Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants with over 20,000 different species. When you focus only on orchids that are grown as houseplants, the number is much smaller. The easiest of all orchids to grow is the phalaenopsis, sometimes called the moth orchid. This genus of orchid has become very common and easy to find. You can go to a garden center, a grocery store or even a home improvement store and find a good selection of phalaenopsis plants.
When you’re growing a phalaenopsis, it’s helpful to know how it grows in the wild. This orchid is an epiphyte, meaning that in nature it grows on tree branches. Its roots are used to adhere to the tree bark and also to absorb water and nutrients from the air. A phalaeonopsis has to have a potting mix that’s very loose and airy; it needs as much air as possible around its roots in order to prevent rotting. Planting it in regular potting soil will kill it quickly.
Garden centers offer bags of orchid potting mix that are usually made up of chunks of bark and pieces of charcoal. This medium works but I’ve never been really pleased with it – I find it difficult to water and it breaks down quickly.
Recently I’ve noticed that all of the phalaenopsis orchids that I’ve seen in the stores are potted in long fiber sphagnum moss. This moss is very open and loose and holds water well. So lately I’ve been experimenting with using sphagnum moss with a little bark and charcoal for my orchids. (One note: if you buy long fiber sphagnum moss, you get what you pay for. I purchased one bag from a local garden center and it was great. I bought another for a much cheaper price at a big box store and the bag had moss in it but also a lot of pine needles and other debris.)
My experiment started back in February when I had overwatered a phalaenopsis plant before going on vacation. I came home and found that most of the roots had rotted. I took the plant out of the pot, trimmed off all of the rotted roots and put it in a pot of long fiber sphagnum moss. Now, 5 months later, the plant is growing new roots and a new leaf has emerged as well.
Today I transplanted an orchid that had been grown in moss. After taking the plant out of the pot, I removed all of the old sphagnum moss. I checked the roots and cut off any that didn’t look healthy. I like using clay orchid pots for orchids – the clay pot and the large holes on the side of the pot provide a lot of air to the roots. I didn’t have a clay orchid pot so I took a standard plastic pot and drilled a bunch of holes in the side of it to provide better aeration for the orchid’s roots. I then potted the plant using moss and a handful of orchid potting mix. This should provide the plant with plenty of air as well as even moisture.
I really enjoy phalaenopsis orchids. The plants are easy to find, easy to grow and the flowers last for a long time. I’m thinking that using moss for a potting medium will make the care of these orchids even easier.