Full Water Culture Update + My First Fall Spike!

Well, as per usual it’s been a very long time since my last post! I was waiting to do an update on my full water culture experiment but not a whole lot was happening so I kept waiting…and waiting. Even though I don’t have anything mind-blowing to share, I finally decided to write a post to show the orchids’ progress since I started the experiment in mid-May.

Phalaenopsis currently being grown in full water culture

I’m currently growing four Phalaenopsis, one Dendrobium, and one Rhynchostylis in full water culture (FWC). Actually, the Dendrobium is really in more of a semi-water culture situation, but I’ll get to that. A couple of the Phals have fared pretty well in FWC, while the other two don’t seem to love it. The NOID Phal pictured above hasn’t exactly thrived in FWC—it sprouted a couple of new roots early on and some of its established roots have elongated, but overall I haven’t seen a whole lot of improvement on the plant. A few of its older roots rotted while in FWC so I cut them off. I think it might be time to pot this orchid back in a bark mix.

This next NOID Phal seems to think FWC is pretty okay. It put out a bunch of new roots right away after being transferred to FWC, and its roots continue to do well without much rot. I will most likely keep this orchid in FWC for a while longer.

My Phalaenopsis violacea is one that I am DYING to see blooms on! I bought it from Orchids by Hausermann SEVEN years ago and it has not once bloomed for me—though it has really hung in there. A couple older leaves yellowed and fell off since I started this orchid in FWC. There’s a new leaf poking out from the crown and I only recently started to see some new root growth on the plant. I’m considering moving this orchid back into a bark mix; it hasn’t gone downhill since I switched it to FWC, but I’ve seen less growth on it using this culture method than I have with other orchids.

That brown spot on the leaf is sunburn from many years ago.

The below NOID Phal has not fared too well lately. I tried growing this orchid in bark mix out on our deck in the spring, but it ended up covered in pollen and soaking in rainwater so I moved it back inside and switched it to FWC. A leaf died off and a few of its roots rotted, though it did sprout a couple new roots to compensate. Just this week I cut off a couple more rotten roots, so I’m thinking it might be time for this orchid to go back to bark mix as well. I am happy with the state of this orchid’s remaining roots, though—most of them are looking pretty good!

My Dendrobium kingianum is showing definite improvement. Because its roots are so short I can only put this orchid in a small amount of water, which tends to evaporates within a day or two. Then I end up forgetting to add water to the container so it dries out for a few days before I add water again. I’m lucky if I remember to mist the plant every day. Turns out that soaking an orchid in water for a couple days and then letting it dry out for several days is the semi-water culture method (SWC), which seems to be working for this plant. It’s a little hard to tell in the below photos, but the new canes that were teeny tiny when I started this orchid in water culture have grown and the roots are developing quite nicely around the base of the plant. I have high hopes for a solid comeback from this orchid and because it’s doing well I’m not going to change the way I’ve been caring for it!

L: May 2017. R: September 2017.

My Rhynchostylis gigantea has also done well in FWC. Though it hasn’t put out any new roots since going into water, its existing roots have lengthened substantially and so has a newish leaf. The roots have also sprouted side roots, so I guess you could call those new! The plant has happy sap at its base, which always pleases me to see. I love it when my orchids are content! This one will definitely stay in FWC for the time being.

L: May 2017. R: September 2017.

My Mule Ear Oncidium is still hanging in there, but it’s definitely the worst off of all of my orchids. I’m not technically growing this orchid using the FWC method because I don’t actually have it in water—I have it suspended over a jar containing water. Once a week I run the plant under warm tap water and every couple of weeks I pour a touch of a 1/4 strength balanced fertilizer on it. This poor orchid is in such bad shape that I think I’ll have to call time of death soon. There’s hardly any root growth, a bunch of leaves have fallen off, and most of the new growths that started to sprout a few months ago have died. There’s really only one newer growth on this orchid that looks like it might make it.

The saddest Oncidium.

In non-FWC news, this week I decided to repot the NOID Phal that I bought when we first moved to DC earlier this year. It bloomed for months—it was in bloom when I got it in March, and the last blooms fell off in August. So imagine my surprise when I found a brand new spike poking out of the base of the plant while inspecting its roots! I’m SUPER stoked to see a spike; it gives me hope that some of my long-dormant orchids might wake the hell up and start blooming for me. I’ve mentioned before that my orchids didn’t really seem to like the light in our last apartment and neither did my African violets. I didn’t have so much as one African violet bloom in the year and a half we were living in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, but several of my African violets have already bloomed in our current place in DC. I take those blooms and this spike as a sign of good things to come. Fingers crossed!

One last fun little thing I wanted to mention is my new succulent terrarium. A few weeks ago I attended a terrarium workshop run by Urban Jungle, a plant boutique here in DC. They were holding this particular workshop at a luxury apartment building not far from my apartment, so when I read about it I signed up right away. The workshop itself was $25 and then I bought a glass container on-site for $15 because I didn’t have anything terrarium-appropriate at home. The Urban Jungle guys brought all the materials we needed to build our terrariums, including the succulents and decorative accents, and they helped each of us create a lovely little piece of living art. I’m pretty happy with how mine turned out and I am really hoping I can keep it alive!

My terrarium hangs out on the bar along with Jigsaw and Billy from the Saw movies.

Overall, my full water culture experiment has thus far been a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the plants popped new roots out almost immediately after being transplanted into FWC, but four and a half months into this experiment I’m not seeing major improvement in the most of the Phals’ health. The Dendrobium and Rhynchostylis are doing the best in water culture, so maybe Phals just aren’t meant to be in FWC for an extended period of time. I’ve definitely read that some growers like to use it to help ailing orchids put out new roots as a sort of emergency measure when they’ve lost most of their roots. As I mentioned, I think I should pot a couple of the Phals back in bark mix and see how they fare from there.

Have you tried growing orchids in full water culture? If so, have you had any luck with the method?

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