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Phalaenopsis Orchids

Traditional hybrid phals, as they are commonly called, come in a very diversified color range from white through dark pink, in solids, speckles and candy stripes. Newer colors have been bred including yellow, orange and red.

Some spectacular new hybrids have been introduced from Japan called "harlequins". These are mostly round bi-color white with dark purple or lavender spots. If you want one of these, you should get one that has already bloomed because not all "harlequins" produce the desired "spots". Be prepared to pay the price!

Flower size varies considerably. In some miniature species and hybrids, the perfectly shaped delicate blossoms are less than 1/2 inch across. A single flower of the fabulous classic hybrid whites can measure up to 5" across. A mature plant of this caliber can bear up to 12 or more spectacular blossoms per arching stem. Even a seasoned orchid grower will catch his breath at such a magnificent display.

Worth mentioning here is doritis pulcherrima which is not a phalaenopsis, but a separate genus with several varieties ranging in color from white through dark purple.

Doritis is a small compact grower with the habit of freely producing plantlets from the base and lower leaf axils. This makes it ideal for specimen growing. The flowers resemble miniature phals, 1/2 to 1 inch across depending on the variety and are borne on tall straight stems. They have been bred extensively with phalaenopsis to produce the hybrid cross named doritaenopsis (DTPS for short).

Most large blooming phalaenopsis have no scent. However, a few distinct species and their hybrids have a heavenly perfume. The most well known of these fragrant species include phal. amboinensis, phal. lueddemanniana, phal. mannii and phal. violacea. These are a little more difficult to grow, but well worth the effort. If the plants are reluctant to bloom, move them a little (just a little) you don't want to make a drastic change. For all phalaenopsis, reducing the night time temperatures to about 55 degrees for a period of two weeks to a month during late fall will aid in setting flower spikes. If you are growing them in your home, you could put them in an unheated porch or garage over night. Don't let them get below 50 degrees - that's too cold.

Phalaenopsis require subdued light conditions in the range of 800 to 1200 foot candles and brisk air circulation. We have installed a ceiling fan in the middle of the greenhouse which runs on the highest setting and is never turned off, summer or winter. Potting mix should be moist at all times but never soggy. Don't neglect watering and fertilizing in the winter. We fertilize at every other watering with 1/2 half strength soluble 30-10-10 fertilizer during the growing season and cut back on fertilizing to once a month during the colder weather. It might feel too cold to water, but actually your plants need the same amount (if not more) water because artificial heat will reduce humidity and suck moisture from the air and the potting medium.

Be careful when watering plants in cold weather. Ideally, water temperature should never be less than 60 F. Anything under that can cause tissue collapse in the leaves and newly emerging flower spikes. If affected portions are not dried or cut off, this can lead to further problems such as bacterial infections and rot which may take over the entire plant. Tissue collapse of the spike is very obvious. Try to cut down as far to the leaf as possible and dust the cut end with a powdered fungicide. Needless to say, it will not produce bloom and it is unlikely that the plant, being thus damaged, will put forth another spike that same season.

During cold spells, when the temperature of our water supply is too low, we fill a 5 gallon bucket with hot water and use the hose siphon to water the plants. This is sufficient to bring the temperature up to acceptable levels.

We grow our phals in plastic pots with plenty of drainage materials in the bottom because they hold moisture longer than clay pots. You can purchase ready made mix specially made for phalaenopsis or you can mix your own. Equal amounts of fine-grade tree fern and charcoal plus some perlite or lava rock works well for us. We have recently experimented with mixtures containing mostly Canadian peat. The plants did well with strong healthy root growth, so long as the medium was kept moist. You need to watch that the peat does not dry out or become soggy. We have also tried fir bark, but find that it degrades rapidly and is host to snow mold and other fungus.

All but our largest specimens are repotted every year in fresh orchid mix right after the blooming period when new roots are beginning to show.

Tap the pot firmly on a hard surface and remove the plant. Throw away the old mix or put it on your compost pile. Cut off spent flower spikes close to the stem. Clean off any remaining debris from the roots. Inspect and cut off all dead, soft or overly long roots right at the stem. Trim the bottom of the stem to within a half inch of the lowest viable root.

To ward off disease, we immerse the cleaned plants in a mixture of water including 1 teaspoon per gallon of liquid fungicide such as Physan. Leave to soak about 20 minutes and let the plants air-dry. Now they are ready to be put into their new pots.
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