Caring for Your Moth Orchid

Fine Gardening – Issue 209
caring for moth orchid
Photo: Dracup

What do I do after it’s done blooming?

This is the million-dollar question for many people. Follow these steps to keep your plant happy after bloom.

1. Cut off that finished flower spike, snipping close to the base of the leaves. This won’t hurt the plant and will allow it to direct more energy into growth.

2. If your plant is on a mantel or tabletop, move it to a better location with dappled or indirect sunlight, no cold breezes, and preferably some humidity.

3. Repot the plant. Gently pull it out of the potting medium, removing any dirt or sphagnum moss from the roots (photo above), then repot using a special orchid-growing medium. These mixes usually contain big chunky elements such as pine bark nuggets, charcoal, and clay pellets. Such materials provide surfaces for roots to grab onto and help facilitate effortless and complete drainage.

Once you’ve repotted your orchid, you should start to see new roots and leaves emerge as the plant enters another growing cycle. During the warm months, you can help it along with some controlled-release fertilizer pellets and a regular watering program. Come fall when the temperatures start to drop, expose your moth orchid to relatively colder temperatures outside for a few nights, even as low as 50°F. If you’ve done everything right, the cold will trigger your plant to bloom, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most gratifying sights in orchid cultivation: a new flower spike poking up between the leaves.

growing moth orchids

Keep Moth Orchids Happy and They’ll Bloom Year After Year

While moth orchids are always found in flower at stores, if you grow them year-round at home, then they will naturally start blooming in fall and last several months, sometimes persisting into winter. For this to happen, though, you’ll need to treat them right.

How to deal with common problems

trimming off dead roots of moth orchid

Most of the cultural problems orchids suffer from in the short term are related to excess water on the roots, which can cause rot. Healthy roots are green when wet and silver when dry. Dead or dying roots are brown or black. When you repot your orchid, you should be able to trim off dead roots (photo, right). However, once a critical mass of roots has died and lost the silvery paperlike covering, it’s unlikely you can save the plant.

Pests that affect indoor moth orchids include scale, whiteflies, mealybugs, and thrips. The first step in avoiding pest damage is to look for bugs, webs, droppings, or discoloration. If you notice a pest, identify what it is and then develop a treatment plan. Be aware that some common insecticides may damage your orchid, so always choose something organic like insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. In many cases, a strong jet of water during your weekly watering is enough to blast away pests.

Jon VanZile is a Master Gardener living in South Florida. He is the author of Houseplants for a Healthy Home: 50 Indoor Plants to Help You Breathe Better, Sleep Better, and Feel Better All Year Round.

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