Orchids Need Air

moth orchid phalenopsis

Phalenopsis or ‘Moth’ Orchid, in bloom.

Plants tell you that that you’re not treating them right. Eventually. By dying, usually. But sometimes you get warning signs. That’s what happened to me with my Phalenopsis orchids. It was a “What’s Wrong With My Orchid” situation. I overwatered. I had planted them in a container with no drainage. They drooped and almost died. My thinking was, they live in the jungle, so lots of water and moisture is what they need. I discovered that no, that’s not quite right.

Orchids are air plants, epiphytes, that grow in the crooks of trees, with their air roots dangling every which way.

An epiphyte is a plant that grows non-parasitically upon another plant (such as a tree), and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it instead of the structure it is fastened to.

So, while orchids do love high humidity in the air, they don’t like their leaves to be submerged in water. Especially not the central pocket of leaves at the growth point. I was in the habit of pouring water into this area thinking that this would make the orchids feel right at home. The root of the problem is this: While we grow orchids with leaves facing straight up in pots, in the jungle, orchid leaves grow sideways on trees, allowing water to drain right off.

I’m trying a new strategy now, and potted (what was left of) my orchids into smaller clay pots. They now look much happier and are putting out new leaf growth. While I might mist them occasionally, I won’t let water collect, letting them enjoy their new, less soggy life.

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