Phrags: pot sit in water or not?

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Noah Arthur

Aug 29, 2019
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I now have 3 phrags here at the Ventura house: a Calurum (Sedenii X longifolium), a Don Wimber (Eric Young X besseae), and an Incan Treasure (kovachii X longifolium), and I've been hearing conflicting info about whether or not to sit their pots in water. At the orchid show last weekend I talked with Harold Koopowitz (really nice guy!) about phrag care, and he said to sit them in shallow saucers of water. A couple people on the phrag Facebook group have also advised me to do that. However, I had yet another good grower tell me not to...

What is the current thinking on this? Should the phrags sit in saucers of water? Or should I just water them from the top frequently?
How humid is the air in your growing area? I grow indoors and here sitting the plants in water is definitely a plus as the air can be quite dry, especially in winter. If you have a very humid growing area then I guess it is less necessary,
Way more important than sitting your phrags in water is the actual quality of the water. To grow them well you do really need high quality water low in dissolved solids. If you have access to rain water then use that exclusively. If you have this resource then growing phrags is pretty easy. They grow way more quickly than paphs,
Agreed. Phrags love it wet. If you are always fussing over your plants and like to water don’t bother sitting them in water. If you're a bit forgetful then do sit them in it,
I've been growing Phrags since 1990, and I still keep them in trays of water through the entire year. Even Phrags potted in sphagnum are in shallow trays of water. Water in the saucers and trays gets changed every time I water, usually every 5 to 7 days.
While rain water, or RO quality water is ideal. This would be water that is less than 100 ppm total dissolved solids, you can to some degree grow sensitive plants in medium and hard water by keeping them wetter. As media approaches dryness, the salts in the water get concentrated in the remaining water film. If you keep you media moist to wet, you can get away with higher total dissolved solids water.

My municipal water is 225 ppm total dissolved solids and a total alkalinity of 180 mg/liter as calcium carbonate. This is Lake Michigan sourced water. This is considered medium hardness, not soft, not particularly hard water. This water is fine for species Phrags including kovachii, besseae, xeriphyticum, and majority of the others. Phrag schlimii does well in this water, provided you keep your media moist to wet. Don't dry your Phrags out.

I knew of a growers with success in medium hard water with no trouble. If you keep your media wet, you should be able to grow with water as hard as 800 ppm total dissolved solids, or somewhere around 600 mg/l total alkalinity as calcium carbonate. But the higher the TDS & Alkalinity, the more critical it is to not let your potting media approach dryness.

Majority of Phrags, especially the hybrids are surprisingly forgiving.
For the plants you listed, I would recommend allowing them to sit with water in their saucer at all times. Now, as others have pointed out, there are caveats. When you grow this way, you don't want to drown the entire root system, so generally you don't leave the saucer full to the top. And you still need to flush the pot periodically with very pure water to leach out excess nutrients. I think it's also important to keep the plants reasonably well lit and sufficiently warm when growing this way.

I think people who say you shouldn't grow Phrags sitting in water are doing others a disservice because while that may work for them, for the vast majority of Phrags and the vast majority of growers I've ever talked to, wet feet is the way to go.

One thing I will mention is that I've found that there are some Phrags that seem to have issues when grown sitting in water. It's mostly a case by case basis, but it tends to be the long petaled species and their hybrids. They tend to get rot that starts at the base of the leaves, and while increasing airflow and various treatments reduce the incidence, the most reliable way I've found to make them happy long term is to water them when I water the Paphs and empy the saucers after. Unfortunately, I've not found any hard rule here, as I have plenty of caudatum-types and caudatum hybrids that actually prefer to grow with wet feet and have presented no problems with it.
So it looks like wet feet is the way to go with phrags.

Is grocery store bottled water pure enough to use as standing water in the saucers? I don’t have access to rainwater most of the year (this is California), and even when we do get rain it’s nasty and smog-laden.
If you’re not sure about water quality get yourself one of the cheap salt pens or conductivity meters which give you a rough readout of the levels of dissolved salts.
This makes watering and feeding much less of a guess in the dark,
A lot of stores in the US sell deionized or reverse osmosis water. Places like Walmart often have the fill your own fountain stations. Might be worthwhile to check around.
97 cents a gallon (ish i've seen it as low as .79$) for distilled water at the grocery store... We many windowsill growers in our society that use that to water their plants...
Yes we grow in water; we have about 150 (lying to self). People are concerned about diseases being transmitted through the water. Most Phrags rot from the crown though; just get you media right. we use clay pellets at the bottom and then semi-organic mix (bark, coarse perlite, charcoal) and then a more moisture retaining mix (bark, perlite, sphagnum, grow cubes) on top. The roots grow into the water in the bottom and across the top mix. I will try to post photos later. R.O. system is an investment that paid for itself in 3 weeks.
97 cents a gallon (ish i've seen it as low as .79$) for distilled water at the grocery store... We many windowsill growers in our society that use that to water their plants...
Buy an RO system. $0.04-$0.10/gallon is the norm, and there's nothing to lug home from the store!
Thanks for helping out, everyone! I've got them sitting in shallow saucers of water, and their potting medium has stayed quite wet. I'll probably cycle them in saucers for a few days, then out for a few days, as Mr. Koopowitz advised. My humidity hovers in the 50s to low 70s.
I have a counter top r/o system - thank you soooo very much Ray for this fabulous apparatus - and it has been an absolute essential to my growing orchids.