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The best thing I ever did for my orchids

 When I started growing orchids, I used straight tap water.  I was growing Phalaenopsis and Dendrobiums on my patio at the time and some other assorted species.  My results were mixed.  Plants didn’t keel over.  The dendrobiums continued to grow.  Some phalaenopsis died from crown rot now and then, but they were cheap and easy to replace.  Eventually, I succumbed to the allure of slipper orchids, but I used the same old tap water on the plants. 


Being a new grower, I would peer at the plants repeatedly each day, waiting for any sign of progress.  Was that a new leaf?  Could that nub be a keiki?  Was that a new root tip breaking out?  Every sign was cause for much rejoicing. 


But, the plants never thrived. 


In laboratory research, you are trained to eliminate variables systematically.  Of the major variables in orchid culture – air movement, light, temperature, humidity, fertilization and water – water was probably the most critical (at least to slipper orchids).  Despite my having used routinely ultrapurified water in my lab research, I kept avoiding getting a reverse osmosis (RO) system, although I knew it would at the very least eliminate a major variable in my plant culture.  Instead, I tried other things, like different fertilizers, or new media combinations.  I ran a cool-mist humidifier near my indoor plants to keep humidity up.  I set up humidity trays.  I bought small ultrasonic foggers.  I lugged distilled water from the store every now and then to wash out any accumulated mineral deposits.  I researched interesting (but impractical) ideas of distilling my water myself using a solar still, going so far as to buy and cut wood for it.  All this so that I could avoid forking over $200 for an RO system.  My wife thought I was nuts. 


Nothing helped.  I got the same lackadaisical growth, and few blooms.


But I kept spending and my collection kept growing.  And I wasn’t buying cheap plants, either.  A sanderianum seedling here ($50), a stonei ($30) there… And plenty of random phrags to boot.


“Would you like a barbigerum ($30) with that?”  “Uh, sure!” 


“Gee, I just gotta have a henryanum ($35)!” 


“Wow, are you really selling that supardii? ($75)”


“I simply must have a hookerae ($60) to round out my collection.”


Finally, my collection just became too valuable to horse around with water of questionable quality.  It was obvious that certain plants weren’t happy, and some just died, probably from being too stressed.  I dropped the solar still plans, and bought a small RO system from a guy who sold them for orchids and tropical fish.


Then everything changed.  In just a couple of weeks, I could tell that my plants were more vigorous.  New growth – roots, leaves, starts – began happening over the next few months.  The plants were happy.  When my plants are happy, I’m happy.  And I got an enormous boost in my confidence as a grower.


So if you’re still using tap water, and getting lackluster results, consider testing your water with a good TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter.  Keep in mind that readings can vary based on the season and recent rains.  Certain parts of the country have near-distilled quality water straight from the faucet.  But most of us have all kinds of stuff dissolved in our water, stuff that needs to be removed for best results.  And if you’re one those, try a good RO system – your plants will be much happier and you will save money and plants.  It’s much cheaper to get an RO system than to replace expensive plants you’ve nurtured.



My resistance to getting a reverse osmosis system was bizarre and irrational (like much of the orchid world) but I’m glad to say that I am not the only one.  Sometime after I switched to reverse osmosis, a grower who had great success growing and selling masdevallias and other plants openly fretted during the local orchid society’s show-and-tell time about the chloramines in the water.  He’d heard some rumor of how chloramines were going to get added to the water supply, and how that was going to hurt his plants.  He said that he didn’t know what he was going to do and was considering giving up those sensitive species.  Now here was a guy who had been growing orchids successfully for a number of years, and even sold his plants at local shows.  I snidely kept wondering why he didn’t just get an RO system?  After all, they only cost two hundred bucks!

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Orchid Culture & Growth
Best thing I ever did for my orchids
Top orchid growing mistakes
Nine ways to improve your growth
Nature's view of watering