The orchid family is the world’s largest group of flowering tropical plants with more than 30,000 species examined at the Ohio State University. They are now easily available to most orchid enthusiasts and make ideal houseplants with their visually appealing flowers. Creating an environment that reflects orchids’ natural habitat will allow them to flourish even in a regular pot. This means providing adequate temperature range, the right amount of light, warmth, humidity, good air circulation, and, most importantly, adequate watering.
While some orchids prefer increased moisture and more frequent watering, others need a winter rest with little watering. In any case, make sure never to use tap water. Always allow excess water to run through the drainage holes and don’t let the plant stand in water if you are submerging very dry roots. Does it sound complicated? This guide will help you learn how to water orchids the right way.
Before you start watering orchids
Let’s first tackle some basics before you start watering your orchids or you might get undesirable results even if you have a good watering schedule.
Orchids can thrive in many different containers, including a plastic pot, a clay pot, or a decorative pot, and no matter which one you choose, make sure that the pot allows good drainage, which means that your pot should have at least three drainage holes.
Besides, orchid potting mix should also drain well. Sphagnum moss is used for seedlings, while some other moisture-retentive potting media are: orchid bark which is good for epiphytes, an open mix of peat, a choir for damp-growing orchids, rockwool, and coconut fiber for terrestrial orchids. Adding most of these elements including moss will make your healthy watering regime pay off.
Related: Best Soil for Orchids
Finally, check that your newly arrived plant is healthy and potted correctly before displaying it. Make sure that the roots are in a suitable container and if not, repot it. The new pot should be only one to two sizes larger than the original one and good drainage is the most important attribute in a new pot. Choose one with plenty of drainage holes.
How Orchids Absorb Water
The majority of orchids absorb water from the growing medium, while epiphytic ones also absorb moisture via their aerial roots.
Besides, watering your orchid correctly is one of the ways to encourage flowering, so its leaves and pseudobulbs will grow and mature enough to form blooms each year. Consistent warmth, temperature, and winter light also promote flowering.
The health of your orchid depends on knowing how to water orchids adequately. But first, let’s see what type of water you should use to water orchids.
Type of Water and Temperature
Water quality is very important for growing healthy orchids. Most orchids require water that doesn’t contain a lot of calcium. Rainwater is ideal and always try to use it if possible, but soft water, filtered and distilled water are good substitutes, too. Use every chance to collect rainwater and store it in a water butt.
You don’t want to use hard water which contains a lot of salts. So, using hard water will deposit lime in the potting mix and a build-up of salts is likely to cause the orchid’s roots to die. Treated water also contains chlorine, so avoid it as well.
Drinking tap water usually contains chlorine and if that’s your only option, leave the water in a container overnight, which will allow the chlorine to evaporate.
When you water orchids, always use water at room temperature so as not to shock the plant. If water temperature is far below the room temperature, it will cause a shock for the plant. So, always opt for lukewarm water.
When to Water Orchids
There are no hard-and-fast rules as to when you need to water your orchid. The environmental conditions under which your orchid is being cultivated play a crucial role among others.
Generally speaking, water your orchids when the compost has dried out somewhat. Potted orchids should be watered once a week: more frequently in summer when orchid roots are actively growing, less so in winter. However, don’t allow the soil to become completely dry, which will make re-wetting very difficult. The compost needs to be moist rather than wet outside the growing season.
Make sure you have stored enough rainwater at room temperature before you water your orchids. Always apply water early in the sunny mornings. As the temperature starts rising, it will allow excess water to evaporate. Follow the weather and if it is overcast, your orchid will need less water.
Here’s a trick to help you judge whether to water or not. Weigh the pot in your hand when it is dry and when it is well watered. It feels different, right? If a plant needs water, it will feel lighter than the plant you have just watered. Alternatively, run a finger test.
Some orchids need a winter rest with little watering, while others prefer much damper conditions. Check each orchid’s profile for its individual needs.
How to Water Orchids
When you’re watering orchids in pots, always pour water copiously and allow it to drain out through the bottom of the pot.
Water potted orchids from the top of the pot and never let the plant stand in excess water. Roots that are constantly wet become prone to rotting, so allow them to dry out before watering again.
Make sure that the center of the plant is dry in order to prevent rot. If water accumulates between the leaves or in the crown, use some clean, twisted tissue to remove it.
Check the pot weekly and bear in mind that it is always better to err on the drier side.
Another popular method of watering orchids is the ice cube method. Put three ice cubes on the potting mix, ice cubes melt gradually under sufficient light and heat, so your orchids will slowly absorb water from them.
Very dry pots should be submerged for 10-20 minutes in a container of water to re-wet the potting medium, but never leave them standing in water. Don’t immerse the flowers.
Avoid splashing shoots and crowns of orchids since it is likely to cause fungal and bacterial infections when temperatures fall and this will further lead to the rotting of young shoots. Use a paper towel to remove water from shoots and crowns.
Return your orchids to their place in the same orientation as before watering. The reason for this is that your orchid needs to be positioned towards the sun if a flower spike is growing.
If pseudobulbs begin to shrivel or the leaves look wrinkled, inspect the root system. The cause for this can be either overwatering or underwatering.
Some signs of underwatering include shriveled pseudobulbs or wrinkled leaves in Phalaenopsis orchids, for instance.
Check orchid roots to ensure that these signs are not caused by overwatering before changing your watering routine.
Underwatered potting soil is very dry and difficult to re-wet.
Overwatering is the most frequent cause of death when it comes to orchid plants and orchids are more likely to die from overwatering than underwatering.
The roots of an overwatered orchid can no longer absorb moisture, hence the plant becomes dehydrated and withers. Its soil loses water retention abilities, the compost becomes wet and soggy and that is an alarm bell for you to do something. What you should do in that case is repot the plant as soon as you can, since it is no use watering already dead roots.
Related: Orchid Leaves Turning Yellow
TIP: Use a clear plastic pot so you can check the state of the plant’s roots.
Misting – Yay or Nay?
Mist the leaves gently if the atmosphere is dry will help to increase humidity, promote plant health, and increase flower longevity. However, do not mist at low temperatures, or grey mold and root rot might occur.
Mist epiphytic orchids that grow on a slab or are suspended because this is the only way they can absorb moisture.
Create humidity by misting your orchid’s leaves and roots regularly. Use a small hand sprayer to provide a fine mist of water and keep it next to your plants. Mist daily during warm weather and less often at cooler times, but always in the morning to allow evaporation during the day.
Use rainwater or soft water for both watering and misting, as hard water coats leaves with lime deposits. Don’t mist the crown as it can cause crown rot and promote bacterial growth.
If you feel insecure about misting, you can always solve the problem of low humidity by standing pots on a tray of pebbles or create a microclimate by grouping orchids with other houseplants. Enough moisture is crucial for orchids, especially during a dry period.
Related: Vanda Orchid Care Guide
Orchids are emblems of elegance and they suit all tastes. For that reason, orchids are often an impulse purchase or received as a gift, especially a moth orchid.
In case that your household conditions are satisfactory for the orchid you have selected, you will have no difficulties growing one indoors, despite the mystique that surrounds them.
The biggest concern of all is how to water orchids. So, let’s sum what we have learned in this article.
- Always use room temperature water.
- Be aware of water quality and always opt for rainwater or distilled water.
- Water orchid plants from above and let the water drain out. Alternatively, use three ice cubes to water your orchid.
- Make sure your orchids potted in containers have at least one drainage hole, maximum six.
- If you use tap water, let the bowl of water sit overnight.
- Use a sharpened pencil trick or wooden skewer to check if the root system feels wet.
- Keep the compost evenly moist, but not soaking wet.
- Never let the soil to completely dry out.
- Add sphagnum moss to the soil.
- Keep good orchid care.
What is the easiest orchid to grow?
Phalaenopsis orchids (moth orchids), Paphiopedilum (slipper orchid), Cymbidium, Dendrobium (Berry Oda) Pleione formosana, and Oncidium (dancing ladies) are among the easiest orchid plants to grow and ideal for beginners. If you need more information on orchid care, refer to this ultimate orchid care guide.
Can I let potted orchids without water while I am on vacation?
Given that you have watered your orchids thoroughly before leaving, added some moss for better moisture retention, and left them in a shady spot, they will be able to cope for around two weeks. However, if you will be absent for more than a month, you will have to rely on a friend to pay your plants a visit after two weeks. Provide some brief guidelines so they know what to do.
How to tell whether my orchid is overwatered or underwatered?
The potting medium of an overwatered orchid will be wet and soggy, while the potting medium of an underwatered one will appear very dry to the touch. Orchid’s leaves turn yellow in the case of overwatering. Weigh the pot in your hand and if it is light, it is underwatered.
How much water does my orchid need?
Watering orchids should be done when the compost feels light and dry at least halfway through the pot. Add more water on top of the soil until it runs copiously down the bottom of the pot. Don’t let the plant live in standing water. Alternatively, add one ice cube to three ice cubes on top of the soil.