How to Correctly Water Orchids For Beautiful Blooms

Are you looking for a little guidance on properly watering your orchids? Whether grown indoors or outdoors, these picky plants can be tough to manage. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss takes you through all the important factors for correctly watering your orchids.

Gardener watering orchid with golden metal container

Contents

Orchids are a bit tricky, as houseplants. It can take a good bit of trial and error to create an environment where an orchid has its needs met and can flourish and produce flowers. A key factor in the care and keeping of any plant is to form good watering habits.

To understand the best way to water an orchid, it is important to know a bit about the type of plants orchids are and how they absorb water in nature. They are not like most tropical houseplants. While they are tropical, most orchids do not grow in the ground, so the nutrient-rich potting soils that most tropical plants thrive in can kill an orchid rather quickly.

So, watering an orchid can be somewhat of an art rather than a science. Let’s dig a little deeper and learn about their native environments and some of the more effective watering methods for keeping your plant hydrated with thriving blooms!

Nature and Nurture

Purple and white orchid flowers in full bloom in greenhouse. There are over ten blooms coming directly off just a single plant.
These epiphytic flowers need plenty of airflow.

Orchids are naturally epiphytic, which means that they grow on trees in their native habitat. Their roots are completely exposed, so they get a lot of air circulation. The best way to contain an orchid is to mimic its natural environment.

 If an orchid is planted in an ordinary pot or with conventional potting mix, you run a very high risk of the roots remaining damp and rotting or being affected by fungus. You’ll notice symptoms of root rot are flowers falling off the plant, yellowing leaves, or a brown and mushy plant. Special pots are widely available and have the characteristic of not retaining water.

Orchid potting mix is composed predominantly of bark, charcoal, and pumice. This medium doesn’t hold water in the way that conventional potting mix does. It allows for a great deal of air circulation around the plant’s roots.

The main thing to be aware of is that, when it comes to orchids in pots, overwatering is deadly. When their roots sit in water, they begin to rot rapidly. Rotten roots make the entire plant vulnerable to fungus and will ultimately lead to whole plant death. If you can avoid this one issue, you have a very good chance of keeping them alive.

An equally important factor in the health of an orchid is the humidity level in the surrounding area. They absorb a great deal of water and nutrients from the air. This means it’s important to provide them with a decent supply of ambient humidity. A good rule of thumb is to keep the humidity level around 60-70%.

If you are watering properly, but the leaves and roots look shriveled and dry, humidity could be an issue. Try raising the humidity in the room with a humidifier or a dish of water beneath the plant. Just be sure to elevate the pot and not allow it to sit in the water dish.

How Much & How Often to Water

Female gardener watering pink orchid flower in clear plastic pot. The flowers in the pot are pink and lavender colored.
A good rule of thumb is to water once per week and to avoid waterlogged soils.

Watering frequency and water amounts are the easiest thing to mess up when watering. Their roots should never sit in water as orchids are prone to root rot. Their roots should dry out entirely in between waterings

As a good rule of thumb, plan on watering at least once a week, whether outdoors or indoors. If you live in one of the few hardiness zones that allows you to grow orchids outdoors, make sure to pay attention to your weather. Avoiding waterlogged soil is critical to preventing root rot and other fungal diseases.

For indoor orchids, the easiest way to measure the moisture of the soil is to do a common “finger test.” Feel how moist the soil is, and if it’s fairly dry, then it’s time for a soak.

Time of Day

Flower blooming in the early morning sun indoors. Flower is pink, with white and lavender throughout the bloom. The stamen in the center has a slight yellow color.
Whether grown outdoors or indoors, watering in the morning is preferred.

The best time of day to water your orchids is in the morning. As we discussed, they don’t like water pooling and sitting in their leaves. By watering early in the morning, water has the opportunity to evaporate before the temperature drops in the evening.

If you water later at night, the water can sit, creating waterlogged soils. This will expose your orchid to potential fungal diseases, including root rot. If your orchid is being watered indoors, the same rule applies. You are likely providing bright, indirect light in a proper growing location. Watering late at night still prevents evaporation, and can lead to a waterlogged plant.

Watering Methods

There are several different methods of watering orchids. Each method comes from different schools of thought regarding re-creating the natural environment of the plant.

Here we will discuss the four most common watering practices, and the foundational reasoning behind each. Three of these methods are relatively equal in effectiveness. One is significantly less effective, and can be rather inconvenient as well.

The Ice Cube Method

Watering indoor plants with ice cubes in the pot. They are being used to water the plant, which is growing but appears to have some damage at the roots.
Many gardeners use the “ice cube” method to water their orchids.

Some people swear by this method as the best way to care for indoor orchids. The practice is to place 3 ice cubes on the top of your orchid potting medium once per week. The number of ice cubes should be adjusted up or down based on the size of your plants.

The idea behind this method is fairly simple. In nature, orchids grow in trees, and so the bulk of the water they receive comes from rainwater that drips through the foliage and is slowly absorbed by the roots.

Ice Cube Method Controversies

First, the amount of water from a few ice cubes is not equal to the amount of rain that orchids would commonly have access to. Most orchids live in climates where there is an abundance of rainfall.

However, indoor orchids are not exposed to the same amount of heat and air circulation as those in nature. So, the water evaporates much more slowly. This method ensures that your potting medium does not stay wet, causing root rot.

The second issue is with the temperature of the ice versus the temperature of the water that an orchid would typically receive. Orchids are rather intolerant to cold weather. If their leaves freeze, they will begin to rot as they thaw, and this usually amounts to whole plant death.

There is no proof to back up the idea that the temperature of the water produced by the ice melting will cause damage to the roots of the plant, though.

In general, this method is widely used, and many orchid enthusiasts claim that it works very well for them. The main advantage to this method is that it prevents overwatering.

If you choose this method, just make sure to observe the leaves and any visible roots of your plant. If the roots start to look gray and dry, or the leaves begin to shrivel, you should increase the amount of water given.

The Misting Method

Female gardener misting a plant with a plastic bottle. The plant is healthy and growing with orange blooms. Behind it is another plant with pink blooms.
Misting is the least effective method of watering.

When it comes to misting, there’s one question that can have many different answers depending on who you ask. That question is whether you can mist an orchid enough that it absorbs enough water to survive. The answer is yes, and no.

It is possible to mist your orchid enough to keep it alive. But, you would have to mist it several times every day to achieve this. An orchid is capable of absorbing adequate amounts of water through its aerial roots alone. Their natural growth habit might make this method seem best, but it’s really a rather inferior practice.

This method is inconvenient at best, for most gardeners. It also poses a risk to the health of the plant’s leaves. Their leaves, like their roots, are vulnerable to rot.

If you are misting multiple times per day, there is a strong chance that water will start to collect and pool in the leaves. The solution, of course, is to dry this water out of the leaves after misting. But that, again, is time-consuming and tedious. Trying to give an orchid adequate water through misting is rather impractical.

The Immersion Method

Plant immersed in sink getting watered. The flowers are white with pink centers, and the foliage is green with some yellow leaves.
Some gardeners swear by immersing their orchids in a sink with room-temperature water.

The immersion method involves filling a sink or other container with room-temperature water and immersing the pot and, therefore, the orchid’s roots in the water. The most important factor in this method is the container used to house the plant. A container that drains completely is the best container.

Immersing an orchid once per week, for about 5 minutes, is a great way to water orchids, but if the plant is potted in such a way that the water cannot drain completely, you will experience issues with root rot. In choosing a container, consider the epiphytic nature of the plant. They need plenty of air circulating around their roots.

This method makes fertilizing quite easy, as you can add fertilizer to the water you are immersing the orchid in, and it will absorb all those good nutrients. This is my preferred watering method, as I can be certain that my orchids are getting the water they need.

The Top-Down Method

Watering indoor plants with pink watering can at the base of plant. The watering can is plastic, and there are several plants on a windowsill ledge that need watering. Two are orchids, the others are houseplants.
The conventional watering method is top-down, at the base of the plant.

The final way to water orchids is the conventional method of running water down through the roots from the surface of the potting medium. When watering from the top down, allow the water to stream through the potting medium.

Water until it has been saturated, 30 seconds or more. Orchid pots and potting mix are designed to limit moisture retention. This means it’s important to let the water stream over the roots for long enough that the roots and orchid bark can absorb it.

After watering, it is important to allow water to drain out of the container completely. If there is a dish attached to the bottom of the pot, make sure to tip the pot over so that any water collected in the bottom of the pot drains out. An orchid’s roots should never sit in water.

The idea behind this method is, quite simply, that it is how we water most houseplants. It makes sense to water plants from the top as this is how they are watered naturally. Watering from the top is not without its problems though. Make sure that if watering from the top down, you don’t allow water to pool in the leaves, as this can cause leaf rot.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the manner in which you water an orchid is a secondary factor in the health of the plant. As long as the orchid is absorbing an adequate amount of water and has enough humidity, the most important thing is proper drainage. Their roots need to dry between waterings, or they will begin to rot, which is deadly for the plant.

Limiting waterings to once per week, from the top or bottom, is generally enough to keep an orchid happy. Misting occasionally between waterings is also a great way to give your orchid a moisture boost without compromising the roots. Orchids kept outdoors in warm weather will need to be watered more often than indoor plants. For those grown indoors, twice weekly should be sufficient.

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