How to Water Orchids


How to water orchids

I love orchids, and I have grown them for many years.

I’ve learned (through some trial and error) the best watering frequency for orchids and how this changes through the seasons.

There is so much information out there about orchids and so many different ideas of how to water them, so for this article, I have tested all the methods I’ve read about to give you a step-by-step guide on the optimal watering methods for our houseplant orchids!

I’ll include all my best tips and some watering secrets I’ve learned from some specialist orchid growers.

In a nutshell…

Water orchids once every 7 days in Spring and Summer and once every 10-14 days in Fall and Winter. Give the orchid a good soak, either under a tap or by placing it in a basin of water for 5 minutes so the soil is evenly moist. Mist orchid leaves with water twice a week to increase humidity.

This regime has worked very successfully for me, but I’ll go through some nuances that affect watring (the are type of potting medium and the humidity etc.) so you can tweak the formula so that it works in your climate and conditions.

Here is a quick table summary of how often to water orchids:

Orchid Conditions:How Often to Water Orchids:
Indoor Orchid Plants:Water orchids once every 7 days or so with a generous soak from Spring until late Summer/ Early Fall.
Orchids Indoors in Winter:Water orchids once every 7 to 10 days in late Fall and Winter. Indoor heating can dry out orchids so monitor the soil moisture and water when the top inch feels dry.
Orchids in Moss:Typically water orchids in moss once every 7 to 10 days in Summer and every 10 days in Winter as moss retains more moisture so wait until the top inch of the soil dries out and water accordingly.
Orchids in Bark:Water orchids in bark once every 7 days or so in Spring, Summer, and early Fall, and once every 7-10 days in the Winter.
Misting Orchid Leaves:Mist the orchid leaves with water at least 2 times a week to create a humid micro-climate that mimics the orchid’s humid tropical environment.

Orchids are particularly susceptible to problems associated with overwatering and can suffer drought stress if underwatered or the air is too dry so knowing how and when to water orchids is important.

Keep reading to learn how to water orchids planted in moss or bark, the best method for watering orchids according to your climate and conditions, and all the best watering practices to ensure a healthy orchid plant…..

How Often to Water Orchids Indoors

While many species of orchids grow all over the world, the most common household varieties that we grow in our homes (phalaenopsis) are cultivated from tropical and sub-tropical climates with warm temperatures, higher levels of humidity, and loose aerated soil that drains water quickly.

We must keep in mind that our orchids are so well adapted to growing in well draining soil around their roots that orchids are sensitive to too much from watering too often or because of slow draining soils.

To grow orchids successfully in our houses, we need to emulate the typical watering, soil, and levels of humidity.

To do this, we need to water our orchids generously once every 7 days or so during Spring and Summer and once every 10-14 days in Winter. What I’ve found is that any more can risk overwatering and any less our orchids can drop flowers due to drought stress.

I mist the leaves with water twice per week to recreate the orchid’s preferred level of humidity. We need to always water generously and wait for the top inch of the potting medium to dry before watering again.

However, I’ve learned that how often you water your orchids can vary according to several factors, such as:

  • The average humidity and temperature range of your home.
  • The size of your pot or container (smaller pots dry out much quicker than larger pots; read my article, choosing the best pots for orchids).
  • Whether the orchid is in the air current of air conditioning, draughts, or near sources of heat.
  • The type of potting soil (moss retains more moisture than bark).

My tried and tested method to establish how often to water orchids in your home, specific to your conditions, is to feel the soil with your finger to detect the level of moisture.

If the top inch of the soil feels noticeably moist, then I delay watering your orchid for a few days until the top inch of the soil feels as though it is drying out before giving it a good soak.

Another method that I like is to push a wooden skewer into the potting medium around the orchid’s roots to determine whether the soil is still moist or drying out. If the skewer feels dry to the touch, then this is the ideal time to water the orchid.

Pro tip: With consistent watering and drying out of your orchid over many months, you can even judge when it needs to be watered by picking up the pot and feeling the weight after watering. Then, when the orchid feels notability lighter, the potting medium is drying out, indicating the perfect time to water.

Allowing the top inch of the potting medium to dry out between each watering creates the optimal balance of moisture for orchids indoors to meet their water requirements and avoid problems associated with watering too often, such as root rot.

Keep in mind that regular misting of the leaves is important all year round as the air indoors is usually a lot lower in humidity than outdoors, and orchids are tropical plants that grow in climates with 60-70% humidity, which is easily replicated by misting the plant at least 2 times per week.

(If your orchid is dying read my article on how to revive a dying orchid).

How Often to Water Orchids in Winter

As I alluded to earlier, an orchid’s moisture demand can fluctuate according to the seasons, even when grown as houseplants.

Fall and Winter’s orchids require water less often than during the active growing period of Spring and Summer in reaction to the decrease in daylight and light intensity.

However indoors temperature range can be fairly consistent all year round and can even increase (like in my housse) in Winter due to sources of heat such as radiators, fires and forced air all of which can increase evaporation from the soil and water loss from the leaves which impacts how often to water your orchid.

What I’ve found works is to water orchids every 10 days or so in Winter and mist the orchid with water every 2 days to counteract low humidity. As we talked about, indoor Winter temperatures can dry out orchids more quickly, so we need to test how quickly the top inch of soil dries out and increases or decreases and how often we water our orchids accordingly.

It is crucial that we remember to always ensure the top inch of the potting medium feels dry before watering your orchid again. This balance of soil moisture ensures the orchid does not dry out completely yet avoids the issues associated with overwatering, such as root rot.

The air indoors in Winter can be particularly dry for orchids, which saps moisture from the leaves, so it is important to mist the leaves regularly to replicate their more tropical, humid natural environment.

However, when I lived in New York, my indoor heating was on full blast on some winter days, and I found that misting alone was not enough to keep my orchids happy. The leaves began to look a bit wrinkled (a key indicator of drought stress), so I tested the use of an indoor humidifier.

I concluded that the humidifier was more effective at creating the right sort of environment for orchids. The wrinkling effect was diminished in the first few days of its use. I also placed it near some of my other humidity-loving houseplants, and they were all happy despite the indoor heating drying out the air.

What I’ve found is that as long as the top inch of the potting medium is somewhat dry between watering, then the orchid should stay healthy over Winter.

I advise increasing the frequency of your watering again to around once per week in the following Spring.

How Often to Water Orchids in Moss

Watering orchids planted in moss can be tricky as orchids are susceptible to root rot if there is too much moisture around the roots for an extended period. (I much prefer bark as a potting medium).

Moss absorbs and holds moisture, which can promote root rot if you water your orchid too often, so we need to be really careful.

Diligent monitoring of the moisture levels of the moss is required to ensure your orchid stays healthy.

To determine how often to water an orchid in a moss-based planting medium, I water my orchid with a generous soak, and then I periodically test the soil to an inch depth with my finger or with a wooden skewer to establish how long it takes for the moss to become somewhat dry.

Mistake to avoid!: I have tried to use a moisture meter (water gauge) to help establish when the moss is dry, and I have found that they are just not precise enough, as my orchid even had root rot. Therefore, I recommend that we need to rely on the methods for detecting when the moss is dry.

Once you detect that the moss is relatively dry to an inch, it is the best time to water your orchid.

In my experience, it usually takes anywhere from 7 to 10 days for the moss to dry between bouts of watering, but this can vary depending on the humidity of your climate, the temperature range of your home, air currents, and the size of the pot, so adjust your watering for your orchid.

Regardless of the potting medium, orchids prefer some humidity, so mist the leaves once every 2 days or so to recreate a humid micro-climate that mimics the humid conditions in its native tropical environment.

Method for Watering Orchids in Moss

I’ve found that the best method for watering orchids planted in moss that works for me is to place the pot in a basin of water for around 5 minutes. As moss is an aerated potting medium, this is all the time it needs to moisten the moss and sufficiently water your orchid.

After its 5-minute soak, allow excess water to drain from the orchid’s pot from the drainage holes in the base for 10 minutes or so.

Afterwards you can place the orchids pot on a saucer or tray to prevent excess water from spilling but we need to remember to empty any saucers, trays or decorative outer pots of water regularly so that the excess water does not pool around the bottom of the pot to prevent the orchids roots being sat in boggy soil.

This method gives the moss a good soak, emulating the conditions of the orchid’s native tropical environment, where typically, a deluge of rain soaks the area around the orchid roots, followed by a dry period.

Troubleshooting: Avoid this common mistake!

If you water orchids too lightly, then only the top inch or so of the moss becomes moist, and the water does not infiltrate the potting medium properly to reach all of the roots where it is required, which can cause the orchid to suffer from drought stress with wilted, shriveled leaves and grey or white roots.

Watering under a tap is another good option but I prefer to place orchids in a basin of water as it ensures that the moss is evenly moist throughout the mixture so that the roots can uptake the moisture they require.

How Often to Water Orchids in Bark

Bark is my personal favorite potting medium for growing orchids as it most closely resembles the growing conditions of the orchid’s native environment with its aerated, porous structure which helps to improve drainage and reduce the risk of root rot.

Since I have experimented with both moss and bark, I have concluded that bark is much better, and my orchids are much easier to water and less likely to get root rot.

Pine bark based potting medium
This is the pine bark based potting medium that I use for my orchids.

Typically, I water orchids in bark once every 7 days in Spring and Summer and once every 7-10 days in Fall and Winter. Mist the leaves with water once every 2 days to increase the humidity.

Bark is the best potting medium for growing orchids.
Pine Bark is the best potting medium for growing orchids.

However, depending on several factors, such as the humidity and temperature range of your climate and the size of the pot, you may need to increase or decrease the frequency with which you water your orchid.

For your orchid to remain healthy, you must establish a watering schedule that accounts for the conditions in your home.

This means that you should soak the bark and then measure how long it typically takes for the top inch of bark chippings to feel somewhat dry before watering again.

I do this be feeling the potting medium with my finger to assess when the top inch feels dry or periodically pick the potted orchid up straight after watering and when it feels significantly lighter, you know the soil has dried and it it is time to water.

Again, I should mention it is important to mist the orchid with water at least twice weekly to recreate the conditions of the orchid’s tropical, humid environment. Dry air in the home can sap moisture from the leaves and dry out the orchid too quickly.

(Read my article, how to revive a wilting orchid).

My Method for Watering Orchids in Bark

Orchids prefer a cycle of watering where their potting medium is soaked and then allowed to dry over around a week, rather than watering with a little and often approach.

I have experimented with running my orchids under a tap, but I much prefer the method of placing my orchids in a basin of water

Therefore the best method for watering your orchid in bark is to place the pot in a basin of water for around 5 minutes or so and allow excess water to drain from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.

This style of watering emulates the watering conditions in their native tropical environment, where they typically experience a deluge of rain followed by a dry period.

Bark is particularly aerated and porous and allows water to drain efficiently yet it absorbs some moisture so that the roots can uptake the water the need without being say in overly moist potting medium which keeps the orchid healthy and avoids root rot.

I place my orchid on a saucer or tray to prevent excess water from spilling in my home, but I always remember to empty the saucer or tray regularly so that water does not pool around the base of the pot, which can keep the bark potting mix too damp and promote the conditions for root rot.

You can also water orchids in bark under a tap as long as you ensure that the potting mix is evenly moist and you use enough water so that excess water trickles from the drainage holes in the base of the pot.

I personally find it easiest to place the orchid in a basin of water for 5 minutes as I can water several plants at once with this method and it ensures the bark mixture is evenly moist to ensure the roots can uptake water properly to stay healthy.

(Read my article, how to tell if an orchid is over or underwatered).

Watering Orchids With Ice Cubes

There is often advice that using ice to water orchids is the best method to avoid overwatering. I thought this advice was absolutely ridiculous!

If we think about where our orchids have come from…a tropical jungle! Ice is not typically present at any point in their native habiait and cold temperatures can often kill orchids.

The ice around the roots is unlikely to do much harm, but nor does it do much good as I have read it can shock the orchid unnecessarily.

After using ice myself on my orchid to test this ludicrous theory, I was able to conclude that the ice did not result in a nice evenly moist potting medium, even if you used a lot of it. It is just a bizarre and inefficient gimmick, in my opinion.

I recommend that you water by either using a tap or placing orchids in a basin of water rather than using ice cubes, as the melting ice cubes will not water your orchid’s potting medium as evenly.

Usually, the ice melts and generally moistens only a section of the potting medium, and the water may not reach all the roots where it is required.

Also it is difficult to judge how much ice is enough to water your orchid, as you could easily use not enough ice and only moisten the top inch or so of the potting medium and the orchid may not have enough watering causing drought stress.

Whilst watering orchids with ice cubes is achievable, it is not the best method for watering orchids as it is difficult to judge how much water you have used to ensure your orchid is sufficiently watered and stays healthy.

My Secrets and Tips to Orchid Watering Success

  • Watering orchids at room temperature is generally considered best practice as it is a similar temperature to rainwater in their native tropical environment and can prevent shock.
  • Tap water is okay for watering orchids in almost all homes but if you live in an area with high levels of chlorine in the water then what I do is allow the water to stand for 12 hours to allow chlorine (and fluoride) to evaporate or use rainwater, although this is not a common concern for most areas. I am fortunate to to able to collect rainwater from my garden and my orchids look great for it!
  • Mist the orchid’s leaves with water regularly as the air indoors is often low in humidity, and in dryer climates, you should mist the leaves more often. Misting once every 2 days helps to keep the humidity level to the preference of orchids. If you are liable to forget to mist, I recommend using a humidifier, which for me works great. I also assure you of its efficacy in countering dry air from indoor heating and air conditioning.
  • Always mist your orchids aerial roots! Mist the leaves and extending aerial roots to create the humidity that our orchids need.
  • Wait for the top inch of the potting medium to dry out before watering again. Typically, this takes a week, but monitor the soil’s moisture by checking the weight (the pot should feel lighter as water evaporates over the week) with your finger or use a wooden skewer to detect moisture levels.
  • Always soak the potting medium when watering so that it is evenly moist and then allow it to dry out, as watering too lightly can prevent water from infiltrating the soil by moistening the surface and not reaching the roots causing drought stress.

Trouble Shooting: Signs of an Overwatered or Underwatered Orchid

How to tell if an orchid is overwatered or underwatered
The orchid roots on the left are green after watering and look healthy. The roots on the right are dying from root rot due to overwatering...

Orchids are more susceptible to problems associated with overwatering than underwatering, so it is important to recognize the signs to help you get the right balance of watering for your orchids. Slow-draining soils can also cause symptoms of overwatering. Signs of overwatered orchids:

  • The roots of orchids should look a healthy green color and feel firm which indicates the correct balance of watering. Overwatered orchid roots look brown or black and feel mushy. There is often an unpleasant smell to overwatered orchid roots which can indicate root rot from overwatering or slow-draining soils.
  • The leaves of overwatered orchids turn yellow, droop, and even wrinkle which indicates the roots are not in a condition to transport water and nutrients around the plant.
  • Flower buds dropping before they open is another sign of overwatering.

Whilst orchids are more susceptible to the effects of overwatering, underwatering can still be a common problem for orchid house plants. Orchids can show signs of stress from not being watered often enough or from being watered too lightly. Signs of an underwatered orchid:

  • The roots of an underwatered orchid can look grey or even white with a shriveled, dry appearance rather than a healthy green.
  • The leaves of an underwatered orchid can turn yellow, droop, and wrinkle which are the same symptoms as overwatered orchids. This is because overwatering and underwatering both compromise the orchid root’s ability to transport water and nutrients around the plant which is why the symptoms are often similar.
  • Flower buds not opening or falling off is also a sign of stress from underwatering orchids.

(Orchid leaves can turn yellow for several reasons. Please read my article How to Save an Orchid with Yellow Leaves to learn more).

If you have any questions or insights, please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you!

Key Takeaways:

  • Water orchids once every 7 days from Spring until Fall and once every 10-14 days in Winter when they are dormant. Water orchids with a good soak to moisten the potting medium. Mist the orchid leaves with water two times per week to increase humidity.
  • Water orchids in moss around every 7-10 days in Spring and Summer and every 10 days or so in Winter by placing the pot in a basin for 2 minutes. Check the potting medium moisture regularly and adjust your watering schedule if the moss is still too damp to avoid root rot.
  • Water orchids in bark once every 7 days in Spring and Summer and every 10-14 days in the Winter. Water by placing it in a basin for 5 minutes. Bark dries out quicker than moss and replicates the aerated, well-draining growing conditions of the orchid’s native environment.
  • Check your orchid’s potting medium regularly and ensure that the top inch dries out between bouts of watering to meet the orchid’s watering requirements and avoid root rot.

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