Monday, May 4, 2009

Watering Accessories

Mastering the art of watering is one of the critical keys to success in orchid culture (see Chapter 6). These accessories deliver water, and in some cases fertilizer, gently and effectively.

Water breakers
Water breakers are attached to the end of a hose to diffuse the water and prevent it from washing out the orchid potting material (see Figure 3-4). They deliver a large volume of water, but in a very gentle way — and they work really well.

You can find water breakers that deliver different volumes and water patterns such as mist, fine shower, jet, or flood. Some watering heads can be dialed to whichever of these forms you want —
very handy.

You’re usually better off choosing the water breaker that delivers the finest steam of water possible. This will be most useful for the broadest range of watering applications.

Water-flow regulators
Water-flow regulators are attached to the hose before the water breaker to regulate the volume of water. The simplest ones are manual on/off valves. I find the thumb or squeeze valves are easiest to use more precisely and determine the volume of water you want to deliver to your orchids (see Figure 3-5).

Buy the best-quality hose you can find. The better ones will not kink and will last much longer.

If hoses tend to get in the way, consider the newer “coil” hoses. They take up much less space and can be attached to a sink spigot. Again, buy the best grade you can find — the cheaper ones tend to kink very easily.

Watering cans
Many of the sprinkling or watering cans on the market are close to worthless for using on orchids. They deliver too much water too fast and are awkward to use in tight indoor spaces. The best type to use, for most situations, is one that holds 1⁄2 to 1 gallon (2 to 4 liters), has a long spout (so you can reach orchids in the back row), and has a removable water breaker (sometimes called a rose) on the end of its spout that delivers a very fine stream of water (see Figure 3-6). The watering can may be made of metal or plastic, but the water breaker should be made of metal, preferably a nonrusting one, like copper.

Sprayers and misters
You can use sprayers and misters for misting the orchids to temporarily increase the humidity, to clean the leaves, or for applying pesticides. If you’re going to use any chemicals in them, the plastic sprayers are less prone to being affected by these corrosive materials
so they’re a better choice than metal ones.

One type of hand sprayer that I’ve found particularly effective for applying insecticides is a teat sprayer because its spray head points up instead of straight forward like standard sprayers. These are actually used to wash off cow udders (hence, the name), so they’re sold at farm-supply stores. But for orchid growers, they serve admirably to apply these chemicals to the undersides of leaves, where the bugs usually hang out (see Figure 3-7).

Fertilizer injectors
Commercial growers use a device called a fertilizer injector that “injects” into the water a small amount of water-soluble fertilizer each time the plant is watered. In this way, the orchids are constantly fed a very diluted amount of fertilizer instead of larger amounts every two weeks or so, as is frequently done. These units tend to be on the expensive side and may be a luxury item, unless you have quite a large number of orchids to fertilize.

A much cheaper way around this is to use a simple siphon mixer. Several brands are on the market, but they all work basically the same. You attach the siphon mixer to the spigot before the hose. A flexible hollow rubber tube is inserted into a concentrated solution of fertilizer. When the spigot is turned, a suction action created by the water flowing through the hose draws this concentrate through the tubing so it flows into the water in the hose and is diluted while
it’s being applied to the orchid plants.

To get the most benefit from a siphon mixer, here are a few tips:
  1. Use a completely soluble fertilizer so it won’t plug up the unit.
  2. Use a water breaker that functions with a low volume of water. The water flow coming out the end of the hose will be significantly reduced when the siphon mixer is attached.
  3. Be sure the unit you have also has a backflow preventer. That way, when you turn off the water breaker, but not the spigot, the back pressure won’t cause the concentrated fertilizer solution to flush back into your house water or back into your fertilizer concentrate.
  4. To be on the safe side, use the siphon mixer only for applying fertilizers, not pesticides.
  5. Be careful to dilute the fertilizer to the correct concentration. These usually inject the fertilizer on a 1:16 fertilizer-to-water ratio, but always read the directions that come with the unit.
Deionization and reverse osmosis units
Deionization and reverse osmosis units are used to purify your well or tap water to reduce or eliminate concentrations of salts that can be harmful to some particularly sensitive orchids. The
units aren’t cheap and can be cumbersome and bothersome to use. So, before you consider getting one, make sure you need it.

Here are some things to consider before you buy:
  1. If your orchids and other houseplants have been growing, then don’t worry about using a deionization or reverse osmosis unit. Most households can get by with the water they have.
  2. If you’ve had water problems or just want to be on the safe side, check with your public water provider to see what the average total dissolved solids (TDS) is in your water. If you have your own well, you’ll need to have a test done at a private water lab
• If you have 60 parts per million (ppm) or less of TDS and less than 5 ppm of sodium,
you’re home free. Your water is of good quality for orchids.
• If your water tests at 60 to 120 ppm and you have up to 10 ppm of sodium, all except the
most sensitive orchids should be okay, but you’re on the edge with water quality.
• If you have readings higher than 120 ppm for TDS or 10 ppm of sodium, you may have
more orchid-growing success if you use better-quality water. To do this, you could collect
rainwater (you can buy special rain barrels for this purpose that hook up to your
downspout), or consider buying a reverse osmosis or deionization unit.

If you’re on the higher end of the TDS level, be particularly careful not to overfertilize.

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