How to grow and care for Nun Orchids Indoors

Indoor Orchid, Nun Orchid

Botanical name: Phaius spp
Tribe: Collabieae

Nun Orchids also called Swamp Orchids are popular, easy to grow orchids and are considered ideal for a beginner. They are called Nun Orchids in reference to their curved upper sepal and petals that are white on the back side resembling a nun's cap. The blooms are produced on tall spikes each bearing a cluster of 10-20 flowers. The flowers are long-lasting and delicately fragrant. The colors range from brown to maroon, often with a white or pink lip. Nun Orchids are evergreen, terrestrial herbs with thin underground rhizomes and crowded above ground and sometimes stem-like pseudobulbs. The leaves are several, pleated, stalked and emerge from the pseudobulb. Nun Orchids are found in tropical parts of Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Australia and various islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are found growing on humid, cold, tropical forest floors. They prefer moderate light and warm temperatures. Nun Orchids were first formally described in 1790 by Joao de Loureiro (a Portuguese Jesuit missionary and botanist). The genus name Phaius is derived from the Greek word phaios meaning "dusky" or "brown" in reference to the brownish color of flowers.

How to Grow Nun Orchids (Phaius spp)

Light

Nun Orchids grow best in bright, indirect light away from direct sunshine. Keep them away from direct sunshine to avoid sun scorch on the leaves. Regularly turn the pot to ensure the plant gets adequate light on all sides. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants

Water

For lush growth and regular blooms, water Nun Orchids thoroughly during the growing period and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce watering in the cold period. Avoid waterlogging as it can cause the orchid to rot. Use tepid, chlorine-free water as orchids are sensitive to chlorine and other chemicals dissolved in water. Avoid wetting the foliage as it can lead to fungal diseases. Nun Orchids are more tolerant of dry soil conditions due to the presence of pseudobulbs and their thick leaves. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

Temperature

The best temperatures for Nun Orchids are between 10-290C. Warmer days and cooler night temperatures are ideal. Cool nights are essential to trigger flowering. Ensure there is good air circulation as orchids cannot tolerate hot and stuffy conditions. Protect them from draughts. Learn more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity

Moderate humidity is ideal for Nun Orchids. Set the pot on a wet pebble tray to raise humidity where the air is too dry. Occasionally clean the leaves by damp-wiping with a soft cloth. Do not mist the leaves as it can lead to fungal diseases.

Feeding

Feed Nun Orchids every 3 weeks with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Withhold feeding during the cold season. Do not feed an orchid that is in flower. In feeding, it is better to err on the side of underfeeding than overfeeding. Overfeeding may result in loss of roots thus death of the orchid. It can also lead to vegetative growth instead of flower production. Learn more on how to feed houseplants.

Repotting

Nun Orchids bloom best when they are pot-bound. Repot Nun Orchids only when growth begins to suffer. When the orchid has outgrown its pot and the new growth reaches out over the edge of the pot or when the soil has broken down completely. Repot only when new growth begins, shortly after blooming is over. Use a pot with proper drainage holes or slits as the roots need good air circulation. The pot should be only 1 size larger than the previous one. Use loose, free-draining bark soil. When repotting, shake off excess soil and trim off any dried and shrivelled pseudobulbs.

Pruning

Pruning Nun Orchids is easy. Remove dead and diseased leaves by cutting them at the base with sharp scissors or a knife.

How to Propagate Nun Orchids (Phaius Orchids)

Nun Orchids can be propagated at the beginning of the growing season once flowering is over. Gently split the rhizome into sections. Leave at least 3 shoots on each section. Seperate the roots attached to each division from the mother root ball. Remove the old potting soil attached to the roots. Place each section in the center of the pot. Bury the roots in the soil while ensuring that the bottom of the pseudobulb is level with the top of the soil. The best pot should be about 1-2 in. larger than the pseudobulb. Ensure the pot has enough drainage holes and slits to prevent root-rot. Place the set up in a shaded place until they have established their own roots. Water the new Nun Orchids lightly to enhance root development. Stake each newly repotted plant.

Common Problems in Growing Nun Orchids (Phaius Orchids)

  • Brown soft spots on the leaves
  • Brown soft spots on Nun Orchid leaves are an indication of a fungal disease; remove the affected leaves immediately to prevent further spread.

  • Brown hard and dry spots on leaves
  • Exposure of Nun Orchids to direct sunshine will result in scorch marks which are brown hard and dry spots on the leaves. Move the orchid to a shadier spot or protect it from direct sunshine.

  • Mould on leaves
  • This is an indication of Powdery Mildew Disease. Misting the leaves in Nun Orchids may lead to mildew growth if the water does not evaporate quickly. Ensure good air circulation and stop misting.

  • Limpy and droopy leaves
  • Limpy and droopy leaves in Nun Orchid are caused by underwatering. Do not allow the soil to dry out completely. Water Nun Orchid thoroughly, maintain the soil consistently moist and allow only the top half of the soil to dry out between waterings.

  • Dark-green leaves
  • Dark green leaves in Nun Orchid indicate that the plant is not getting enough light. Move the orchid to a brighter spot. The leaves of a Nun Orchid that is receiving the correct light should be light-green.

  • Yellowish leaves
  • Yellowish leaves in Nun Orchid indicate that the plant is getting too much light. Move the orchid to a shadier spot. The leaves of a Nun Orchid that is receiving the correct light should be light-green.

  • Leaf tips turn black and die
  • The cause of black leaf tips in Nun Orchid is the presence of chemicals like chlorine and flourides in water. Use chlorine-free water only.

  • No blooms
  • Too little light for Nun Orchids will result in no blooms. Move the plant to a brighter spot. Overfeeding Nun Orchids can also result in no blooms as it tends to more vegetative growth instead of blooming. Feed Nun Orchid every 3 weeks with a solution of a balanced water-soluble fertilizer.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Nun Orchids are Mealy Bugs, Scale Insects, Slugs and Snails. Isolate the affected plant and treat appropriately

Toxicity

Nun Orchids (Phaius spp) are non-toxic to both humans and pets. They are safe to grow indoors.

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