How to Water Your Orchid Houseplant Correctly: The Ultimate Guide

There are a lot of important factors to take into consideration when looking after a houseplant orchid, none more important than watering it. If done incorrectly, your orchid may begin to wilt, drop flowers and fail to look like the stunning plant it can be.

Important elements to remember when watering your houseplant orchid are:
– Does your orchid really need to be watered?
– The time of day you water your orchid
– The method in which you water your orchid
– What type of water you’re using
– The pot soil you’re using for your orchid
– Airflow and drainage around your pot

A lot of orchid owners get confused when it comes to watering their plants. They are tropical plants so they must like a lot of water, right?

Kind of.

Yes, they are naturally found in tropical rain forests where it can rain constantly for days, weeks, even months. Orchids however live on trees, far away from the forest floor which is often saturated by those rains. Therefore they have been able to adapt to periods where they may not see rain for weeks. Along with the intermittent rainfall, being situated high up in trees, orchid plants are accustomed to lots of airflow and the increased evaporation that comes along with that.

Obviously you wont be able to mimic this rain forest environment in your own home but there are plenty of actions you can take when watering your orchid to ensure that it continues to grow into the stunning showpiece it can be.

What are the most common mistakes made when watering orchids?

Watering your orchid too much
As mentioned before, whilst orchids can handle lots of water, a big part of their life is in dry conditions. If they are constantly kept saturated the roots can begin to rot, leading to poor water and nutrient absorption, leaves falling and could eventually kill the plant. Orchids would rather be underwatered than overwatered.

Watering your orchid at night
No matter what, do not water your orchid at night. Watering your orchid at night allows water to stagnate in the foliage and crown. This can encourage bacterial and fungal diseases. It is important that orchid plants are dry going into night time to keep them healthy.

Ignoring the plant’s growth cues
Orchids can tell you what they need and their very good at it, too. You can tell when an orchid has enough water by its pseudobulbs and leaves.
Pseudobulbs are thick stems at the base of the plant, they act as storage organs which hold water for use in periods of drought and light rainfall, just like in an orchid’s natural habitat. When these pseudobulbs and the plant’s leaves are fleshy and thick you’ll know that your orchid has a store of water and probably doesn’t need any more at that time.

How to know when your orchid needs to be watered?

As mentioned, orchids are extremely good at letting you know when they need to be watered, they give off many cues. Along with those cues there are other ways to tell if your orchid needs to be watered.

To avoid overwatering, you’ll need to know when your orchid already has enough water. Experienced gardeners will be able to do this by simply picking up the pot that the orchid is planted in. There is a weight difference dependent on the water levels in the soil, the lighter the pot, the dryer it is.

If you’re just beginning or haven’t been able to master this skill yet, there are a few simple tricks you can use to check the moisture levels in the pot.
The first of which is the pencil trick. Get a sharpened pencil and insert it a few inches into the soil. If the wood of the pencil starts to get darker you’ll know that there is enough moisture present in the soil.
The other trick is more like commonsense than a hidden gem of the gardening world. Put your finger in the soil. If your finger is wet, then the soil is wet and there is no need to water your orchid.

Please, please remember that it is better for an orchid to be underwatered than over watered.

So when checking the pot moisture, if you are unsure, wait a day before watering. It is best to be on the safe side and because of this your orchid will thank you.

Why is it important to water your orchid in the morning?

As stated before, a big rule in orchid care is to never water at night. It is important to water your orchid in the morning to ensure that the water that may fall in on the leaves and crown completely evaporates. If you’re not aware, the crown (pictured below) is located just above the soil and is the cluster from which stems and large leaves begin. When the crown holds water and it is allowed to stagnate a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases can arrive and damage the plant.

Watering your orchid in the morning gives any water that may pool in the crown the opportunity to evaporate completely, this process is slowed significantly at night time which is why it is so important to only water in the morning.

What is the correct way to water your orchid?

You are able to somewhat mimic the rain forest environment when you are watering your orchid. The best practice for potted plants is to put them in a sink and turn the tap on for 15-20 seconds. This method is ideal because it will ensure that the velamen (outer layer of cells in orchid roots mainly comprised of empty space) are completely saturated. Just like in their natural environment, orchids should be drenched every now and then.

Some orchid growers take this technique a little further by dunking their orchids in a bucket of water. I think this is unnecessary and a bit more laborious however it leaves you with the same result.

What is the best kind of water to use on your orchid?

Don’t worry, you wont have to go out immediately and get water from the fountain of youth to give your orchids a drink, you don’t even have to use demineralised or salt softened water. Plain old tap water is perfectly fine to water your orchids with. Just make sure that it is lukewarm as water that is too hot or too cold can put the plant into shock.

If you find calcium deposits on your plant, this is most likely because the tap water you have access to has this mineral in an abundance, in this case you will have to search for an alternative water source.

Some growers out there swear by only using natural rain water on their orchids. Again I find this unnecessary, as it will leave you with the same result albeit with extra effort. If you want to show your orchids some extra love then you can also go down this route.

How should you pot your orchid and what potting mix should you use?

What you plant your orchid in is incredibly important to it’s growth and will determine how successful you will be in watering it.

As mentioned before, orchids are used to living in trees, high above the forest floor. Because of this, using a traditional potting mix wont be beneficial as it does not allow for satisfactory drainage and the roots wont be able to breathe.
By adding in an orchid bark mix (made from chunks of tree bark) you will improve the drainage and allow for plentiful air pockets to form. These air pockets allow the roots to be able to breathe just like they would in their natural habitat.
Bark chips also act as something for the roots to anchor to which is important as it allows the plant to grow upwards in a spectacular fashion.

You can purchase orchid specific pots for your plants, these have lots of extra holes to allow for more air to be present at the roots. While these orchid specific pots are helpful, any normal terracotta pot will do the job just fine as long as it has sufficient drainage.

Why is airflow and drainage important when watering your orchid?

If you’re this far into the article you’re probably aware of how important drainage is to orchids. By having the proper potting mix and making sure that the pot you’re using has plenty of drainage holes you shouldn’t have an issue with drainage at all.

When it comes to airflow, orchids naturally receive a lot of it being so high up in trees. Again, by using the right potting mix you can imitate this airflow. It is also important that the pot you’re using isn’t sitting directly on a saucer and that you’re using some sort of spacer or rack to elevate the plant and increase this airflow. This will increase the amount of times you’ll be watering as evaporation will speed up however it will go a long way to helping you grow a beautiful orchid.

So there you have it, the ultimate guide to watering orchids. From when and how to water, right down to the potting mix and pot itself, you now know all you’ll ever need to when it comes to watering your houseplant orchids.

Follow this guide and make use of these tips and you’ll be an orchid master grower in no time. You’ll be rewarded by amazing flowers and an incredible display.

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