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Culture

Semi-Hydroponics

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In hydroponic plant culture, plants are grown in an inert medium in a tray. At given intervals, often daily or several times per day, or even continuously, water with nutrients floods the tray to provide moisture, fertilizer, and air to the roots. Traditional hydroponics is commonly used on a single crop species and all of the plants share common water and containers. Semi-hydroponics uses the same principal, but the plants are separated into their own containers and are not watered as frequently.

Semi-hydroponics can be adapted to many different orchids just as most growing approaches (mounting, pot culture, various media types, etc). The key is to understand the advantages, disadvantages, and options available and applying that knowledge to your culture practices. Currently, we are having great success growing Phalaenopsis species and hybrids, Paphiopedilums, Phragmipediums, and compact and miniature Cattleya alliance hybrids with the semi-hydroponic technique. We will soon branch out to try many different members of the Zygopetalinae such as Bollea, Huntleya, Cochleanthes, Zygopetalum, etc. We expect they will respond favorably.

In a nutshell, semi-hydroponics uses containers with holes on the side and inert growing medium. When watering, some water is retained in the bottom of the pot which wicks up to retain moisture in the container. To water, the pot is filled to the brim and allowed to drain. Done.

Containers
          Semi-hydroponic containers are typically very utilitarian. Anything from empty pop bottles, milk jugs, plastic drinking cups, deli containers, yogurt cups, margarine containers, etc are certainly usable. The most desirable are relatively deep and clear or at least translucent.

Let's define "deep" as the container height being roughly equal to or larger than the diameter/width of the container. For instance, we use round, one quart containers that are 4.5" in diameter and 5.5" tall; one gallon containers that are containers7.4" in diameter and 7.5" tall; 20 ounce drinking cups that are 3" in diameter and 4.5" tall, etc. To assist in how to size your container to your plant, consider the traditional pot size you'd use for that plant then add about an inch to its height to allow for the water reservoir at the bottom. Generally, you want to match the root ball to the container, but it is usually safe to use a slightly larger pot than you would for traditional bark culture since the media used will not decay (foul) and allows for efficient, copious air exchange.

Media
          Media designed for hydroponic culture senso stricto are perfectly acceptable for semi-hydroponics. These include, but cetainly are not limited to, PrimeAgra, DynaRok, Hydroton, etc. These media were designed to optimize water retention and air exchange (water to air ratio), weight, preparation considerations (soaking, rinsing), sinking tendency, nutrient retention and shedding, and wicking. Perlite, sponge rock (large grade perlite), pea gravel, etc have all been used, but have their drawbacks. Perlite and sponge rock work for a limited time, but start to crumble; they also tend to float, necessitating a top dress of more dense medium to hold it in place. Pea gravel is inexpensive, but is not porous; it does not wick water up from the reservoir effectively. We have experimented with several of the engineered media- they work very well. However, the cost for using such media on our rather sizeable collection is prohibitive. We needed to find an acceptable substitute that is porous enough to hold water well but does not float, is affordable and locally available, is relatively lightweight, and has a low contribution to dissolved salts after minimal preparation.

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