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Watering orchids or dipping? Important tips on proper watering & mistakes to avoid!

Watering orchids is not complicated, but they are different from other houseplants. Improperly watered plants are likely the cause of more deaths than any other reason. Whether you water or dip orchids, read on to learn all the tips you need!

How often to water orchids

There are a few factors that affect watering orchids

Most orchids grown indoors are epiphytes, meaning they live in nature by clinging to trees or even rocks. The roots of these plants are highly specialized organs that are quite different from those of other plants. In general, orchids should be watered once a week in winter and twice a week in warm, dry weather. A plant should not go more than two to three weeks without water or it will begin to die. You can water orchids with three ice cubes per week (about 1/4 cup) to keep the plant hydrated throughout the week.

Understanding the roots of the plant

The best way to find the right watering is to read the roots of your orchid

Orchid roots are surrounded by a paper-thin membrane called velamen. This versatile membrane quickly absorbs large amounts of water, adheres to rough surfaces and promotes the exchange of minerals and salts. Like an expensive water meter, plant velamen is an excellent indicator of your plant’s water needs. Dry velamen is white or silvery, while freshly watered velamen is green or mottled (depending on the species).

The best way to find the right watering is to read the roots of your orchid. Be careful, as most plants would rather be watered a little too little than too much. Orchid roots that are kept constantly wet will rot.

Different potting soils retain water at different rates; clumps of pine bark, for example, hold moisture longer than charcoal or clay pellets. The higher the water retention, the less you need to water. Orchids can also be watered from above or below. Top-mounted plants require more water than non-top-mounted plants. Standard mixes for orchids include fir bark, tree fern fiber, peat moss, perlite and gravel.

Water or dip orchids thoroughly

When you water the plant, do it as if you mean it

When you water the plant, do it as if you mean business. Different gardeners have different rules, but many professional gardeners run their sprinklers for eight or more minutes. Successful home gardeners sometimes submerge their plants, pots and all, in a bucket or sink of water. Some varieties, such as vandas, can stay floating in water for a surprisingly long time. The idea is to make sure the velamen is completely saturated. After watering, tiny droplets should hang from the roots. This means that the plant is fully hydrated.

Watering orchids in bark or wood chips.

Watering or dipping orchids - tips on how to water them properly and mistakes to avoid


Bark is water repellent at first, but if you place the pot in a container full of water, it will retain the water. Fill the planter with water to just below the top. Let it sit for about 10 minutes so that it becomes saturated. Allow the water to drain completely. Be sure to water the entire pot evenly. Water orchids in bark usually every four to 10 days, depending on the plant and how quickly the bark dries out. Replace the orchid bark when the roots grow beyond the edge of the container or it begins to disintegrate and become muddy – usually every two years.

How to water the plants in moss

Sphagnum moss is a fine substrate that can hold water better than bark. It is an excellent substrate for young plants, but it is too hard for the delicate root structures to breathe or vent. The best way to water an orchid potted in Sphagnum is to hold the entire pot under the faucet until water flows freely through the drainage holes. Avoid soaking the orchid’s water-sensitive crown (where the leaves are attached to the stem).

Orchids in other potting mediums

Watering or dipping orchids - here's everything you need to know about watering them properly

Other popular orchid potting substrates include perlite, gravel or stone, and tree fern. Each has advantages and disadvantages, such as water retention, decomposition and root aeration.

Tree ferns are fibers derived from the stems of tree ferns. It is used as the main ingredient in orchid soil. It retains water well except when it begins to decompose; then it loses its water retention and aeration properties.

Perlite, also known as sponge rock, is volcanic glass that is exposed to high heat. Its chemical name is sodium potassium aluminum silicate, which looks like small white Styrofoam balls. It does not rot or remove nutrients from plants. It also does not provide nutrients for orchids , but the substance has excellent water retention and aeration properties. In addition, perlite is easy to find in nurseries, garden centers and on the Internet.

Gravel, stones, charcoal or clay pellets do not decompose like woody media and are reusable after sterilization. However, these media do not store water well, and the plant and its roots can dry out quickly. If you use rocks or gravel-like potting soil as a substrate, water the plant regularly once a week to keep its roots from drying out. To water, hold the pot under a faucet of lukewarm, slow-moving water until water flows from the holes. Allow the plant to drain for 15 minutes.

Common watering mistakes

Watering orchids is not complicated, but they are different from other houseplants


Orchids are tropical plants, right? However, if you’re growing them in your home, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to recreate the environment of a tropical forest with the right airflow, humidity and lighting conditions. Therefore, here are the most common mistakes made when watering orchids:

  • Watering too frequently: orchid plants should never be left in standing water. In many cases, the plant should dry out completely between waterings.
  • Watering at night: no matter what type of orchid you grow, always water in the morning. Always. Watering at night can cause water to stagnate in the tips of Phalaenopsis orchids or in the flower casings of Cattleyas. This encourages bacterial and fungal diseases. Orchid plants should be dry at the beginning of the night.
  • Ignoring the plant’s signals: orchids are pretty good at telling you what they need. During the growing season, the pseudobulbs should be fat and plump, and the fleshy leaves should be held up by the potting soil and be thick. Some deciduous species may shrivel in winter. This is not a bad thing. You should know what you are growing.

Factors that affect watering.

Avoid common mistakes when watering plants

If only there were a simple guide or a little water fairy hovering over your plants telling you exactly when and how much to water. Unfortunately, there isn’t. But that’s one of the reasons people grow orchids. It’s all about balance and instinct – and a lot of patience. Here are some of the factors you need to consider when creating a watering schedule:

  • Species: Make sure you are familiar with your particular species and follow the specific rules for its care. It is best to start with just one or two favorite species.
  • Temperature: The higher the temperature, generally the greater the need for water.
  • Humidity: The higher the humidity in the environment, the less you generally need to water. Humidity is closely related to the type of potting soil you use. Many home gardeners place their pots in a pebble tray filled with water to increase humidity.
  • Airflow: don’t be afraid of a little air movement. Orchids like lots of fresh air, both on the roots (for plants that are on top) and on the leaves. However, more air flow will dry them out faster, so you will need to increase watering.