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Old 09-25-2006, 01:36 PM
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Skewer use for watering of orchids

Watering is the most difficult hurdle for the new orchid grower. This one problem alone is what has given orchids the reputation of being hard to grow. The following is a method to help the beginner learn how to water. Once one gets a good feel for the watering needs of their plants, it can be dispensed with.

Get some bamboo barbeque skewers from the grocery store and stab the clean unhandled end of one into the pot down to the bottom, and for clay pots, as close to the center of the pot as is reasonable. Leave it there and when you think it is time to water, pull the skewer and look at the color to see if the skewer is drying out, then put it back, hopefully into the same hole. Never share skewers between plants, as this will transfer virus between plants. Always dedicate a skewer to a plant.

Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilums, the Oncidium family, and potted Vandas should get very close to dry, but not completely. Cattleyas, Laelias, Brassavolas, the non-reedstemmed Epidendrums, and most Dendrobiums (while not growing as during winter) should dry out completely before watering. In a fine mix, the skewer will look dry when the mix is dry or slightly off color when ready for plants like Phals to be watered. However, in a very chunky mix, like medium bark, the skewer may dry a little before the mix does, so you might want to wait just a little longer for the 'dry before watering' plants. If in doubt, error on the dry side. If the skewer looks wet, for sure don't water.

Plants like Cymbidiums, Dendrobiums while growing and blooming, and Reedstemmed Epidendrums can be watered more freely as long as the mix drains freely and is not holding an excessive amount of water, and skewers are not needed here. Vandas without mix in a basket or pot, and Phragmipediums can and should be watered very freely.

If, after doing this, you determine that you have probably been over watering, then there would be concern for damage to the roots. It is common to pull the root ball from the pot and inspect the roots when one is concerned about this, then replace the ball into the pot. Gently squeeze the roots. If they are firm, they are OK. If they collapse, they are dead. Occasionally, a dead root gets petrified, but these are very black looking and are unlikely to be confused with living roots. Don't expect all the roots to be alive. As long as there are some living roots, the plant will be OK. If the mix falls away from the roots, you can put it all back around the roots, but you need to know that you want to press the mix in firmly so the plant can't wiggle, and try not to break roots.

After a time the skewer is likely to discolor because fungi seem to like the wood. If this happens, soak the discolored portion in 10% or higher bleach solution until the color comes back to normal. Rinse lightly and return the skewer to the pot.

Here are a few other methods of determining the moisture content of a pot, and these may be practiced at the same time as using skewers to help in the general watering education.

1) Lift the pot just after watering and notice the weight. The pot will be considerably lighter when it needs watering. This works well for plants in plastic pots, not so well when clay pots or rocks in the bottom of pots are used.
2) You can put a finger down into the pot and feel the mix, but this practice could transfer disease to the plant if you jab a root with a fingernail. I don’t recommend this unless you are pretty sure there are no roots in the portion of the mix you are testing.
3) If you have a good nose, you can sniff the pot. After watering, you will notice a humid and almost musty smell. When this smell is almost completely gone, water.

Cynthia, Prescott, AZ
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Old 09-25-2006, 01:49 PM
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If you have any additions, corrections, or recommendations, I would like to hear then, as I will ask Dave to make thhis a sticky for newbies. Cynthia
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Old 09-25-2006, 03:46 PM
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thanks cynthia!
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Old 09-25-2006, 03:54 PM
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Cynthia, what an excellent article! Very informative and thorough. The only thing I might suggest to add is that they trim the skewer down to an inch or two above the medium, otherwise some growers might leave the full length of the skewer in all their pots, and wouldn't that be a sight!
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Old 09-25-2006, 04:41 PM
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Very informative. Thank you for sharing your expertise.
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Old 10-17-2006, 09:01 PM
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thank you so much.. this is very helpful!
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Old 10-18-2006, 02:35 PM
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Question/suggestion

Although my suggestion would duplicate information available elsewhere on the net, would it be helpful to have a list of common abbreviations and the parentage of crosses (say in FAQ) on this site? This might reduce the number of questions posted (like my recent one about Calmanara). I could get it started if you think this is appropriate as I recently had to find parents for Bllra., Burr., & a few others.
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Old 10-25-2006, 06:26 PM
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Very helpful information. Thank you.
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Old 11-10-2006, 02:03 AM
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I have a question that some might find it silly. But is watering and misting the same? When I tried to water the plants, like phal or dendrob, once or twice a week, spider mites tends to attack my plants. If watering it too much, fungi will attack. Help please.
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Old 11-10-2006, 11:40 AM
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No - not the same. Why don't you post this question in another (new) thread so that others might potentially join in and learn about this as well....I wouldn't think watering should have anything to do with spiders.
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Old 11-18-2006, 04:01 AM
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Can you post pictures of skewers that is not good yet to water and the ones that are just right to water?
It would be a big help for beginners like us.
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Old 11-18-2006, 01:42 PM
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Repeating here what I sent to Tom:

The problem with pictures is that different mixes will be ready to water with different 'looks' of the skewer. I grow 98% of my orchids in a combination of 3 parts small perlite and 2 parts Canadian peat (+ a little dolomite). A skewer in this mix makes very good contact to the mix and shows the condition of the mix quite well. The remainder of my plants are either in small bark or Cymbidium mix, which also make good contact and show the condition of the mix well. But those growing in medium bark have lots of air in the mix and very small contact area between the skewer and mix, and the skewer will dry out faster than the mix. Those that have this situation say that they put the skewer against a sensitive part of the face (lips, cheek, ?) and can tell by the temperature when the plant is ready for watering. For Phals and Paphs, plants that should not dry out completely, seeing a dry looking skewer is probably the ideal time to water anyway, as these plants should not dry out completely. So, pictures with caviats might work, but my pictures would be atypical of what the average person should see. I also think that the average orchid plant can take watering before being absolutely dry, but since we want people to error on the dry side, an error the other way is fatal, we don't want to make much of watering before being dry.
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Old 11-18-2006, 02:11 PM
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Rather than go by the look of the skewer I go by how wet or dry the skewer is. Wonderful information, Cynthia.
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Old 12-07-2006, 04:36 PM
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Skewer use in watering.

Cynthia,
Thanks for the very practical help. As a beginner orchid growing often feels like reading grandma's receipe where things were done by the subjective "feel" of it. The more of these tips I get will help shorten my learning curve.
Richard
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Old 12-07-2006, 07:37 PM
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I am new to orchids and this site. I have Phal. orchids which were in bloom when I got them. I have had them about a month and some of the blooms are curling up and falling off. The stem to the bloom is off white instead of green. Can anyone tell me if this is a watering problem or lighting problem?
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Old 12-07-2006, 11:44 PM
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There is no way to tell how long you're phals were in bloom before you got them, so it may just be that it is there time to drop.
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Old 12-08-2006, 10:47 AM
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Thanks. Does anyone know of any good learning books on orchids?
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Old 12-14-2006, 12:38 AM
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One suggestion

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sherrie View Post
Thanks. Does anyone know of any good learning books on orchids?
This one was a book I lied for it covers alot with simple yet detailed info.
"The Orchid Specialist" by David Squire... Paperback $9.95 @ Barnes & Noble ... Hope this helps
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Old 12-19-2006, 02:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sherrie View Post
Thanks. Does anyone know of any good learning books on orchids?

I recommends Ortho's All About Orchids if you want a quick guide to orchids...or Ortho's Complete Orchid Guide for a more comprehensive guide.
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Old 01-11-2007, 12:59 PM
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I am new to orchids & when I read this message I had just read another one on watering which mentions the skewer test & I was thinking "Whats that??!" Thankyou so much for the timely clarification!! It is a very useful tip!! Thanks again!
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Old 01-21-2007, 05:16 PM
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Cynthia: Thanks for the great tip. I've been using your skewer method and it's almost fool proof. If I can't see any color difference, I place the skewer on my cheek - if it's cool, it still has moisture.

Also, your tip on waiting a few days to water if you're not sure, is right on!
This is the best watering tip I've ever learned and has help me immensely. I now use this practice on my other houseplants.
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Old 02-11-2007, 03:16 PM
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how much should I water?

I read your notes on how to check for watering. soms good Info. do I just leave the skewer In the pot? and how much water do I use? I have a Phala In a clay pot and I think will need watering In the nexst day or two and I dont want to over water.
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Old 02-12-2007, 11:29 AM
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very helpful
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Old 02-13-2007, 02:47 AM
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When you water, water heavily. Flush the pot, you can't put too much water in the pot, period. Leave the skewer in the pot, each plant with its own skewer. You can cut them shorter to make life simpler. If the skewer starts to get discolored from fungal growth, you can use some bleach, or just replace it.
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Old 02-13-2007, 10:36 AM
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skewer watering

thanx so much Cynthia for wateing tip. I'm using you skewer method and the results are right on. time to water with all the help I'm getting through every one, looks like my Phala will do just fine. I just might know what I'm doing. thanxs again
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Old 03-10-2007, 06:21 AM
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a big thank you for the information
very helpful.
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Old 07-13-2007, 09:53 PM
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Xlent tip works great i think i was over watering a bit..
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Old 07-15-2007, 12:06 AM
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definitely helped me with identifying when to be watering more, and misting less!
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Old 08-17-2007, 01:32 PM
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I am still wondering how the skewer method works. When I pull the skewer out, it feel kinda cool, a little moist, not wet but kinda dry also!

Is this confusing enough?

How do you tell if it is moist enough or need to be watered?

The spahg moss on top of the media is completely dry and when I stick my finger about an inch deep, it feels a little moist, just a little.

How do I proceed? To water or not?
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Old 08-17-2007, 04:08 PM
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would depend on the orchid in question some like to be kept moist, some like to dry out between waterings.
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Old 08-17-2007, 05:25 PM
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the sphag (from my limited experience) tends to go from soaking wet to bone dry in a short period of time, and varies by depth (dries faster on the top layers of course). this is probably why sphag is not recommended for new orchidians (orchid-custodians as it were)
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Old 08-17-2007, 06:32 PM
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morphii - I would suggest starting a new thread regarding your watering problem. Not many members will visit this thread because it is a 'sticky' and most commonly used as a reference. You'll get better feedback if you place it under 'General Chat'. Make sure you state what type of orchid you are growing, the media, and where. Look forward to helping you more.
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Old 08-22-2007, 09:22 PM
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Very helpful. Thanks
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Old 08-24-2007, 05:48 PM
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Hi, my name is Jen (aka Kitsune) im new to here and to orchids. I just my first orchids (two Phals) today, and I read your tip for the skewer, and I was wondering if using a popsickle stick/craft stick would be okay to use instead (a non-used one, of course). will it work the same or should I just go get some skewers?
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Old 08-24-2007, 06:07 PM
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Thanks for the tip, I usually just mark on the calendar when I water and count the days depending on time of year, and heat, but I think I might add the sticks as a back up so I will be twice as sure! thanks for the info
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Old 08-24-2007, 11:11 PM
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Any NEW wooden stick is fine, just so it can absorb and change color. I used coffee stirrers, but found that they grow mold pretty fast. All wood sticks will eventually do this, so maybe something you have a lot of is good.
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Old 08-24-2007, 11:24 PM
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The nice thing about the bamboo skewers is you get a hundred or more for about ninety nine cents - and each one works as two if you break them in two. So they are VERY cheap. My guess is most people cease to use them over time - but they provide an excellent guage through the initial learning years.
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Old 04-09-2008, 10:55 AM
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This is a good tip- I'd heard of the 'finger test' for testing the potting medium, but hadn't thought about using bamboo skewers which will make it much easier. One of my phal's roots are looking a little worse for wear- in fact there are very few green ones to be seen through the clear pot; I think I'd been overwatering it. I shall definitely go and get some skewers and hopefully that will prevent me having to nurse another orchid back from the brink of death!

Thanks again!
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Old 04-09-2008, 11:13 AM
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Old 04-13-2008, 02:03 PM
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Caring for Orchids

I just bought my first orchids from the Chcago Botanic Garden Orchid Show Sale, and I am very excited. I found these watering-care notes very helpful.
Thanks so much.
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Old 05-04-2008, 09:07 AM
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wow! what a wonderful bit of info.. love it! thanx! will be buying bamboo sticks today!!!
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Old 07-08-2008, 08:01 PM
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great bit.. or lots of info on the bambo scewers I definitly will use the the scewers.

Thanks Chickita,
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Old 07-12-2008, 11:26 PM
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thank you so much for this Cynthia. I'm going to stock up on free chop sticks next time I get Chinese
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Old 07-13-2008, 10:59 PM
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thank you so much for this Cynthia. I'm going to stock up on free chop sticks next time I get Chinese
You can also buy barbecue skewers from the grocery store.
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Old 09-15-2008, 02:07 PM
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Thanks Cynthia for the great tip for using skewers. I am new to orchids and mine aren't looking too good. I haven't been able to determine if I am under or over watering. I'm going to try the skewers.
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Old 03-29-2009, 02:57 PM
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Cynthia,
Thanks for the very practical help. As a beginner orchid growing often feels like reading grandma's receipe where things were done by the subjective "feel" of it. The more of these tips I get will help shorten my learning curve.
Richard
Amen Richard!
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Old 03-31-2009, 04:55 PM
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The nice thing about the bamboo skewers is you get a hundred or more for about ninety nine cents - and each one works as two if you break them in two. So they are VERY cheap. My guess is most people cease to use them over time - but they provide an excellent guage through the initial learning years.
Does that mean I should go out and buy 100 or more orchids so I don't have a bag of skewers lying around my house?

Also...I've found this thread very useful, and I've seen it posted in a lot of threads...I think it would make a great sticky, since it's about such a basic orchid care topic, so future new users/growers can find it easily.
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Old 03-31-2009, 07:25 PM
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Does that mean I should go out and buy 100 or more orchids so I don't have a bag of skewers lying around my house?
I think that's a fantastic idea!!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by mrspontiac View Post
...I think it would make a great sticky, since it's about such a basic orchid care topic, so future new users/growers can find it easily.
Another fantastic idea!!! I just made it "sticky". Thanks!
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Old 04-10-2009, 08:21 PM
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I LOVE the skewer method!! Once you get the hang of it, it is SO easy. The toughest part of owning orchids is not just finding the ideal spot they are happiest at, either inside or outside the home, but definitely watering. Rare is the person that hasn't killed an orchid or two along the way. I'll be using the plant meter I got for just the light and pH. The water meter only is a confirmation of what I know already via. the skewer method. Skewers really are that reliable.
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Old 04-29-2009, 11:50 PM
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Thanks for this! I haven't found an extra skewer yet, but I did find a nice little stick that seems to be working well enough... =)
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Old 06-25-2009, 03:40 AM
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so, that is the watering taken care of and many thanks for the info. the method seems to be fool proof, perfect for me! Now there remains to sort out the the temperature, the light, the moisture........ kidding really but wouldnt it be great if we could find other simple solutions to the many questions! In the meanwhile i shall embrace the one pot one skewer philosophy and dash off to get myself a packets of skewers and take it from there. Great advice!!!
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Old 07-19-2009, 12:31 AM
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That skewer trick is probably the most concrete suggestion I've ever heard on watering frequency.
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Old 08-11-2009, 11:43 AM
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thank you for posting this information it's very helpful!
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Old 09-24-2009, 10:01 PM
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This is a great tip! I have almost killed my phal from over watering. I will try this and see if it helps.
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Old 09-24-2009, 10:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Audrey_C1 View Post
This is a great tip! I have almost killed my phal from over watering. I will try this and see if it helps.
Do it! I started a week ago and its going to be great I feel!
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Old 09-28-2009, 07:01 AM
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i have been off my feet for the last 8 weeks and unable to look after my orchids which are all grouped together in the conservatory as the only place i could access on crutches.as mobility and dexterity were very poor i was able nonetheless to reach the pots and the all telling skewer in situ get it out and assess what humidity was left. I had to make a more accurate assessment on each specimens needs and give a little water as needed just to keep them ticking over until i could phisically do the job properly. Well, i am glad to say that about 10 days ago i was able to inspect, water and feed all my orchids and was pleasantly surprised by how healthy they looked, some of them even producing flower spikes discovered on close inspection. I took the precaution to purchase a mister which helped with humidity, the snag being i had to beg any stray visitor to fill it up for me. I really feel the skewer system saved the day. I shall never look back.
Thanks Cynthia, Prescot, AZ. I owe u one.
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Old 02-18-2010, 09:36 AM
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Not sure if the skewer method is working?

Hi, I just recently bought 3 phals. I previously read about the skewer method, so I got them home & stuck some skewers in them. I checked them in about an hour and they were all damp & moist. Now, it has been over a week & 1 of the phals skewers is STILL damp! The potting medium is sphag. I dont know if I should just go ahead and water it since its been a week & a half since the last time it has been watered.?? or should I wait until the skewers gets really dry?

BTW-I have seen fungus gnats in some of the plants already, so I imagine that they havent been repotted in a while since I heard that the gnats like decomposing medium. (just thought I would throw this tid bit in here) I do plan on repotting them soon, but they all have spikes at the moment
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Old 02-18-2010, 09:43 AM
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Moss is going to stay damp a lot longer than bark will. It wouldn't be uncommon for your skewer to still be damp after a week. I use bark and there are times when my skewers will be slightly damp after a week. I wouldn't water as long as its still fairly damp. How long have you had this orchid and have you ever repotted? You should be able to pull the plant out of the pot to check things out below. I would think as long as the roots look good, you can hold off repotting until after it blooms. But if things don't look so good and you see rotted roots, you might want to consider repotting sooner rather than later. I personally have repotted while plants are in spike or bloom and haven't had any issues. Its an individual decision
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Old 02-18-2010, 10:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by syndywindy View Post
Moss is going to stay damp a lot longer than bark will. It wouldn't be uncommon for your skewer to still be damp after a week. I use bark and there are times when my skewers will be slightly damp after a week. I wouldn't water as long as its still fairly damp. How long have you had this orchid and have you ever repotted? You should be able to pull the plant out of the pot to check things out below. I would think as long as the roots look good, you can hold off repotting until after it blooms. But if things don't look so good and you see rotted roots, you might want to consider repotting sooner rather than later. I personally have repotted while plants are in spike or bloom and haven't had any issues. Its an individual decision
Thanks for the fast response =] I have had her for almost 2 weeks. (it will be 2 weeks on sunday) She is in a clear pot and the roots look nice and green and healthy. No rotted roots. However, the sphag is VERY dry on top, but It must still be moist down below or else the skewer wouldnt still be damp, right?
I can see why some people dont like sphag- if i didnt have a skewer, and just felt the top, I would assume it was bone dry. but thats not the case. I can see how overwatering would be very easy to do with sphag and No skewer.
Ive attached a pic just so u can see the roots.(sorry its kind of blurry, but u can still see the green roots)
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Old 03-09-2011, 05:23 AM
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Watering orchids in bloom

Hello Cynthia,
I've no skewers but I do use a sharpened pencil which for me works well. I'll have to pick up some skewers the next time I'm out on errands. L.
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Old 03-12-2011, 07:08 PM
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WHAT A GREAT IDEA!!! I've always felt like I neglect my phals when I don't water them when they "feel" dry to the touch. This method will help curb my need to water. Thank you soooooooo much for the tip! :-)
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Old 03-13-2011, 02:09 AM
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Skewers

Thanks Cynthia for the detailed accounting on watering. I was just thinking today as I was watering that one method I use to approximate the moisture of the media its the smell. I never mentioned it as I thought people would think that I'm a complete fool. LOLOL.
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Old 03-14-2011, 12:44 AM
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Wink

Thank you so much much for this information, it will help me out a lot!!!
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Old 05-12-2011, 12:27 AM
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An excellent idea. I started using this skewer method when I first started with some LEICA hydroculture on houseplants, and it works beautifully with my Phals as well. Thank you.
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Old 05-26-2011, 08:12 PM
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I weighed my orchids before watering and again after watering. Started a spreadsheet on that info. I then placed skewers in each pot and will check them when I think I should water them. Three of the four phals are sphag the large one is in bark chips. Hope this will help my figure out the watering schedule.
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Old 10-17-2011, 10:02 PM
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"Orchids for Wimps" is my favorite, lots of good information, but not so much as to be overwhelming. "Orchids for Dummies" is also good
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Old 10-17-2011, 10:06 PM
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Skewers

The skewers advice is the single best advice that I've gotten on orchids. Once setting them up I realized that I was watering way too much, so I'm thrilled to have found this before it became too late.
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Old 10-20-2011, 02:03 PM
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Watering

Skewer is a nice tip. We have learned over the years that the most important parameter of watering is the water. Since we began using either distilled water or water from our rain barrel we have not seen stress from either over or under watering. The issue is mineral in the tap. Our poster child is a 25 year old phal that stays in bloom with its dozen flowers from Feb to June, every year, and has only been repotted twice.
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Old 02-18-2012, 11:45 PM
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Quote:
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You can also buy barbecue skewers from the grocery store.
Great advice and great photo of bear. Cool.
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Old 04-17-2012, 09:44 PM
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Hi All -

I've read conflicting information on the web regarding whether the skewers need to be "conditioned" prior to using them. Can anyone clarify what the recommended method is?...do I just insert them into the pot right out of the bag or should I soak them in water to condition them before I insert them into the pots?

Regards,

D
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Old 04-18-2012, 09:39 AM
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I use them right out of the bag. When they start to get black and mushy looking I replace with a new skewer.
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Old 04-18-2012, 12:46 PM
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I use them right out of the bag. When they start to get black and mushy looking I replace with a new skewer.
Thanks for the quick response.....I appreciate it!
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Old 04-21-2012, 04:57 PM
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Skewers! What a great suggestion.... I just watered today, using the finger method which wasn't that easy since it's kind of hard to get my finger into all the pots. From now on, I'll use skewers.
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Old 05-21-2012, 11:00 PM
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GREAT suggestion, Cynthia! The use of skewers certainly has taken the guess work out of watering for me. I have found that round wooden toothpicks work great for my smaller planted seedlings. In both cases (skewers and toothpicks), I cut the points off the ends before gently pushing them into the pot with the plant; maybe it's not necessary but I don't want to be poking holes into or through the roots ☺
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Old 09-21-2012, 08:32 AM
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Thank you very much, I am a newbie. recently I brought 6 Cattleyas and planted them in a big pot. I can use Skewer to test when should I water my plants.
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