Many of us have gotten or bought the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis sp.) for Valentine's, Mother’s Day or other special occasions.

Then the challenge is how do we keep it thriving and blooming.

To ensure its survival, we have to consider: plant appearance when shopping, the environment where it will grow (light and temperature), water, fertilizer, and potting media.

When buying a Phalaenopsis plant, we are dazzled by their flowers and forget that it is as important to consider how leaves look and how many there are on the plant. This is vital for the plant’s success.

The leaves are strap-shaped and alternate along the stem, which is hidden under them. If the plant is growing well, these should look fleshy, fully hydrated (not shriveled), and gracefully arched.

On a healthy plant, newer leaves will show at the top, and as the plant matures, each new leaf will be progressively larger than the one before until the plant reaches its maturity.

A mature and healthy plant should have and retain at least four to five leaves.

Although I have a lot of experience growing Phalaenopsis, my more than 20-plant collection is outdoors and in a tropical environment (Puerto Rico); thus, I decided to compare experiences with two other Master Gardeners, Anita Lewison and Sue Morris, who grow them indoors and in our local community.

Their plants are at least 4 years old and have three tos even leaves, which I interpret to mean they have reached maturity.

Anita’s plants are “year around in her sunroom” which has an eastern and southern exposure and they “get morning and afternoon filtered light.”

In Sue’s case, her plants “sit in pots on a bay window ledge” at a west-facing window and “when the temperature gets down to zero outside,” she takes them “out of the window and puts them on a table in front of this window.”

To prevent any leaf burning, Anita uses a window blind half-closed.

Since Phalaenopsis roots need moisture all the time, especially when they are actively growing, plants should be watered thoroughly, and let dry out somewhat but never completely.

Do not let water stand on the plant crown because this can cause “crown rot” which will kill the plant growing point.

In regularly watered plants, their roots will be fully hydrated, silver, and look iridescent, and the tips look green to olive green. A crumbly bark mixture is ideal because it allows air circulation, which is good for the roots.

If your plant has limp leaves, no flowers or very few, and shows brown or opaque roots, it means everything is wrong about your plant.

Then you should check your watering, fertilizing and potting media.

There are two approaches to fertilizing: Either apply a diluted quantity more often, or apply a delayed release one.

When plants are potted in bark, the preferred one is 30-10-10 because microorganisms growing in the wood tend to sequester nitrogen.

For plants growing on other media, the following are recommended: 20-20-20, 18-18-18 or 10-10-10.

To induce flowering, you should use a low-nitrogen and high-phosphorus fertilizer like 10-30-20 or 3-12-6. Naturally, Phalaenopsis plants initiate their flower spike development when fall temperature begins to drop and days get shorter.

If close attention is paid to what your plants are doing, Phalaenopsis are easy to grow and their flowers can be enjoyed for several months.

To learn how to repot a Phalaenopsis, watch a video on the Kandiyohi Master Gardeners’ Facebook page.