I find that orchids are 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 that can lead to many problems down the road.
Orchid plants must be watered every 5 to 10 days during the spring, summer, and early fall. The trick is allowing the soil base to almost completely dry between each cycle. During winter, when the orchid plant enters a period of dormancy, watering cycles should be reduced to every 10 to 15 days. 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. Discard any excess.
When to Water Orchids
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 of orchids will tell you 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, will be helpful). If it feels dry, looks a little dusty, or the soil probe of choice indicates very low moisture content, it is likely time to water your orchid plant.
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 them.
How Often Should I Water an Orchid Plant?
My general guideline for orchids is to water every 5 to 10 days in spring and summer and every 10 to 15 days in the fall and winter.
What Type of Water Is Best?
Orchids can be sensitive to their water. Using tap water is fine as long as there isn’t excessive chlorine in it. If that’s the case, you can collect rainwater or simply use filtered or distilled 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 (I generally recommend not watering orchids with ice cubes).
My Favorite Watering Techniques
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 thoroughly, avoiding the foliage where possible. When water starts to disperse into the saucer underneath, you can call it a job done. Allow the orchid plant to stand for 10 minutes, then pour away the collected water.
Should I Mist an Orchid Plant?
As a general rule, for most indoor orchid 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.
Seasonal and Environmental Considerations
As with all indoor plant care, the unique environmental conditions in your home or office and the variety of plants you’re nurturing will play a role in determining their precise watering needs. With proper care, orchids can live for many years.
Temperature and Humidity
The relative ambient temperature will be pivotal in how often you must water your orchid plant. Basic assumptions ring true – warmer conditions will 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 also tend to favor certain climatic conditions. There are orchids that do best in cool temperatures, those that prefer an intermediate temp, and those that 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, it’ll lose moisture faster than those in northern or westerly-facing locations.
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.
While watering cycles can be reduced by up to half during the winter months, it’s essential 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 plenty of substances in the mix 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 must also 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 ensure 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
The size, shape, and drainage capacity of your potting vessel will also play a factor in the volume and frequency of watering cycles.
Orchids will face problems if they have a pot that is too small, but they don’t like one that is too large. 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.
Ensure that 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 essential 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 tolerate little drought-like conditions can typically be watered every 7 to 10 days.
Overwatering and Underwatering
Perhaps the biggest threat to the well-being of your orchid plant is too much water. It can be common 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 plant’s roots, causing a slow but noticeable decaying of the root structure and an overall decline in the plant’s health.
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 completely dried. This could be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the time of year.
Option 2 – if things look a little more severe, your best bet is to re-pot your orchid in a fresh potting container (with drainage). Carefully remove the plant from its current vessel and cut away any root structure that appears to be particularly affected by decay. Once complete, repot in a suitable orchid potting vessel and monitor carefully over the coming days and weeks.
If the leaves and foliage of your orchid plant appear to be wilting, drooping, or even dropping, there’s a good chance it’s feeling a little thirsty. Reach for your trusty moisture meter or soil probe to determine how dry the soil is, and give the orchid plant base a good soaking. Again, monitor closely over the coming days and weeks and start a fresh watering cycle once the soil has dried approximately 70 to 80% again.
What is the best way to water an orchid?
When watering an orchid plant, the main goal is to saturate the entire soil base in the potting container. This can be achieved by submerging in a water basin (careful not to get the foliage wet) or with a watering can. Water confidently and with vigor.
How much water do you give an orchid?
Orchid plants should be watered thoroughly until water disperses through the potting vessel’s drainage holes. The precise volume of water needed will vary based on the orchid plant variety, soil mix, plant size, and the pot or planter.
Do you water an orchid from the top or bottom?
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.
Can you water orchids with tap water?
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.
How Often Should I Water an Orchid?
Most orchid plants must be watered every 5 to 10 days during the spring, summer, and early fall 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.
The Final Word
With a bit of 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!