Converting the Phalaenopsis to a Hydroponic Environment


This series is about my effort to acclimate 4 mini-Phalaenopsis from a terrestrial (potted in an organic medium) to a hydroponic (roots submerged in water constantly )environment.


The process of taking an existing healthy Phalaenopsis from a terrestrial (potted) environment or Epiphytic (mounted) and acclimate the roots over time required so that the Phalaenopsis adjusts to it's roots being submerged in water constantly.


The current  Phalaenopsis hybrids grown and sold commercially are perhaps the most vigorous growers under proper care that continue to grow in size and rebloom often and frequently.  These traits make them ideal along with their Epiphytic and terrestrial characteristics.  Orchids are known to adjust to conditions and acclimate from one environment to another is that process.  Old growth roots will not make the transition, but new growth roots can be programmed to acclimate to a hydroponic condition over time (time required for the root to grow).  New roots do not have old habits, but they are more programmable or adaptable to an environment they are presented with.  In this case they desire that they take to growing and thriving surrounded by water.  The length of time on this process depends on root growth, so the Phalaenopsis has to be focused on new root development.  This is simple by prohobiting the Phalaenopsis from focusing energy on what it prefers to do - bloom.  Spikes are removed inhibiting this process forcing the Phalaenopsis to devote all energy on new root growth and perhaps a new leaf or two.


The Phalaenopsis is also Monopodial,  meaning it grows as a single upright “stem” with one leaf following another on opposite sides of the stem. Spikes can develop from a node under a leaf.  Roots can do the same.  This explains why sometimes an mature, thriving Phalaenopsis might have root development above the potting medium.  These roots can be trimmed back if desired no matter what environment the Phalaenopsis is situated in.  The reason for this extra root development might be due to the humid environment the orchid is situated in and it wants to capture that extra humidity.


As each new root taps into the water source, you can cut back 1 or 2 of the older roots.  This will further inspire the Phalaenopsis to replace them with extra new roots and again it grow into the water below.  Once all the old roots are gone, and the new roots take to being submerged, wait for new leaf growth to start if it hasn't already done so.  New leaf growth or a spike developing while new roots are submerged in water indicates that the orchid has been successfully acclimated to the hydroponic environment.


I came across this concept of orchid culture when I was doing a google search on "How to save a Phrag. with no roots".  I was inspired and tried this adventure last fall and failed.  I used a 4-inch hybrid  Phalaenopsis and started the acclimation process but the tips of old roots were submerged in water.  They been accustomed to Terrestrial conditions (watered, allowed to dry, watered - repeat as if potted or mounted).  It was no surprise that the roots started to rot and eventually I tossed the orchid.  Another factor in the failure was starting it in late fall, where water temperature could fall below the minimal tolerance for the Phalaenopsis, again, causing shock and eventually death.  This time I started on the summer solstice and by the time fall temperatures start to cool down, the miniature Phalaenopsis should have at a minimum 4 roots taking to the hydroponic environment, and I will use a heating pad to help keep the water reservoir from getting to cold.  Learning and correcting from these two errors, should increase chances for successful acclimation.


Basic Prerequisites

Minimal exposure to Phalaenopsis culture.

One or more Phalaenopsis to convert (I would not suggest potentially sacrificing your most favorite Phalaenopsis for this unless it has no roots at all, Even then I would just follow to the point new roots developed and then return it to your desired potting medium)

Basic required item for the process (medium, clear, plastic cup. A lid is recommended that the lid fit and seal the cup but optional. Some kitchen skewers).

Patience, because you can do all you can, but the rest is up to the Phalaenopsis to develop and grow new roots and that can take a month or two.



The Phalaenopsis is a versatile orchid.  It can grow in a pot for our convenience or mounted with leaf growth pointed down to prevent crown-rot.  In nature they can be found on the forest floor rooted in decaying leaves or nooks and crannies of trees.


For no obvious reason other than to be different, some Phalaenopsis growers have successfully transitioned these to a hydroponic environment.  The process seems logical and simple enough to follow - just acclimate new roots to being submerged in water constantly.  The end result, a plant as art, where one can enjoy the blooms and the roots.  I am not afraid to admit the idea of an acclimated Phalaenopsis in a large betta-bowl with a male Siamese Fighting Fish is intriguing.   I be the first on the block with such an item.


The Phalaenopsis is not the only orchid that can make this transition.  Others have tried Oncydiums and others as well.  For now I will stick to the Phalaenopsis as it is perhaps the easiest.  Pay no attention to those expert, advanced growers who look at you funny for in their opinion, is mistreating an orchid.


Below is a blog or journal of my process, so follow along, perhaps be inspired to try this yourself.


I picked up four Phalaenopsis for this project so at least one should make the transition, but there is no reason all four cannot successfully be acclimated.  They are all named to distinguish one from the other three.  I do this simply because here I will keep track of their progress - new roots and new leaf growth - along with pictures when required. One may notice a pattern of the chosen names as favored charachters from 'Game of Thrones'.


Davos Seaworth (A)  Coming in with 4 leaves, the top 2 measuring about 3 inches in length each so I doubt they continue to grow so new leaf growth is expected when the Phalaenopsis is ready. It has a cluster of about a dozen medium length, old roots with a yellow-green bloom.


Tyrion Lannister (B)  Coming in with 4 leaves, the newest leaf is less than 1 inch in length I suspect the bottom 2 will drop (they already look a little flimsy and weak, perhaps even yellowing as I write this), the top leaf is just about an inch in length.  It has a cluster of 9 medium length, old roots with a pink bloom.


Littlefinger  (C)  Coming in with 5 leaves, the top two are probably at maximum length so a new leaf is expected, the bottom two leaves seem to be floppy as well as weak in appearance, so they may drop.  It has a cluster of 6 medium length, old roots with a blue-red bloom.


The Hound  (D)  Coming in with 6 leaves, the top two are probably at maximum length so a new leaf is expected, the bottom two leaves seem to be floppy as well as weak in appearance, so they may drop.  It has a large cluster of medium length, old roots with a blue-red bloom.


Now that we have met the conenders for this game of thrones, shall we begin?


  • Spikes get cut off at the stem.  (I haven't done this yet, but it will happen, the remaining buds should not take that much energy to open)
  • Dead / weakened  roots are cut back to stem.


Simply stated, you want to suspend the  Phalaenopsis so that the bottom is inserted into the humid environment created by the water reservoir.  The bottom two most healthiest leaves, resting on the frame or cup lid.  New roots will form and grow down.   Again as they reach about 2 inches in length, cut one or two old roots back to the stem.  This will induce additional roots.  Repeat the process until all old roots have been removed.  At the same time, raise the water level so that the new roots almost come into contact with the water's surface, and most likely they will start extending under the level of the water.  Their is a chance they may skim the surface but still be in contact with the water.  Eventually they will dive below the water's surface level.


Below is my attempt at building a cradle for the Phalaenopsis. I got lids from a fast food restaurant  and cut a small opening where a straw would be inserted.  Easier to cut a small whole and slowly make it bigger.  For placing the Phal in the cut-out I just cut from the edge of the lid to the whole.


In the images below I used a quarter for a point of reference for the size of Phalaenopsis.



By luck, I got lids from a fast food restaurant with the straw opening in the middle.  Not sure if this is common or not.  I cut a small hole using the small cuts for a drinking straw.  I then cut from the center hole to the edge.  This cut allows for the mini-Phal. to be slid carefully and with some ease into position.  Ideal, the hole should be big enough so that the bottom two leaves rest on the cup, but cannot easily fall through the lid.  

The mini-Phal. is in place and the bottom leaves are resting on the lid, the bottom of the stem of the mini-Phal is below the lid.  This is the are where new roots will develop.  Keep in mind that the Phal. is monopodal, so they grow up in a vertical direction developing new leaves on top of older leaves.  The new leaf if the mini-Phal is thriving should be the same size as the leaf below.  These plants do not create a very wide leaf-spread.  Roots can develop from the spaces between leaves as can a new spike for blossoms.  I am not interested in a new spike until the mini-Phal. is acclimated to hydroponics.  As for new roots above the lid, they will be trimmed when needed.

A closer look of the base of the mini-Phal's stem below the lid.
A closer look of the base of the mini-Phal's stem below the lid.  



Coninuing Care


The old roots are still terrestrial in nature and the Phalaenopsis will still require some watering (a drenching of the roots and allowed to dry-off before the next watering - just as if it was in a pot ).   I would cut a hole or a triangle out of the lid large enough to add water soaking the old roots and then drain (pour out) so they can dry.  This is when an old turkey baster comes in handy.  To cover /seal your cut-out for adding removing water you can just use plastic food wrap.

For the time being, just treat the Phalaenopsis as normal.  bright light, but not direct sun, not in extreme heat either. Every time you water, look through the clear plastic for any new root growth.  Their is no time schedule on this.  It can happen very quickly (2 weeks for the first sign) or a month.  It really is up to the Phalaenopsis now.

I do not expect much to take place during July.  By the end of July, hopefully all 4 contenders will have new roots, and I won't complain if they have new leaf growth as well.  I am more focussed on the roots at this time.


Unless something dramatic happens, I will update this on or about 15 July  2019.


I can always be reached at    if you have any questions related to this or orchids in general.



29 June 2019 - Week 1


For the first week, everybody's root area was cleaned and suspended in a clear plastic cup wih the roots above the level of the water. Since the old roots are programmed for the terrestral environment (meaning they have water poured over them in an organic medium and then allowed to dry), I followed that same pattern.  Sometimes I skip a day.


I cut off the spike (forgive me).


I trimmed more of the old roots back (forgive me again).  These old roots will NOT acclimate to hydroponics, but the new roots should make the adjustment easily.


Alan Koch from Gold Country Orchids, 2003 presentation to the Diablo View Orchid Society

Alan’s last subject was what to do about plants with NO ROOTS! Alan suggests you dip the remaining roots in RootTone or Dip and Grow. Alan always follows up with a spray of 1/64th teaspoon (pinch) of RootTone or equivalent per gallon then spray under the leaves for maximum uptake by the plant. This will stimulate new root growth, hopefully.



Today, I dipped them in water mixed with a very small amount of Bontone II's Rooting Powder.  Time to get these four candidates interested and motivated in developin new roots.  I dipped the entire orchid so that the leaves would also absorb some of the water / root powder mix.  I also did this early enough in the day so that the water be able to dry (evaporate from any leaf junctions with the stem so rot not occur loosing the leaf and perhaps the entire orchid.  Today I dipped twice, once early in the morning and then mid-day.  I put each orchid back in it's lid and cup with a small amount of water at the bottom to keep the root area moist with evaporating water.  I may dip once again on Wednesday and then again next Saturday. I am not expecting an explosion of new roots come next Saturday (6 July 2019), the orchids should have absorbed enough of the rooting powder to speed up any new root development.  Can only wait and see what happens. 


Below is a description of each contender as observed today (29 June 2019).  Be aware that I use a naming scheme only to identify and distinguish these four mini-phals. and that name has nothing to do with recognizing the hybrid's actual identity. I try my best at taking pictures, magnifying and then cropping the photos and sometimes the end result is a sharp image.  I use a quarter for a reference point and scale.  Click on any of the images below to see a slightly larger image in a new tab.  Each image is of the front and back of the Phal.  Use the remaining part of the spike to be your guide for positioning.






Davos Seaworth: Coming in with 4 leaves, the top and newest leaf is about an inch in length. I removed all dead and weak roots.  The current roots look and feel healthy so hopefully after being dipped in  root hormone mixed water - new roots will start to develop.

Tyrion Lannister: Coming in with 4 leaves, the top and newest leaf is about an inch in length. I removed all dead and weak roots.  The current roots look and feel healthy so hopefully after being dipped in  root hormone mixed water - new roots will start to develop.  And yes - I did cut the old spike all the way back after this picture was taken.




Littlefinger: Coming in with 4 leaves, the top and newest leaf is about an inch in length. I removed all dead and weak roots.  The current roots look and feel healthy so hopefully after being dipped in  root hormone mixed water - new roots will start to develop.


I am concerned that the leaves are showing signs of dehydration (a slight wrinkle / ridge parallel to the stem of the leaf with a slight flimsy leather feel).  Hopefully watering will correct this situation, or worst case scenerio, it grow a new leaf faster then expected due to the new condition (more watering now then it got from the nursery and grocery store).  It does have 2 new young roots that I would consider acclimating as they are less than an inch in length.  I will keep an eye on it, and make a decision on Wednesday as to course of action.




The Hound: Coming in with 4 leaves, the top and newest leaf is about an inch in length. I removed all dead and weak roots.  The current roots look and feel healthy so hopefully after being dipped in root hormone mixed water - new roots will start to develop.



There is no need to be any new photos taken and shared until roots have started to make their presence known.  Once a week for my own reference, I will measure the progress of new root development with a photo library.




I can always be reached at    if you have any questions related to this or orchids in general.




06 July 2019 - Week 2


(01 July 2019)


For the last 2 weeks, high temperatures have been reasonable, less than 98-degrees, but humidity is below 40%.  Phals. appreciate humidity staying above 60-percent, will tolerate daily temperatures into the mid and upper 90's with ventilation as well as bright, but definitely not direct light.


Earlier this week I noticed that "Littlefinger's" leaves showed signs of dehydration.  Phal leaves should be flat with a sheen on them.  LitleFinger's leaves all are dull and showing signs of ridges running parallel with the leaef's stem.  They are also slightly flimsy and "leathery" or "like freshly worked leather.  All signs of possible dehyration.   It is also possible that one afternoon when I was not paying attention I forgot to monitor the Phals to make sure they were not in direct light one afternoon.  One day of direct light on a hot day with little humidity can be the end of a Phal.  I also am aware that Littlefinger also has the fewest roots.  Perhaps another contributing factor to what looks very much like dehydration.




I remember having an old dishpan set, the deep plastic bottom and a high somewhat transparent lid.  This item fit nicely on the bottom shelf of a greenhouse so I can check off safe lighting conditions for Phals.  Extra water in the dispan for humidity - check.  The current plastic cups fit in the dishpan in the mini greenhouse so there they sit.  The lid is not on securly, but rather kind of partially closed to allow for ventilation.  Hopefully this arrangment solve any issues regarding a lack of humidity these phals might endure while they develop new roots to be acclimated.


A few times each day, but not after 5:00pm - I give the Phal leaves a good spritzing.  Before 11:00AM and again at bout 3:00PM, I dip the root zone in water for a couple minutes.  Now that they enjoy the high humidity enviornment in the mini-greenhouse, I dip once per day and maybe just spritz once or twice.


For my other Phal. project that might be suffering the same situation (lack of humidity) I was off to Home Depot and puchased two somewhat clear plastic totes.  One is 12-inches deep, the other is 6 inches deep and these two totes establish aan area of high humidity for those Phals.


For those curious about the slant, I was laying on my back to snap this picture.  For those curious about it seeming dark, perhaps too dark for Phals., this picture was snapped around 10:00AM so the sun has yet to shine on the growing area.  By then it gets light casting a shadow on the growing area through the greenhouses.  By accident probably the best Phal. light.



(04 July 2019)

A thorough inspection for any signs of new root growth and a dip in a water solution containing a dose of root toner.


Tyrion Lannister:  I am guessing from my misting, the water level rose in the cup so that it was in constant contact with the tips of the longest roots causing the velamen to become drenched and turn black and start to rot.  Concerning, but not alarming.  Perhaps this induce the Phal. to start new roots sooner?  For now I dropped the level of water in the reseroir and will pay closer attention when finished misting.  Youngest leaf is about an inch in length and because I have said that here I have it recorded so that in a week, with my next intensive observation, I can compare any difference in size due to growth.


All others have happy leaves and seem to be "hanging in there" as expected.



I can always be reached at    if you have any questions related to this or orchids in general.




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