As I was quickly hugging a friend passing by last week, she whispered "I had an accident yesterday." She was referring to a son knocking over a deep burgundy moth orchid I had given her last month as a gift at her book signing.
I have never quite understood how orchids developed their reputation for being difficult. When I was growing up in Brazil, we had dozens of cattleya orchids blooming continuously in our back yard. They were not in any soil or fancy pots; they were literally nailed to trees and watered with a periodic blast from a hose.
Phalaenopsis, also called Phals or moth orchids, are almost as easy. Although a promotional campaign says to "just add ice," I can't imagine doing that to a tropical plant used to warm rain.
The trick to these orchids is to not over water.
Moth orchids are sold in clear liner pots inside decorative ceramic or metal containers. Once a week - or maybe a week and a half or so - I remove the clear plastic container, with the plant still in the bark, and give the bark a good long drink of lukewarm water from the faucet sprayer. I let it drain as I water the next one, then place the first clear container back into the decorative pot.
When I don't have time to give it a bath, I move the bark around to determine how dry it is, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of lukewarm water sprinkled all over. Decorative containers usually have a one inch well at the bottom to collect water run off and prevent roots from rotting.
Then once a month when I water, I give my moth orchids half the recommended fertilizer.
As blooms start to fade - they usually last 3-6 months if a cat doesn't bat them off - I used to cut off the long stems. I don't any more because one orchid I neglected started to spring new budding stems from the old one and hasn't stopped since.
Phals don't like direct sun but they do like diffused light. Early morning light in an east window, or indirect light from a southern or western window, away from heat or drafts, will work nicely.
When I retired from the Navy Reserves in 2009, one of my Navy teams sent me the most amazing basket of 8 different-colored moth orchids. I still have seven of those plants, most of them either blooming or starting to re-bloom.
Oh, I know where the missing orchid is. I took it to a friend's house as a thank you for Christmas dinner. After more than a year, she tells me it's still in bloom!
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.