If you are like many others who wish to grow orchids in hydroponics, you have come to the right place. As long as you satisfy certain conditions and take proper precautions, you can grow orchids in water.
One such condition is to use only young or newly bought orchids that have not yet adapted to the soil as a growing medium. While epiphytic orchids thrive in hydroponic systems due to the fact that their roots are adapted for nutrient absorption from air, terrestrial orchids have roots that are better suited for a soil medium.
Water cycle/rotation in hydroponics
One way is the full water culture where only roots and water are present and watering is alternated between wet and dry. Although each orchid plant’s preference is different, you can start by having two wet and five dry days. Thereafter, give it some time and adjust the conditions for your orchid accordingly. This is a major change for the orchid as they need to re-adapt and form new roots suited for the water medium which can take at least three weeks.
Another way is the semi-hydroponic, where water is in the pot at all times and the orchid rests on leca pebbles which bring the water and nutrients to the roots. Something to note is the frequency of replacing the layer of water. Whether it is each week or every two weeks, observe your plant and adjust accordingly.
Moving from pot to water
This step requires attention to detail as you need to ensure all the sphagnum moss, especially those stuck between the roots, are cleared out. To preserve the health of the orchid, sellers will only add to the moss and not remove any. So when you do attempt to remove the sphagnum moss for repotting, the inner parts surrounding the roots are usually tougher to remove.
To get around that, soak the plant in lukewarm water for twenty minutes so the sphagnum will float and can be removed easily. Take your time with this step as any reminisce of this old medium will rot in the water, causing your orchid root to rot and bacteria to grow.
After this tedious step, it’s time to observe and trim any rotted roots using a clean pair of scissors. Similar to how one drop of tar can render the whole bowl of honey inedible, one ruined root can infect the whole system so be strict in your judgment. It would be better if you had a background in working with orchids for this step. So if you’re new to the plant, it is advisable that you don’t start with hydroponics.
To try and save more roots, try removing only the outer velamen of a decomposed root. This might seem severe but the root will still get the orchid water.
Hydroponic pot matters
Regardless of your chosen watering cycle, a tall and wide glass pot with a narrow opening is ideal for humidity and air circulation. The tall shape increases the distance water needs to travel to evaporate while the narrow opening decreases surface area exposed to minimize evaporation.
This should work fine for the semi-hydroponic technique but for the full water culture, roots need to be exposed to air, not to mention the water is meant to be completely evaporated. That’s when the wide, circular shape comes into play. You also need to put holes at the side of this jar for this method.
The full water culture method calls for a medium pot that lets the root extend to the bottom while the leaves hang outside, atop the pot. On the other hand, the semi-hydroponic method must have a longer pot to separate the roots from the water.
Since you need to closely monitor the growth of your orchids, getting a clear pot made of plastic or glass is crucial.
Here is a guideline for how much pebbles and water you need for semi-hydroponics. Fill up your pot with pebbles anywhere from the halfway line to two-thirds the way. Mark the lower third of your jar and fill the water to that mark. Replenish the water to that mark daily and keep the roots away from the water. Switch out the water completely every week.
This method is better for beginners as you need not worry about other factors (since the roots won’t touch the water) other than ensuring that there is always water in the jar.
For the full water culture, place the root with water for two days then five days without. Without enough caution, the root will rot. The type of water used also matters greatly. Tap water in some places won’t cut it. Instead, try using rainwater or tap water that is left throughout the night for dangerous substances to evaporate. Alternatively, you can get distilled water from your local store.
Indications that hydroponics is not for your orchid
If your orchid reproduces a new flower, it can either mean it is thriving or it is dying and hence passing on its genetic materials to a new plant before it’s too late. The only way to see which is the case is to wait it out. Give it a year or so and observe whether there are more flower stems and more strong, perky leaves developing.
The earliest indication of a problem is root rot. The next signs that might appear would be discolorations and yellow leaves due to fungal poison. These bacteria can take up to a third of your hydroponics so once you notice this, act fast to eliminate them.
For orchids in the soil medium, yellow leaves indicate that there is too much water. Thus, you can imagine how difficult it is to grow orchids in the full water culture hydroponics is.
Disadvantages of hydroponics orchid cultivation
Right off the bat, growing orchids with hydroponics will not save you time at all. In fact, it will require more attention and time than traditional mediums.
Secondly, new orchid growers will find it difficult to notice problems early on, a crucial skill needed to troubleshoot like the fast-spreading root rot. This is because, on top of needing to adapt to this new medium, your orchids will be extremely sensitive to root decays and fungal infestations.
The third disadvantage is the fact that some species of orchids need to have fully submerged roots, something hydroponics cannot offer. Furthermore, be prepared to give up on your air conditioner if you want your hydroponics to be in the same room because they are the number one cause of low humidity in homes. Alternative media like sphagnum moss will be better suited for these orchids as they store humidity very well.
Furthermore, the adaptation needed to get used to less structural support and half-submerged roots in hydroponics might just prove too much for some orchids.
Understandably, this can be a lot to take in. That said, these are really the bare necessities to grow orchids in hydroponics. If you’re new, perhaps try growing orchids out of the usual moss first. Then once you are confident of being able to sustain orchids in hydroponics, you can certainly do so with some additional research.
If you’re experienced and the complexities of hydroponics don’t faze you, there are plenty of resources out there that you can refer to on your hydroponics endeavor. Here’s to wishing you and your orchid the best of luck!