When should I water my orchids?

When to water will vary based on type of orchid and what the conditions are. Over watering is probably the major cause of orchid death with new growers.
The best thing is to develop a method of knowing when to water. Some people go by “heft.” Lift the pot right after watering. Know what it feels like. When it is extremely light, water.
Two other methods use either a finger or skewer, but are very similar. For finger method, you stick your finger into the pot up to the 2nd joint (your knuckle). If it feels cool or moist, then don’t water. If it feels warm or dry, then water. The skewer test is to stick a bamboo skewer (or wood, or a sharpened pencil) in about 2″ deep. Look at the end. If it looks moist, don’t water. If it doesn’t look moist, roll it across your cheek or your upper lip. If it feels cool or moist…don’t water. If it feels warm and dry, water.
Generally, most people water their orchids in the morning as this gives the orchids plenty of time to drain when the cooler evening temperatures come; and it is more likely that wayward drops have had time to evaporate.

orchids watering

How much?

Each particular type of orchid has its own water needs, whether for moisture or periodic dryness. Orchid plants require less water when not actively growing (generally winter months) and more while growing (generally spring and summer months). Plants with thinner, softer foliage generally require more water than those with harder, more succulent leaves and thick fleshy pseudobulbs (stems).

How often?

Watch the plants; they let you know when they need water. Speaking of water, as any smart angler knows, let the fish tell you what they want.

Most orchids prefer a little drying out between watering. Just how dry depends on the variety. Most orchid plants tolerate being dryer better than staying soggy. Allow the plants to approach dryness and apply sufficient water so that it drains freely through the container. This also helps to keep salts from building up in the potting media which could cause root burn. Never allow me to sit in my own water.
Flowering orchid plants may require more frequent watering to make up for the greater load of the flowers. Plants with pseudobulbs generally need to dry out more between waterings than those without.

Water quality

In general, most tap water is fine to use to water orchids. Don’t be overly concerned about water quality unless plants seem to be languishing for no other apparent reasons. Orchids grow better when they receive water with small amounts of dissolved salts in it, such as those found in good-quality tap water, rather than distilled water. Water quality, however, does differ from place to place in chlorine, pH, mineral salts, and other solids. If dissolved salts (TDS) exceed 300, use another water source.
An excellent solution is rainwater, which normally contains very low levels of mineral salts. Many growers swear by the good results, especially for orchids particularly sensitive to salts, such as masdevallias and phragmipediums. However, using rainwater can lead to deficiencies of calcium, magnesium, and iron, even if supplemented with fertilizers, for most fertilizers don’t contain these since manufacturers assume the water supply will provide sufficient amounts. One way around this is to water with tap water every fourth watering or to mix some tap water with the rainwater.

Softened water

Do not use “softened” water on orchids. Standard water softeners in the home use a process that removes calcium and magnesium ions and replaces them with sodium, a salt far more toxic to plants than the original ones. If possible, tap into the water line with a “T” spout to obtain water for orchids before it enters the water softener.
If this is impractical, look into “deionizing” methods such as a “weak acid” ion-exchange resin water softener, or “reverse osmosis,” which is more water-wasting but which easily removes up to 99 percent of dissolved ions, minerals, hardness, and contaminants.

Water pH

Generally, the pH of water for orchid growing can range from 4.0 to 7.5, with optimum between 5.5 and 6.5, although growers have used water with pH as high as 9.0, which is very alkaline, without too much problem. A pH of 7.0 is neutral; anything below 7.0 is acidic, anything above it is alkaline.
Optimum pH increases the availability of beneficial fertilizer elements and reduces adsorption of harmful elements. Extremes of pH (below 4.0, above 7.5) can inactivate many nutrients. One reason orchids tend to withstand extremes of pH better than many houseplants is because orchids have evolved in nutrient-poor environments. Thus, even when fertilizer becomes unavailable at extreme pH, orchids survive.
Rainwater pH is generally fine for orchids. Rainwater is usually acidic, with a pH around 5.6.
If pH needs to be lowered, use citric acid (grapefruit juice works safely). Adjusting pH too much can add ions that may burn plants. Hard water, however, is difficult to adjust, since pH buffers are commonly added by municipalities.

Uses

One orchid genus, Vanilla, is commercially important, used as a foodstuff flavouring.
The underground tubers of terrestrial orchids (mainly Orchis mascula) are ground to a powder and used for cooking, such as in the hot beverage salep or the so-called “fox-testicle ice cream” salepi dondurma.
The scent of orchids is frequently analysed by perfumists (using gas liquid chromatography) to identify potential fragrance chemicals.
The only other important use of orchids is their cultivation for the enjoyment of the flowers.
Most cultivated orchids are tropical or subtropical, but quite a few which grow in colder climates can be found on the market. Temperate species available at nurseries include Ophrys apifera, Gymnadenia conopsea (fragrant orchid), Anacamptis pyramidalis (pyramidal orchid) and Dactylorhiza fuchsii (common spotted orchid).

Amongst the most common orchids found in “casual” culture we count

  • Anguloa
  • Cattleya
  • Cymbidium
  • Laelia
  • Dendrobium
  • Phalaenopsis
  • Paphiopedilum
  • Oncidium
  • Vanda
  • Epidendrum
  • Brassia
  • Bulbophyllum
  • Catasetum
  • Sophronitis
  • Miltonia
  • Phaius

Taiwan, the biggest orchid exporter in the world, establishes the Taiwan Orchids Plantation, a science-based industrial park, in 2004, to explore novel ways of growing and distributing orchids. The renowned Taiwanese International Orchid Show, usually held in early March each year, is amongst the top three orchid exhibition in the world. Taiwan is particularly famous for the production of Phalaenopsis.
The National Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens is considered by some to be among the finest collections of orchids in cultivation open to the public.
Orchids, like tulips, have become a major market throughout the world. Buyers now bid hundreds of dollars on new hybrids or improved ones. Because of their apparent ease in hybridization, they are now becoming one of the most popular cut-flowers on the market.

Sources: Herbs 2000, Garden Web

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