaf spray. Always follow label instructions.

“Moth Orchid” flowers have a superb longevity. Many times you can urge a second flowering from each spike with a timely pruning. When the last flower of the spike finishes, examine the spike, looking for small fleshy bumps or nodes. At the base of the spike, count out three fleshy nodes, ignoring the dried ones. Cut these spikes one inch above the third node. If the plant is healthy and it is not too late in the season, this process will also wake up two of the nodes, and in a few weeks, produce a new array of fresh blooms. Follow these instructions and you could enjoy flowers for nearly six months after Valentines Day. This will make a great long lasting Valentine’s Day gift plant, and show your loved one how much you enjoy and cherish them.

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!!!

David Rodriguez is County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the “Master Gardener” Hotline at (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension Web site at bexar-tx.tamu.edu


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