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Growth Requirements of Epiphytes
Based on habitat there are basically two types of orchids; epiphytes and terrestrials. It is essential to know whether the orchid you are attempting to grow is an epiphyte or a terrestrial, as requirements of both are different.
When growing an epiphyte, try picturing in your mind the ecological conditions prevailing on the tree branches. Availability of water and light, temperature fluctuations and air movement are the factors controlling the growth of an epiphyte on the branches.
Water: The only water available to the orchid on the branch is the rain water, which these plants have learnt to harvest. There are many orchids which possess specialised roots, having velamen- a kind of spongy tissue, which swells up upon absorbing water. In dry state it is dark green in colour and turns light green on absorbing water. Some of the other orchids form nest-like mesh with their thin roots. The orchid uses the water collected in these meshes as well as in the bark fissures.
From the above information you can make out the amount of water which is naturally available to the epiphytes. So water is a major issue which is misunderstood while growing epiphytic orchids. Generally people think that being tropical plants, they would be requiring huge amount of water and consequently end up literally drowning the poor plant. When actually, in between the rains, these plant are living in almost xerophytic conditions!
There are two things to be kept in mind while watering; keep the roots moist but not wet and take care of drainage. Frequency of watering should be, in general, about three times a week in summers and only once in a week in winters. It is also advisable to inquire watering details before purchasing, as requirements vary according to species of the orchid as well as on-going growth stage of the orchid.
Water logging should be avoided at all costs. Remember epiphytic orchids never face water-logging on the tree branches, it is rather the other way round, they mostly face drought like conditions until the next rain!
Epiphytes may not survive high watering, but love and thrive in high humidity. If the humidity is not on the higher level in your area then put up a humidifier. There are also some cheap ways to increase humidity around your orchid. First, put your orchid pot in a flat plate-like retainer. Now fill this retainer with water. If you have large number orchid pots, then you can keep a bucket full of water in the vicinity of your plants. By these two ways you can increase the humidity within the micro-climatic zone around the plants.
Watering can be done either by pouring with hand or by spraying. Remember the rainwater drips on the orchids through the canopy. Some orchidists also advise dipping the roots part (only) in the water. Keeping the orchid outside, like letting it sit on the grass for the night, so that dews collects on it is another method to provide water (but before putting your orchids there, make sure that nocturnal animals won’t harm it)
Keep trying and happy orchid growing. For any query, please feel free to post in the Orchid Forum:-)
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