Klanky's orchid culture page
Many people believe the long-standing myth that orchids are hard to care for. In general, this is not true -- Many orchids have water-conserving parts called pseudobulbs, which make them less susceptible to under-watering or an occasional missed watering.
The biggest risk to orchids (as with most potted plants) is over-watering, which can rot the roots. Most orchids that you'll see here and at stores (even Home Depot!) are epiphytes, meaning they don't grow in soil, but on other things (like trees). In nature, they grow with their roots hanging out in the air, and the rainforest environments they inhabit keep their roots moist with frequent rainfall.
Most orchids you'll find are grown in fir bark mixed with charcoal (to absorb impurities) and perlite (to keep the mix airy). Over time, the bark will decompose, making it hold more water than is ideal and potentially rot the orchid roots. For this reason, it is important to periodically check the bark potting medium for decomposition and re-pot the orchid, if necessary.
My general problem here has been a tendency to under-water out of fear of over-watering and killing the plants.
Recently, I discovered a new kind of orchid culture that may make orchid growing much easier for the grower and healthier for the plant. It's called "Semi-Hydroponic" and involves the use of porous rock-like nuggets (PrimeAgra) and special pots which have their own water reservoir, and provide a constant moisture and nutrient supply to the plant.
You can learn more about Semi-Hydroponic growing at First Rays Orchids, but here's my experience:
Several years ago, I bought a miltassia orchid and put it in the orchid case with the others. It stayed alive, but never really thrived. New growth appeared but never did much, just staying on the smallish side and eventually withering a bit, and never flowering. I knew something wasn't right, but I had no idea what it was. Eventually, I posted a photo of the plant on the Internet and asked the OrchidWeb Forum for help. One person there suggested Semi-Hydroponic media for the plant, so I bought a small kit and decided to give it a try.
I potted the plant into the PrimeAgra media and followed the instructions.
Wow! What was atrophying growth is now beautiful, plump pseudobulbs that are growing like weeds! And I took a quick peek at the root system and it is looking incredible.
As of this writing (May 4, 2004) I have repotted most of my plants into the Semi-Hydroponic system and so far everything is looking great. I water twice a week and this is adequate for all my plants. The S-H media won't decompose like bark, so I'm hoping that root rot will be a thing of the past.
Stay tuned for more on this exciting cultural development.
Because he lives in Wisconsin, which is not exactly a tropical paradise, Klanky keeps most of his orchids inside the house, growing them in a large case:
This case is designed with two environments: A high-light area on top, which is illuminated by a 400-watt HID light on a six-foot light-mover track, and a lower-light area on the bottom with four-foot fluorescent tubes.
Each area has its own humidistat and custom-made humidifier which keeps the humidity in the case at a comfortable 60-70%. The lights keep the case at a good temperature and a cooling system will be added shortly that will cool the case down at night, or if the temperature inside rises too high during the day.
Each section is built with a large, stainless-steel tray underneath the plants to hold water, with plastic "egg-crate" grid material used to support the plants over this tray. When watering, excess water flows out of the pots into the tray, helping humidify the case. Excess water flows out of overflow ports on the trays and is discarded.
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