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Getting your watering schedule just right for your orchid plants is essential for their continued good health. I have experimented with different ways to water orchids as well as when is the best time and how to know, so hopefully, I will be able to pass my experience on to you.
First things first, overwatering orchids is the number one problem that kills them off. I found this out the hard way, and so many people ask why their orchid is wilting, turning yellow, and 9 out of 10 times. t’s overwatering, which leads to them rotting off from excess moisture.
That said, there are all kinds of contradictory advice out there about the best way to water an orchid. My best advice is to get to know your orchid’s needs and to pick one of the following watering methods or regimes that best suit your own plant.
A general rule of thumb I go by is, to try and water the day before the soil will be dry, this takes experience and is usually just a case of feeling the weight of the pot, as you will get to know when it feels light and needs watering. The pencil trick is a good one for beginners, stick the end of a pencil into the soil, and if the tip goes darker and attracts moisture, it probably should be left another day. Remember is better for it to dry out for a day than to overwater water.
Factors that affect watering
Before we start, consider these factors that affect the amount of water you need to give your orchid and the frequency of when to water it.
Species of orchid
Different species of orchids have different water needs. It’s easier to develop a watering schedule if you’re just looking after a couple of different types. If you have a wide variety of species, however, make a list of the different types and put notes about when and how to water them by their names. You need this to develop an accurate watering regime. In general, I still find that watering the day before it will be dry is a good guide for all orchids., especially for beginners just getting into orchids.
In general, the hotter the environment is (think summer), the more often the orchid needs to be watered. I have had a lot of luck with growing orchids in the kitchen and bathroom. They thrive on the moisture in the bathroom and don’t seem to need watering as much.
Orchids love a humid environment. In a drier location (in a warm room with central heating in winter, for example), they need more water. I also like to mist my orchids occasionally too.
Some of the ingredients in the orchid potting mix absorb water and release it to the orchid. The more absorbent ingredients you have, the more water you need to provide. Try to choose a compost especially designs for orchids, as this usually has everything they need and they are quite particular.
Air circulation is good for orchids, so encourage this by spacing them apart. However, this also means that they need more water as the moisture evaporates quickly.
When to water your orchid
Watering your orchid is quite a delicate balance. As already mentioned, I always wait until the potting medium becomes dry and then water your orchid plant. This could take a few days or several weeks as its affected by a lot of different circumstances, as mentioned above. I have also found that when the medium is dry, you can see that the roots are a silvery white colour. Now’s the time to water the plant.
Note that if the roots are grey and shrivelled, they’re too dry. Mist them down to increase their humidity.
[Shriveled or spongy black or brown roots are a sign of root rot (usually from overwatering in the first plane); reduce watering. See Preventing and treating root rot for more details.]
A general rule of thumb is to water the orchid plant twice per week in early spring and summer and once per week in fall and winter. But it really depends on your individual plant’s needs.
And always water in the morning – never at night. This gives the plant time to absorb the water but also reduces root rot.
My watering methods when it comes to orchids
From the top
Take your orchid pot to the sink and pour water over the potting mix until it runs out through the drainage holes on the bottom (and maybe the sides) of the pot. Let the excess water drain out, and gently shake the pot to get the last of the moisture. Leave the orchid to drain for 30 minutes. Wipe any water off the leaves and flowers.
Place the orchid pot in a sink with a few centimetres of water. Leave it there for 10 minutes or so to soak up the water, and then drain it. This is a great method as it only absorbs the water it needs and can help reduce the changed of root rot. Just don’t leave it soaking for any more than 15 minutes.
Using ice cubes
Just recently, there’s a school of thought that using ice cubes weekly to water orchids leads to their better health. I have discussed this claim in detail in Should you water an orchid with ice cubes?
I have always used the ice packs that come with my gousto food delivery to water potted plants and have done for a couple of years. Works well.
While not directly part of watering your orchid plant, humidity plays an important part in the plant’s health. Fifty percent humidity is ideal but most homes, especially in winter, don’t reach this level. Increase the humidity around your plant by putting pebbles or gravel in a tray. Pour on the water to a level below that of the top of the rocks and place the orchid pot on them. If you have tillandsia orchid, these can ve misted with a spray bottle and water.
Draining the excess water is key to avoiding a waterlogged plant that leads to disease and even to the death of the plant. Make sure to drain the pot of all left-over water thoroughly.
Wipe or shake any excess water off the orchid’s leaves.
Use rainwater or boiled water for your orchid. These plants are not fond of the chemicals in tap water. And use warm room temperature water (not cold, not hot).
The biggest mistake that orchid growers make is to overwater their plants. This is especially harmful if there are not enough drainage holes in the pot and the orchid roots sit in water. This leads, inevitably, to root rot which often kills the plant.
When you bring a new orchid home, it’s usually packaged in sphagnum moss which retains water. Make sure to place it in the proper orchid potting mix in a pot with drainage holes, at least in the bottom, if not in the sides as well.