Orchid Care

How much and how often should I water my orchids?
Most orchids like to become nearly dry before being watered again. When we water, we thoroughly soak the mix. The pots are flooded with water! This may seem wasteful, but the benefits of proper watering cannot be overemphasized. Currently, we use reverse osmosis water. When we leach the mix (once a month at a minimun) we use city water as we have found that the plants appreciate the micro-nutrients that the city water provides. In additon, it is important to use tepid water, not the freezing cold, hand-numbing water that comes out of the tap in winter. If it is comfortable to the touch, the water temperature is acceptable.

How much and how often should I feed my orchids?
Much has been written about feeding orchids. Since that fateful day in 1975 (when I purchased my first paph), we have tried a number of different fertilizers. I love good food and variety. So do orchids. Our suggestion; use a variety of fertilizers but always underfertilize. If the manufacturer recommendation is a teaspoon per gallon, use 1/4 teaspoon per gallon. It is imperative to use diluted concentrations only, as most orchid roots are sensitive to fertilizer burn. A good year round fertilizer is Peter’s 20-20-20. We also use Epsom salts once a month at a rate of one teaspoon per gallon of water. The magnesium promotes good flowering and root growth. The so called “Orchid Fertilizers” that are high in nitrogen are best avoided, unless you can discipline yourself to use it only as new growth appears and to encourage new growth. The problem is that if a high nitrogen fertilizer is used too frequently, it tends to inhibit flowering. Unless you love orchid foliage and few or no flowers, we suggest using high nitrogen fertilizers in moderation.

Potting mix
After more than 28 years of growing orchids in various mixes, mostly bark, we are now excited to see superior growth and flowering with the use of coconut husks. We have always re-potted every six months in bark for our paphs. Just as the plants became well established and often ready to bloom, it was time to repot. Now we grow two years plus in our coconut mix. With bark, we always had root loss. Now we see very little rotten or dead roots. We have always felt that good roots were imperative to good over-all health of our plants. Based on the superior plant growth we have seen, it is apparent that any plant that can grow in bark, will grow better in coconut husks. Our masdevallias love the coconut husks and have made it thru another hot and dry summer in SC with little ill effects. We are seeing excellent flowering on our masdevallias and we are looking forward to the upcoming blooming season with great anticipation.

Should I flush my plants? When?
You should “leach” your plants once a month. Running water through your plants regularly will flush out excess fertilizer, making your plants become vibrant growers and safeguarding against fertilizer build up and the resultant burning of the roots.

We use plastic pots. Most of our seedlings are in 2 1/4 inch rose pots and those that are a little more mature, in 3.5 inch pots. For larger plants, the pot size must be appropriate for the plant. In choosing the correct size for the new pot, it should be large enough to accommodate at least two years of new growth. We have used clay pots, and certainly they will work. However, for paphs especially, we highly recommend our coconut husk mix in conjunction with plastic pots. The plastic pots help retain more even moisture in the mix and slower overall drying out at the roots.

When to Repot
The ideal time to repot is immediately after the orchid has finished blooming. Another excellent time is just as new growth is beginning. In either case, the orchid has the longest time to get re-established, and hence, to hopefully rebloom.

The joys of coconut husks
Ah, yes. Coconut husks. What a joy! We have been growing orchids since 1975, mostly in bark mixes. Bark, most notably redwood bark, has declined in quality over the last several years. Our experience has been rotten roots and soggy mix with bark, often after only 6 months. Now, it is our opinion, any orchid which can be grown in a bark mix will do even better with coconut husks. The husks are a renewable resource. The husk is of course, the outermost part of the tropical delight, coconuts! The husks are sponge-like in that they will hold water for upwards of two weeks or more, without compressing or rotting quickly. In general, the husks will last up to four years or longer under most conditions. We have experimented with several recipes. Currently, we are using eight parts medium coconut husks, one part medium grade perlite and one part #2 charcoal…the charcoal is about the size of a popped kernel of popcorn. The CH (from this point forward in our discussion CH stands for coconut husks!), are soaked for 24 hours then drained, soaked another 24 hours and drained and then one last time, soaked for 24 hours and drained. That makes three days of soaking and draining. The purpose? To make sure the CH are as clean of any salts as possible. We have heard of at least three sources of CH but we are using the CH from The Crystal Company, exclusively. No, we do not get a commission by recommending them…we have found them to be the best source of the cleanest and most consistent size of CH. They can be contacted at the following address: Crystal Company P.O. Box 220045 St. Louis, MO 63122 Phone: 1(800) 845-4777 Fax: 1(314) 966-3831.

The Joys of Coconut Husks Continued
OK…now you have cleaned and soaked the CH. Next, measure eight parts of CH, one part charcoal and one part perlite. Now what? Mix the three ingredients thoroughly. Then unpot the unhappy orchid from its old mix being careful to damage as few roots as possible. Next pot up the now “HAPPY” orchid in the fresh mix, water copiously and then return the orchid to its growing area. The main component in our mix is the CH. We have always had good success adding charcoal to our various potting mixes in the past and we are doing so currently. Aliflor was used in the past instead of perlite, but now we are using perlite because it is less expensive to purchase and ship. We would strongly encourage you to make CH the main ingredient in your orchid mix. Currently, we have a few plants growing 100% in CH, having purchased them as seedlings from other growers. However, we are shifting the majority of our plants to the CH mix in this disussion. A noteworthy point…for rootless plants, we have found spaghnum moss, especially the New Zealand variety, to be helpful in establishing new roots.