The best way to water orchids

87546122Orchids are one of those fas­cinating plants that impress just about everyone. Production costs and bio-technology have enabled the $100 plant to be yours at the bargain price of less than $20.

Granted, you ­probably aren’t ­getting the Cattleya or Papheopedilum orchid. What you probably are ­buying, though, are the Phalaenopsis or Dendrobium, two of the easiest to grow plants. Well, at least in mass production.

What’s unique, and somewhat ­baffling, is the perpetuation of how to care for these exotic plants — namely, the ice cube watering method.

My cousin in rural Illinois asked me this question late last year. Of course, her plant seems to be doing okay. But is it the best method?

The laziness in me said, “Hey, it’s water and it slowly waters the plants. Great.”

The horticulturist on the other shoulder shouted, “What? Are you crazy?” He won.

Searching the Internet, there are various articles and accolades using ice cubes to water orchids. Since over­watering is one of the biggest killers of orchids, using two or three ice cubes seems, on the surface, a great way to limit overwatering.

But, if that truly was the case, we’d find all sorts of these tropical orchids growing in Illinois woods and prairies. We don’t.

Greenhouse production of orchids usually substitutes peat moss for bark mulch as a growing medium. It’s lighter, cheaper, and in the short term, holds a bit more water so production costs can be lowered.

But tropical orchids don’t grow in peat moss, and when the moss does dry out, so does the orchid. Of course, bark mulch dries out as well. But if an orchid gets too much water, it will rot.

Check your plant — are there holes in the pot? If not, toss the pot and repot the orchid with bark mulch in a pot with at least one drainage hole.

Most orchids prefer high ­humidity more than water. Saturated bark mulch is able to provide humidity levels better than peat moss. And you get better bark saturation with a good drink of room tem­perature water coming out of the kitchen faucet.

Some orchids do appreciate the occasional cold temperature to start flower buds. That’s why some ­growers keep their plants outside as long as possible in the fall before bringing them indoors.

And it’s possible that some orchids may ­initiate blooms by ice cubes, but in the long run, constant blooming is bad for the orchids.

Ultimately it comes down to these two statements.

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.
David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois.

First, if it has worked for you so far, pat yourself on the back and keep watering your orchid in such a fashion and keep your fingers crossed.

Second, remember the best way to achieve the best growth off of any plant is to duplicate what nature does. The kitchen faucet probably comes the closest at mimicking nature. You can’t go wrong.