Everything You Need to Know About Watering Orchids at Home

Timeless, elegant, and graceful, orchid plants make sumptuous ornamental centerpieces throughout the home. What’s more, they’re generally pretty easy to take care of and with just a few well-followed pointers yours will have every chance of thriving for a lifetime. Here I’ll share my top tips on how to water orchids properly every time. Remember, nothing scares a plant quite like a poor watering habit which can lead to all sorts of problems down the road. We’ll cover: 

Looking for your next Orchid Plant? See our expert guide to the best nurseries and plant shops delivering orchids throughout the United States.


The Essentials – How to Water Orchids:

Most orchid plants will need to be watered every 5 to 10 days during the spring, summer, and early fall months when the soil base is 90%+ dry. During winter, when the orchid plant enters a period of dormancy watering cycles should be reduced to every 10 to 15 days or when the moisture content present in the soil falls again below 10%. To water the orchid plant, liberally soak the soil in the potting container with either rainwater or filtered water and stop when water begins to disperse from the drainage holes. 


How to Water Orchids – The Key Considerations:

Things to Consider When Watering Orchids

As with all indoor plant care, the unique environmental conditions in your home or office in addition to the variety of plant you’re nurturing will play a role in determining their precise watering needs. 

Temperature and Humidity

The relative ambient temperature will play a pivotal role in how often you’ll need to water your orchid plant. Basic assumptions ring true – warmer conditions are going to accelerate moisture loss in your orchid plant’s soil base. Similarly, cold winters coupled with dry air will suck moisture from the plant’s roots. 

Orchids are native to tropical climates so a little humidity is always beneficial for water retention and absorption into the plant. Cold winters coupled with dry air are going to accelerate moisture loss

Be aware that different types of orchids tend to favor certain climatic conditions as well. There are orchids that do best in cool temperatures, those that prefer an intermediate temp and those who thrive in the heat.

The cool-loving orchids, such as Masdevallia, need about 60 to 70F during the day and 50-55F at night. Intermediate orchids, such as Phalaenopsis, need temps of 70 to 80F by day and 55 to 65F at night.

Heat-loving varieties, such as Dendrobium kingianum, do best in 80-90F by day and 65 to 70F at night. 

The Light Conditions

Light, being a source of energy also produces heat. If your orchid plant sits close to a southern or easterly window throughout the day they’re going to lose moisture faster than those in northerly or westerly facing locations. 

The Seasons

Spring and summer bring new growth and your orchid plant will be at its most virile during these months. Temperatures are also peaking meaning your orchid is going to be far more thirsty than in late fall and winter. 

Whilst watering cycles can be reduced by up to half during the winter months it’s important to remain vigilant and monitor the moisture content in the soil as you’ll never want a bone-dry orchid. Humidity trays or in-room humidifiers are a great addition to help counteract the effects of dry air conditions in many regions.  

The Soil Mix

Virtually all orchids need a potting mix that gives them plenty of drainage. That means that there are plenty of substances in the mix that will allow water to run through them instead of holding onto that water. 

When orchids don’t have proper drainage, the roots will sit in water and can rot or develop fungal infections. Most orchids also need to have their soil dry out virtually completely before they are watered again. However, they also need potting soil ingredients that will help the soil hold onto the water for a short while to make sure the roots get the water they need. 

This delicate balance can be achieved with several potting soil ingredients, including perlite, fir bark, peat moss, lava rocks, coconut fiber and more.  

One of the best investments for many indoor plant parents is to invest in a moisture meter or soil probe to accurately monitor the precise condition of the soil base around the roots of your orchid plant. 

The Potting Container Size

How to Water Orchids - The Potting Container Size

The size, shape, and drainage capacity of your potting vessel are going to play a factor in the volume and frequency of watering cycles as well. 

Orchids will face problems if they have a pot that is too small, but they don’t like a pot that is too large, either. The ideal size for the pot is to estimate the size of the plant’s roots and to get a pot that is just a little larger than that. 

This is more important when it comes to the diameter of the pot than the height of it. No matter what kind of pot you get, make sure that it has drainage holes to keep the soil from staying too moist. 

Drainage

Be sure that both your potting soil and your pot container allow for drainage. If you have a soil type that doesn’t contain anything that lets water drip through, you can add some sand to the soil as well as a few small rocks. 

The Type of Orchid Plant you Have

Orchids are all a part of the same family, but some prefer more water than others. It’s important to find out how much water your exact varietal needs to stay healthy. 

For instance, the popular Phalaenopsis orchids should only be watered when the soil base is at least 90% dry (typically every 7 to 14 days in spring and summer, every 14 to 21+ in winter).  

Sarcochilus orchids need consistent moisture levels in and around the roots so you’ll likely need to top up with some fresh water every 3 to 5 days in spring and summer, and every 7 to 14 days in winter). 

Cattleya, Cymbidium, Dendrobiums, Oncidiums and other orchids that are happy to tolerate a little drought-like conditions can be watered every 7 to 10 days typically.  


When to Water Orchids

When to Water Orchids

Orchids have fascinating roots that work a little differently from many other plants. Most orchids will have roots that burrow into the potting soil as well as roots that snake upward, into the air. These aerial roots take in moisture from the air and are searching for a nearby tree that they can attach themselves to. Be sure to leave aerial roots where they are instead of trimming them away. Aerial roots are another aspect of this plant that makes it special. Orchids also have a special covering at the ends of their roots- the velamen. They soak up water and offer protection to the roots. 

As a general rule of thumb for most orchids, it’s time to water them when the potting soil is either dry or very close to drying out completely. 

Some types will let you know when they need water by looking slightly wilted. However, don’t wait until that point to water them.Your trusty moisture or soil probe (or your index finger if nothing else is available is going to be super helpful). If it feels dry, looks a little dusty, or the soil probe of choice is indicating very low moisture content it is likely time to water your orchid plant. 

Try to Water Early in the Morning: 

Ideally, orchids should always be watered in the morning. This allows the heat of the day to evaporate more of the water. Orchids watered late in the day or at night can lead to stagnant, damp conditions without prevailing light or sufficient heat to support. 


How Often Should I Water an Orchid Plant?

How Often Should I Water an Orchid Plant

As noted, your orchid will have slightly different needs depending on the variety, the time of year and the temperature. The general guideline for orchids is to water every 5 to 7 days in spring and summer and every 10 to 14 days in the fall and winter. 


What Type of Water Is Best for Orchid Plants?

What type of water is best for orchid plants

Orchids can be sensitive about their water. Using tap water is fine as long as there isn’t an excessive amount of chlorine in it. If that’s the case, you can collect rainwater to use or purchase spring water. 

Do not use water that has been salt softened by a water softener. Some tap water can be too high in calcium for orchids. If you notice mineral deposits on your soil when it’s dry, you likely need to start using a different source for your water. The water you use can be room temperature or lukewarm. 


How to Water Orchids?

How to Water Orchids

One of the most important things to know about how to water orchids is the basic time it takes to water them. Orchids are native to rainforests where they are used to torrential rains. When orchids get watered, they should get plenty of it. One way to do this is to fill the sink with water and then dunk the entire container into the water. This helps the roots to get a good amount of water that is enough to send to the rest of the plant. 

Some orchid growers count off 15 seconds as they water theirs. Fundamentally, aim to soak the soil base completely avoiding the foliage where possible. When water starts to disperse into the saucer underneath you can call it job done. Allow the orchid plant to stand for 30 mins then pour away the collected water. 

Should I Mist an Orchid Plant? 

As a general rule, for most indoor plants I’d recommend not misting them as you’re potentially creating an environment for stagnant water to remain on the foliage that can lead to fungal infections and mold (particularly when coupled with cool or damp conditions in the home). A humidifying tray or in-room humidifier is a safer bet every time. 


Overwatering and Underwatering Orchid Plants:

Overwatering or Underwatering orchid plants symptoms and remedies

Overwatered Orchids

Perhaps the biggest threat to the well-being of your orchid plant is too much water. It can be a common occurrence in pots with poor or no drainage as the water can stagnate in the bottom of the potting vessel. This limits the amount of oxygen to the roots of the plant causing a slow but noticeable decaying of the root structure and overall decline in the plant’s health.

The Fix:

Option 1 – is to leave the orchid plant in a bright, relatively warm spot and don’t consider watering again until the soil base has almost completely dried through. This could be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks depending on the time of year.

Option 2 – if things are looking a little more severe your best bet is going to be to re-pot your orchid in a fresh potting container (with drainage). Carefully remove the plant from its current vessel and cut away any of the root structure that appears to be particularly affected by decay. Once complete, repot and monitor carefully over the coming days and weeks.

Underwatered Orchids:

If the leaves and foliage of your orchid plant appear to be wilting, drooping or even dropping there’s a good chance its feeling a little thirsty. Reach for your trusty moisture meter or soil probe to determine just how dry the soil is and proceed to give the orchid plant base a good soaking. Again, monitor closely over the coming days and weeks and top up with a fresh watering cycle once the soil has dried approximately 70 to 80% again.


Wrap-Up 

With a little care and attention, you’ll quickly fall into sync with the particular watering needs of your orchids. Remember, a well-cared-for orchid will reward you with stunning blooms for years to come. Enjoy!


How to Water Orchids FAQ:

The main goal when water an orchid plant is to saturate the entire soil base in the potting container. This can be achieved by submerging in a basin of water (being careful not to get the foliage wet) or with a watering can. Water confidently and with vigor.  

Orchid plants should be watered thoroughly until water begins to disperse through the drainage holes in the potting vessel. The precise volume of water needed will vary based on the orchid plant variety, soil mix, size of the plant, and the pot or planter. 

Both top and bottom watering methods are possible. Generally speaking, most people find it easier to use a watering can to soak the soil base from the top. 

Ideally, aim to water your orchid plants with rain, distilled, or filtered water. Tap water is often overly chlorinated and may contain minerals or nutrients that are unhelpful to the overall health of your orchid plant. 

Author

I’ve long been fascinated with the world of flowers, plants, and floral design. I come from a family of horticulturists and growers and spent much of my childhood in amongst the fields of flowering blooms and greenhouses filled with tropical plants, cacti, and succulents from all over the world. Today, my passion has led me to further explore the world of horticulture, botany, and floristry and I'm always excited to meet and collaborate with fellow enthusiasts and professionals from across the globe.

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