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Water Culture for Orchids
By Sun rm.N.E. at 2010-07-29 21:20
I wrote this article in response to questions about the orchids pictured in my Gallery because I am often unable to respond promptly enough. This method worked best for getting new orchids accustomed to the growing conditions in my living space that I was unable to grow otherwise.***I doubt I would have tried these methods if I were growing outdoors, in the tropics. here is a link to my water culture gallery.



For most orchids I aimed to use a nutrient solution of approximately 120ppm Nitrogen.* I used mostly fertilizers balanced for trace elements such as MSU Fertilizer * ( Some exceptions : No fertilizer, just tap water for dendrobiums such as the Nobile-types from Nov. until they showed recognizable flower buds, and for some others that slow their growth in Winter conditions of low temp and no supplemental light, I dilute the fertilizer more. ) When available, I often added just a couple of drops/gallon of a growth regulator such KLN but only until good roots form, (I also usually soaked plants before transplanting, in a higher concentration of a growth regulator.) **

If I had time I aimed to change the nutrient solution several times a week and a minimum of 1x/week. I also try to keep all the roots covered with solution at all times by adding enough tap water (or 1/2 strength nutrition solution for heavy feeders) as needed.

This is where I differ from how I see most people practice water culture and believe was important for success. I have removed all decaying roots and stuff initially, and as soon as I saw them developing later. I aimed to leave only the healthiest roots in the solution. If the container was getting filled with a lot of new roots with healthy growing tips I removed old senile roots (no new branches and mostly dead tips) that would compete for oxygen and nutrients, pollute the solution, and do little work. A surprisingly small mass of brand new roots formed in water culture can support big flowers, such as these 6-7 inch ones on Blc Mari's Glory. In front of it is Leptotes bicolor in the small vase.I treated for infection early and vigorously and as long as I saw signs of it. I usually used drugstore hydrogen peroxide 3% or physan solution. If rot has penetrated deeply, I used Gentian violet 1% (this will dye anything including you skin, so gloves are advised). I also cut out as much of the rotting parts as possible. I have less and less tolerance to hang on to plants that show signs of black rot, orange rot, or whatever color it is, and discarded plants that did not respond to treatment, to keep down the mass of infective material in the growing area.


In the past 7 years of growing orchids in water culture I found it surprisingly hard to predict which orchids will do well short-term or long-term, or how long this adaptation will take unless I tried them. It has not always been the same type of orchid, either. Orchid books and other sources of info. have not been very helpful and some just hindered my range of experiments, initially. There are so many variables, including all the diseases as well as the reserves the plant comes with. I believe genetic potential to grow water tolerant roots are important. This I had not been able to predict by reading books and considering advice such as: "must let roots dry out between waterings", or the opposite, when it refers to experiences growing in bark or other organic media. Of course, growing conditions such as temperature, light etc. are also important I listed some of mine below.***

Sometimes I have divided a fast growing plant, put the the best growing parts of the front section in LECA and leave the backbulbs in water culture. I found that several of these battered backbulbs grew new leads that rebloomed faster in water culture than the vigorous front leads I transferred to the LECA, such as this Blc. Keowee backbulb that was retrieved from the trash, the day after, and another backbulb, Den Nora Tokunaga

Some of the other examples of "crypto mermaids" are Bl. Sunset Glory, Blc. Mari's Glory, Pot His Light x Ted and Alice, Howeara Lava Burst, Leptotes bicolor, Onc. Sharry Baby, Onc. John Louis Shirrah, Dgmra. Winter Wonderland, Den Nora Tokunaga, Brassavola Kiliani Stars (nodosa x Little Stars ). The last one is now in 3 separate containers, full of sheets. This has been the biggest surprise since it took over a year for it to grow decent water tolerant roots. Also had some hybrid Dendrobiums, nobile type, Cochleantes, Rodriquezia thriving in water culture for 2-3 years before they were transferred to S/H, which for me, requires less attention provided the plant starts with water tolerant clean roots.

I hope this helps. I made comments on many other posts on water culture; here are some links:



* firstrays.com. This site has a nutritional calculator too. (120ppm is about 1/2 teaspoon/gallon of commonly available fertilizers labeled 20 for Nitrogen)

** Some like Ludisia discolor got too fat with 120ppm, but still bloomed like clockwork. Other note, my experience has been that different orchids respond differently to growth regulators, and for some, it may not even make a difference.

*** Forced air heating in the Winter, air-conditioning in the Summer, part-time, in N.E. US. No added humidity to what some large-leaf tropical plants provide. Temperatures seldom go below 60 degrees F for more than a few hours/day in the Winter and reach the upper 90's for a few hours/day in the Summer. So I can't comment on colder or warmer environments or growing outdoors where mosquitos and other diseases may be more of a problem. Eastern exposure, modest amount of supplemental light ~16 hrs./day from Sept.-May 65W compact fluorescent shop lights, 3-4 in a 15x2.5 foot space.

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