It’s no secret that orchids are some of the most beautiful flowers in the world. Their delicate petals and graceful stems make them a favorite among flower enthusiasts. But keeping orchids healthy and blooming can present a bit of a challenge for beginners.
In this article, we‘ll discuss how to water orchids to avoid fatal mistakes and provide you with tips for blooming success!
A Quick Look at the Orchid Roots‘ Anatomy
Understanding how this extravagant flower feeds is crucial if you‘re to take good care of it. Orchid species evolved to grow on top of other plants (they‘re epiphytes), so their roots are different from those of most other houseplants and flowers.
Phalaenopsis orchid, the type that holds the largest market share on the global orchid market, and the type that we usually grow at home, has roots that are wrapping around the potting media instead of digging into it (aerial roots).
These are coated with a so-called velamen that absorbs moisture from the air.
The orchid‘s thin, fleshy, and green-gray roots with smooth brown tips are the main reason why watering isn‘t exactly a straightforward process. And neither is figuring out how much water your orchids may need.
How Often You Need to Water Orchids
While most orchids require roughly the same amount of water, there are exceptions in the orchid family, counting a staggering 28,000 species.
Orchids aren‘t the most demanding plants when it comes to watering, but there are still some things you need to keep in mind.
Generally, you should water them approximately once a week. But your watering schedule may depend on a few factors:
- The potting medium
- The type of orchid
- Pot size
- Light exposure
The watering procedure, on the other hand, will also depend on the life cycle of the plant. For example, you‘ll need to be extra careful not to spill any water on the blooms when the orchid is flowering.
You want those flowers fresh and widely open, regardless of whether they‘ll end up in your tea kettle, your homemade cosmetics, or are just there to beautify your room.
How Do I Know If My Orchid Needs Water?
Here are some of the signs that your orchid might be suffering from dehydration:
- Droopy leaves
- Shriveled roots
- Silvery-white color on the roots
- Fast water absorption
- Yellow and wilted bottom leaves
- The buds are falling off
If you notice more than one of these symptoms, it‘s time to water your plants. Don’t wait any longer because you risk losing your orchids!
How to Water Orchids—Choosing the Right Method
Now that we reviewed the symptoms of dehydration in orchids, let’s focus on the watering techniques.
Figuring out the best method isn‘t a walk in the park—different potting mixes require different watering techniques.
For example, Phalaenopsis orchids can be grown in various materials, including pebbles, fir bark, coconut husk chips, clay pellets, perlite, sphagnum moss, charcoal, tree fern, and even diatomite.
Luckily, you won‘t need any special tools or materials. All you‘ll need to do is add a perforated bottle, a skewer, and a container. This will take up virtually no space in your gardening storage (nowhere near your sod cutter or a cordless leaf-blower).
How to Water Orchids in a Pot?
To water an orchid in a pot, fill a container with room temperature water and place the orchid pot into the water. Pour water onto the pot medium enough for it to fill the container through the drainage hole but not to overflow into the pot.
Allow the plant to soak for 15–20 minutes, and then remove it from the container and allow any excess water to drain off. Make sure not to leave the potting mix wet, as this can lead to root rot.
For an orchid growing in pebbles, watering is very important. If you opt for this method, you should wait until the top layer of stones feels dry before adding more water. Once all the excess has drained out of the pot, remove it from the container and put it back to its original position.
How to Water Orchids in Bark
Pine bark nuggets are an excellent potting mix for orchids, given the fact that wild orchids usually grow on trees. Water retention in the bark is higher than that of charcoal or clay pellets, meaning you‘ll need to water your orchid less frequently.
Here‘s how to do it:
Every 10–14 days (depending on the evaporation rate), you should pour a small amount of water over the bark and let it drain out through the bottom of your pot to flush accumulated salts from its system.
You can also water your orchids more often, but again, make sure to let the potting mix drain thoroughly through the drainage hole, and don‘t leave standing water in the bottom of your planter or tray.
Water that sits for too long at the bottom of a pot encourages rot and root damage.
How to Water Orchids in Moss
Sphagnum moss is one of the most popular potting substrates for orchids due to its acidity (which orchids love) and the fact that it holds moisture well.
If your orchid is planted in moss, you‘ll need to water it every 12–14 days. You‘ll need to check the humidity levels deep inside the pot before watering.
Use a pencil or a bamboo skewer to do this. If the medium is dry, use the same watering method you would for orchids planted in bark (described above).
Watering Orchids in Clay Pellets
If clay pellets are your potting mix of choice, make sure to water your orchids from the top. You can pour a small amount of water over the top and allow it to drain through, or you can place the pot in a bowl of water and let the plant soak up what it needs.
Clay pellets hold water well, so your orchids will need watering only every 2–3 weeks.
Watering Orchids With Ice Cubes
This is one of the most popular ways to water orchids. This method is great for those who often travel or forget to water their plants regularly. Simply place a few ice cubes in the potting mix and allow them to melt.
However, make sure not to use too many cubes, as this could cause the roots to freeze. Moreover, if the temperature conditions aren‘t allowing the cubes to melt, this method could deprive your orchid of water.
So, you may wonder how often to water orchids with ice cubes and how many of them you need. The answer is simple—approximately three ice cubes per week, per container, should suffice.
However, you should bear in mind that the number of ice cubes will greatly depend on the size of your pot.
How to Water Your Orchids With a Fertilizer
One of the safest and best ways to water orchids and nourish them at the same time is to use fertilizer.
Given that, by planting orchids in pots, we‘re removing them from their natural habitat and placing them in an environment with significantly different conditions, fertilizing is indispensable for their survival and growth.
Here are some tips on how and how often to water orchids with a fertilizer:
- Choose a fertilizer that contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (look for 20-20-20 on the label). You should mix fertilizer with an equal amount of water before applying it to your orchid.
- Apply the fertilizer about twice per month, depending on how big your orchid pot is.
- If you‘re using a liquid fertilizer, mix it with water and pour it into the pot. And if you‘re still wondering how much to water orchids in this manner, the answer is the same—at least twice per month.
- If you‘re using a powder fertilizer, sprinkle it around the outside of the pot.
- Remove any unused fertilizer by flushing the plant with clean water once or twice per month.
How to Mist Orchids With a Spray Bottle
Another way to water orchids is by using a spray bottle. This method is called misting, and it‘s ideal for those who have a large number of plants or live in a warm climate.
To water your orchid, fill the spray bottle with room temperature water and spritz the leaves on both sides, as well as the potting mix.
Do this until the leaves appear moist but not dripping wet. You should also avoid contact between the flowers and the water, as this can cause them to wilt.
How Much Water Do Orchids Need?
The most important thing to note about orchid care is that excessive watering can cause your plant‘s demise. Even though these beauties live in a tropical habitat in the wild, they’ll always do better if they‘re slightly underwatered rather than overwatered.
There are several ways to fine-tune the amount of water your orchid needs, which is key for creating a custom watering schedule that‘ll allow your plant to thrive. Here’s how to know when to water orchids.
1. Watch for the Color of Your Orchid’s Roots
Whitish and silvery roots without tonus mean that the hydration levels of the plant are low. On the other hand, bright, green, and hard velamen indicates that the plant is well hydrated.
That said, orchid roots don‘t need to be bright green all the time. If they are, you‘re probably using lots of water and gradually drowning your orchid.
2. Probe the Humidity of the Potting Medium
The best way to determine whether and how much water your orchids need is to check the moisture levels of the potting mix.
To do this, simply stick your finger into the potting mix and feel how wet it is. This is the so-called finger test. If the soil feels dry, it’s time hydrate your orchid. Alternatively, you can use a pencil or a skewer to do this.
It‘s best to water your orchid when the top inch of potting medium feels dry to the touch.
3. Pot Size Matters
If you want to correctly water orchids in a pot, you‘ll need to take the size of the pot into consideration. If you have a small pot, you should water your orchid every other day. For larger pots, once a week is usually sufficient.
Let‘s take a look at the following examples to get a general idea of the amount of water to use. For example, a 6-inch pot needs to be watered on a weekly basis, while a 3-inch pot will need watering every 3–4 days.
4. Follow the Seasons
The frequency of watering also depends on humidity levels and the temperature.
- During the spring and summer months, indoor orchids require more frequent watering. These seasons are generally very hot and humid, so plants can dry out quickly. Therefore, your plant will likely need to be watered once a week during this time.
- In winter, watering orchids every two weeks is generally sufficient. However, you may need to water more often if your home is particularly dry. Or you might end up needing to water less frequently if you live in a humid climate.
To know how often to water orchids at any season, always check the moisture levels of your potting mix before watering. You should also take into consideration the specific needs of the orchid type you own, as there may be significant differences among different species.
For example, you‘ll have to water the Chinese crown orchid more often than Phalaenopsis.
5. Water in the Morning
Orchids need to be watered in the morning so they don’t rot. If you want your orchid to be healthy and happy, never let it sit around in the water after dark! This will promote the growth of fungi and bacteria that can kill your orchid.
- The Placing of the Plant Matters
One of the ways to determine how much water your orchids will need is to look at their spot in your home. The amount of light they get will determine the amount of water they‘ll need.
So, how much water do orchids need in relation to their location in the room? The rule of thumb is more light equals more water.
7. Adjust Watering When the Orchids Are Blooming
When watering an orchid in bloom, it‘s important to use lukewarm water and avoid getting the potting mix wet. You should also avoid splashing any water onto the flowers, as this can cause them to wilt or fall off prematurely.
The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Watering Orchids
1. Not Paying Attention to the Plants‘ Reactions
When in doubt whether or how much to water orchids, just examine your plants‘ appearance. You should learn to recognize the signs your plant is giving you.
Both dehydrated orchids and those that drown in water present symptoms of distress (e.g., withering leaves, leaves turning yellow, etc.). Noticing this is the best way to adjust your watering schedule.
2. Cutting off Aerial Roots
It might feel tempting to cut off aerial roots since they stick out. However, if you do that, you‘re undermining the health of your plant.
Aerial roots are responsible for photosynthesis. They absorb water and nutrients from the air and are indispensable in determining how often to water orchids indoors (too little water turns roots dark and dry, while too much water may turn them brown or yellow).
This is one of the most common problems in orchid care. Signs that you’re overwatering your orchid include wilting leaves, soft stems that bend easily, and black, rotten spots on the roots or stem.
If you‘re still wondering how to know when to water orchids and fear you‘ll underwater, you should know that dry potting mix isn’t necessarily a sign you‘re doing something wrong. In fact, you should wait for the potting media to be completely dry before watering again.
However, if you notice the symptoms of dehydration (e.g., wrinkled roots, white-grey roots, pale or shriveled leaves, etc.), you should wait no longer and hydrate your plant as soon as possible.
5. Watering From Above
Be careful when doing this, as moisture can get trapped in the leaves and flowers and get trapped in them, and orchids don‘t like this. They usually respond to this by wilting flowers and rotting leaves.
6. Putting Ice Cubes in Direct Contact With Orchid Roots
When you water orchids with ice cubes, you can damage the roots if you place the ice too near them. So, make sure there‘s enough space between the ice cubes and aerial orchid roots.
The same goes for excessively cold water.
7. Placing Your Orchid in Soil
Orchids don‘t like regular soil. Planting your orchids in regular soil will impair their growth and affect water drainage. So, putting orchids in the ground can lead to rotting and overall decline of the plant.
Although orchids are complex plants, caring for them doesn’t have to be. To water them correctly, you need to pay attention to a few important things like the dryness of the media, the looks of their areal roots, the type of orchid, and the amount of water you use.
That said, every individual plant and species has specific needs, so be attentive and try with smaller amounts of water at first. We hope this article will help you fine-tune your watering schedule and allow your plants to get the right amount of water to thrive.
What is the best way to water an orchid?
The best way to water an orchid is to put it in the kitchen sink and pour lukewarm water into it for 15 seconds. Then let it drain and dry for 15 minutes.
Alternatively, you can soak it in a bowl of lukewarm water for 10–20 minutes every 7–10 days, depending on the species, the potting mix, the environmental temperature, sunlight, and humidity. Then let it drain for 15 minutes, and repeat when needed.
How do you water an indoor orchid?
There are a few different ways to water an orchid, depending on the type of orchid and how long it‘s been since it was last watered.
You should perform the finger test first to check the current level of hydration of the potting agent.
If the potting mix is still damp, you can give the orchid a light watering by pouring water over the potting mix until it runs out the drainage holes.
If the potting mix is dry, you can water the orchid by submerging the entire pot in a container of water for about 10 minutes. Afterward, allow the pot to drain completely before putting it back in its place.
How much water do you give an orchid?
Orchids aren‘t the most demanding plants when it comes to watering, though watering requirements may vary among different species (for example, cattleyas are less demanding than Phalaenopsis).
The appropriate amount of water will generally depend on a few factors—the size of the pot, the type of orchid, potting media, the plant‘s exposure to light, and the environment‘s humidity.
For example, if your orchid is in a small pot or the air is very dry, you‘ll need to water it more often. If the orchid is receiving a lot of direct sunlight, you‘ll also need to water it more often than if it were in a shaded spot.
If you’re unsure how much water your orchid needs, start by providing it with little moisture and wait a few days to see how the plant reacts. You can always add more water later if needed.
Do I water an orchid from top or bottom?
The answer to this question depends on the type of orchid. Not all orchids are the same, so their watering requirements may significantly differ.
Some orchids prefer to be watered from the top, while others prefer to be watered from the bottom. You can usually find this information on the tag that comes with it.
However, if you’re unable to find how your orchid should be watered, a good rule of thumb is to water them from the bottom if they have pseudobulbs (the swollen stems that orchids use to store water). If they don’t, it’s best to water them from the top.
Can you water orchids with tap water?
Yes, orchids can be watered with tap water under the condition it’s not excessively chemically treated. Still, it’s best to use filtered, distilled water, or best—rainwater (if possible).
This is because tap water can contain high levels of chlorine and fluoride, which can harm the plant. If you do use tap water, make sure to let it sit out for a few hours so the chlorine and fluoride can evaporate. Also, you shouldn’t use softened water.
Whichever type you choose to use, the main principle in every guide on how to water orchids is using room temperature water, not an icy cold one, which can damage the plant.