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The nutritionally dense water poured off rice has been touted as an excellent fertilizer for plants, but is it good for orchids? Generally known as delicate and finicky, orchids require special care and minimal watering – so is it a good idea to use rice water as a homemade fertilizer? Are there truly benefits to using rice water in this way?
Rice water adds vitamins and minerals to plants and can be suitable for orchids if applied sparingly. Heavy-handed applications can cause root rot. Rice water promotes healthy bacterial growth and added minerals, while disadvantages include attracting pests and decomposing substrate.
Whether you are an amateur orchid grower or a plant lover wanting to expand your knowledge, you would more than likely have heard about the benefits of rice water for plants. But with orchids being so unique, you may wonder if rice water is a good fertilizer. Are the benefits enough to warrant feeding your orchid? Or is this natural, easy-to-prepare mixture something to avoid, especially?
Would Orchids Benefit From Rice Water?
Water poured off cooking rice contains several vitamins and minerals and has long been considered an organic and readily-available fertilizer for plants. It is also known for promoting healthy bacterial growth in the soil. Since it is chemical-free, it is a great way to add to your plants without worrying about burns from inorganic or chemical fertilizers.
But does that mean rice water will be particularly beneficial to orchids? Orchids are delicate plants and are different from other houseplants in that three-quarters of orchid types are epiphytes or lithophytes – this means they grow by attaching to rocks or trees for support. Only one-quarter of all orchid species are terrestrial, growing from within soil,
Fundamentally this means that orchids have a unique root system, which you need to think about when considering any kind of fertilizer or additive. First, let’s start with soil-based orchids and discuss how rice water could benefit these sensitive plants.
Terrestrial And Semi-Terrestrial Orchids
25% of orchids are grown in the soil the way traditional houseplants are kept, which means that using special foods and fertilizers is as straightforward as watering. But when it comes to watering your orchid, there are a few different methods and some essential things to remember. The most important tips for watering terrestrial orchids are:
- Don’t be heavy-handed: Orchids don’t need to soak in water, and too much moisture can lead to root rot. Light watering is all that’s required whenever the substrate is dry – if the substrate is moist, you don’t need to add any water.
- Do a proper check-up: Keep an eye on your plant, and if there are any symptoms of rotting roots, a white crust, or fading leaves, you may have overwatered.
- Flush the pot: Whether you’re using homemade fertilizer such as rice water or inorganic fertilizer, remember that it can leave a residue. Consider flushing the pot to deal with buildup every few weeks.
Bearing this in mind, there are two methods to use rice water to supplement your orchid. Pouring the rice water directly into the pot is the first option; be sure to let excess moisture drain out. The rule of thumb is to pour for about 15 seconds – more than that is likely to be too much.
The second method of adding rice water is to add the rice water to a tray or saucer and let the orchid pot sit in it or slightly elevated above it on some small gravel stones. Again, the idea is not to soak the roots, and allowing just enough moisture to cover the roots is ample.
Epiphyte And Lithophyte Orchids
The majority of orchid species are what are commonly referred to as ‘air’ plants. Epiphyte refers to plants that grow by bracing themselves on or against other plants in a non-parasitic way. By contrast, lithophytes grow on the surfaces of rocks or in crevices around them. In either of these cases, the roots of the orchid are not covered or submerged in soil or substrate.
With a non-traditional manner of absorbing moisture, the idea of using fertilizer becomes a little more confusing. How would one go about using rice water on such orchids?
Even air plants require moisture, so while some orchid growers may pour water over the bare roots of epiphyte or lithophyte orchids, others swear by misting the roots with a spray bottle. Another option is to place the plant over a tray of water, perched on smaller stones or rocks, where the humidity can circulate and nourish the plant.
While some sources suggest using rice water in any one of the abovementioned ways, experts indicate that epiphytic plans need to be fed more carefully; since epiphytes gain nutrients from the surface of their host, fertilizer misted onto the surface of the rock or tree on which they’re growing will be most naturally absorbed.
The same rules apply to these orchids when it comes to overwatering, too – orchids should never be exposed to excessive amounts of water, and you should avoid spraying or misting water onto the plant itself. Instead, focus on frugally moistening the roots in the appropriate way.
Pros and Cons Of Using Rice Water To Fertilize Your Orchid
There are clear benefits to using rice water as an organic fertilizer, including the easy addition of vitamin B and minerals to your plant. Additionally, not exposing your orchid to root burn from chemicals and spending large sums of money on such fertilizers are essential. Rice water is inexpensive and easy to make at home. Additionally, a natural fungus that is beneficial to orchids is fed by rice water.
But what are some of the disadvantages? It’s important to note that not all experts believe that rice water is an ideal fertilizer, and some of the concerns they list include the following:
- Rice water can attract spiders and ants who want to feed on the starch, and none of these pests are suitable for your orchid.
- High quantities of starch in rice water mean it will ferment after a few days, and while some fungi consume this starch which is beneficial to the plant, it can lead to faster decomposition of the substrate. A decomposing substrate is moist and will inevitably lead to root rot.
- Despite its high nutritional content, rice water isn’t a complete fertilizer as it does not contain all NPK nutrients.
Additional Tips For Happy, Healthy Orchids
Growing orchids require more than just fertilizer and water successfully, and barring gaining knowledge about how best to care for them, there are a few tips and tricks that might make it a little easier to prioritize the health of these delicate plants.
- Understand the type of orchid you have: Knowing whether you have an orchid that needs some medium to grow it is vital to keeping it alive, let alone thriving. Orchids that don’t require soil must be carefully cared for and have enough air circulating around their roots.
- Do your homework, ask questions, and join a community: Getting your orchid to thrive is a constant learning curve, and one of the best ways to get support, learn, and share ideas is to become part of a like-minded community. Following blogs, participating in forum discussions, and reading up on specialist websites are surefire ways to get all the correct information.
- A humidity gauge can be helpful if you need to monitor how much moisture your orchid is exposed to. Especially for epiphytes and lithophytes, ensuring the air contains sufficient moisture will see them thrive – remember, orchids don’t need their roots to be drenched. With unique root systems, a moist and humid environment is the best bet for orchids.
- Orchids require the right amount of light. Depending on your plant type, you may want to place them in a bright window or in a shadier part of the home. This is information you should gather when you bring your orchid home – knowing where to place them will be the first step to ensuring your success as a grower.
- Avoid harsh commercial fertilizers. Orchids are sensitive and delicate, and using any old chemical fertilizer can do significant harm. Root burn is a common consequence of using such mixtures, and although there are specially-formulated products on the market, be sure to dilute appropriately and use sparingly. Follow the instructions to prevent damage.
Although most schools of thought seem to be pro rice water with your orchid, there are valid concerns about whether the benefits are significant enough to risk root rot and attract pests. Furthermore, it can be complicated to use fertilizers on epiphytes or lithophytes. Despite this, rice water is an organic liquid that can be beneficial to your orchid when applied in correct – and sparing – quantities.