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How Often to Water Orchids Indoors

Learn how to water correctly and you'll avoid the #1 cause of orchid death

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how to water orchids

Knowing when and how to water orchids is the most important key to being a successful orchid grower. This article unlocks effective watering techniques. Read on to learn how often to water orchids indoors.

I have experimented with lots of different ways to water orchids. Learning how to properly water orchids took a lot of experimentation and fine-tuning. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get it right, but don’t give up. Orchids are forgiving plants and will be patient. You can totally get this!

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How to Water Orchids in Moss

Using ice cubes to water orchids came about at a means to prevent overwatering. The downside it that it can instead lead to underwatering. Besides, freezing temperatures, in the form of ice cubes, are not orchid-friendly. The orchids that most of us grow are tropical plants.  

How to Water an Orchid with Ice Cubes

If you do want to water orchids with ice cubes the method is simple. Place 2-3 ice cubes on the orchid potting medium. Try to avoid placing the ice on the orchid roots, crown and leaves.

The image below shows a photo of an orchid given to me by a friend. She diligently placed ice cubes on the orchid’s crown which resulted in crown rot-a death sentence for orchids. So if you do decide you like watering orchids with ice cubes, set the ice cubes on the potting medium, not directly on the orchid.

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How to Water Orchids in Moss Without Using Ice Cubes

Sphagnum moss is absorbent-very absorbent. The danger is that by soaking an orchid potted in moss in water the inner core of the moss stays constantly wet, resulting in rotted roots. By giving the orchids ice cubes it is less likely that the orchid roots will sit in water. After all, three ice cubes is only about 2 tablespoons of water.

orchid soaked - watering orchids

To water orchids potted in moss without using ice cubes simply add a couple of tablespoons to the potting medium.

TIP: Because Phalaenopsis orchids do not have any water storage they like their potting medium to be slightly damp. If the moss is even slightly squishy it is moist.

If you are growing Phalaenopsis orchids, the best way that I’ve found to grow them in moss is to pot them kokedama style. This is going to sound really strange, but when I pot kokedama style I wrap the roots around a wiffle ball, then I loosely wrap sphagnum moss around the roots.

The wiffle ball eliminates the problem of having a rotted, wet center. This way the moss provides a layer of moisture around the roots, not a thick ball. I’ve had a lot of success growing Phalaneopsis orchids kokedama style wrapped in moss with a wiffle ball center.

If your orchids are potted kokedama style with a wiffle ball center, you can soak the kokedama in water and you won’t have to worry about rotting the roots. To water, wait until the ball feels almost hard and then set the kokedama in a bowl of water. Several minutes later the moss will have absorbed the water.

Learn the Japanese Art of Kokedama

Ready to Go Potless?

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How to Water Orchids In Bark

Fir bark is a popular potting medium because it is well draining. If there is one thing that orchids don’t like, it is to sit in water. Bark prevents this problem.

There are at least two ways to water orchids that are potted in a bark based potting medium, watering from below and watering from above. No matter which way you water–from below or above–if you pot in bark be sure that when you water, water copiously.

Watering Orchids from Below

To water your orchid from below, set the orchid in a water-filled pot. This way the orchid roots soak up the needed moisture while keeping the crown, with is prone to rot, dry.

If you decide to use this method and water from below, prevent disease by using the same pot with the same orchid each time you water.

TIP: Oncidiums especially benefit from being watered from below as these orchids are prone to leaf spotting. Keeping their leaves dry helps to prevent bacterial growth on their leaves, resulting in spotted leaves.

Watering Orchids from Above

To water orchids potted in bark another method is to water from above by watering your orchids from the faucet . When using this method be sure to use a drain catch for any escaping wood chips. Also, avoid soaking the orchid’s water-sensitive crown.

The biggest benefit to this method is that it is an excellent way to flush the orchid potting medium of fertilizer salts. Even if watering from above using a faucet isn’t your primary means of watering, it is good to use this method at least monthly to flush the salts.

If you find that the faucet is too messy, use a narrow spouted watering can, to avoid the water-sensitive crown.

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A Few Tricks to Determine When to Water Orchids (and When to Hold Off)

Time of Day Matters

Always water your orchids in the morning. This gives the crown time to dry off during the day before nightfall, and prevents crown rot.

Finger Test

Before watering your orchid, check the moisture content in the pot. To tell if the orchid has sufficiently dried out, stick your finger in the growing medium, if it feels almost dry, it is time to water. If you don’t want to stick your finger in the growing medium, stick a toothpick or chopstick in the medium and leave it there for five minutes. Then take it out and see if it is wet.  

Drainage Hole

Look at the drainage hole and check to see of the planting media is dry. If your plant sits in a clear plastic pot that is set inside another pot, gently lift the plastic pot out of the secondary pot and look through the plastic to inspect the planting media. If there is a hole in the bottom poke your finger through and feel for any dampness.  

Heft the Pot

As you become more experienced, you will be able to tell if the plant needs water simply by lifting it. If it feels light, water it.  

Condensation

If your orchid is in a clear plastic pot, it is easy to check for condensation on the sides of the plastic. Wait until there is only a little water condensation to water a Phalaenopsis or Phaphiopedilum. Wait until there is no water condensation to water an orchid with pseudobulbs, such as a Cattleya, Dendrobium, or Oncidium.

Pseudobulbs

Certain orchid varieties have water storage in the form of pseudobulbs, such as Cattleyas and Dendrobiums, and want to dry out between watering.

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Orchids with pseudobulbs have water storage and like to dry out a little between watering.

Answers to frequently asked questions about watering orchids:

How Much Water Do You Give an Orchid Plant? 

The amount of water you give an orchid depends a lot on the potting medium. Sphagnum moss retains moisture. That’s where the ice cube idea came from. Ice cubes prevents orchid growers from overwatering. As ice isn’t the best for these plants, a couple of tablespoons every week will do the trick.

If your orchids are potted kokedama style, with a wiffle ball, as mentioned above, you can soak the kokedama in a bowl of water.

Fir bark is well draining and doesn’t hold much water, especially if the bark is fresh. Over time, as the bark begins to break down it becomes more absorbent. Because it is so well draining, when using bark, water copiously when watering, then allow the water to drain.

A lot of orchids, such as Cattleyas and Dendrobiums like to dry out between watering and bark allows them to do that. I grow all my Cattleyas and Dendrobiums in bark and they do really well. I flush them in water and let them drain. Usually within 7 days, I water them again.

What About Watering Orchids in Winter?

You can tell if your orchid requires a dormant period because these orchids are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall and grow new leaves in the spring. If this is the case, occasionally give the orchid a heavy misting. While dormant, the orchid will look like it is dead, but don’t despair. Come spring the orchid will wake up and rejuvenate. Orchids that require this extreme period of dormancy include Catesetums, Cycnoches and some Dendrobiums and Lycastes.

To slowly wake up a dormant orchid, give it a good soaking around Valentine’s Day and then let it dry out again over the next several weeks.

If your orchid is evergreen it may still benefit from a reduction in water during the winter months. For example, if you were watering weekly during the summer, water every 10 days in winter.  Orchids that benefit from reducing water (include: Some Dendrobiums, some Cattleyas, most Bulbophyllyms and most Coelogynes.

As Phalaneopsis, Vandas and Paphiopedilums do not have water storage in the form of pseudobulbs, continue to provide adequate water for these orchids. Though as temperatures cool the rate they absorb water will lessen.

TIP: When purchasing a new variety of orchid, ask the seller if it is evergreen or deciduous. If it is deciduous, you’ll know that it will need a winter rest. Ask the seller what the recommended winter care is for that orchid.

What About Watering Orchids In Bloom?

Regularly water orchids that are blooming, growing new roots, or new leaves. While some orchids such as Cattleyas and Dendrobiums like to dry out between watering, others such as Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilums like to remain evenly moist.

Evenly moist is an elusive term. The best way I know how to keep an orchid evenly moist is to grow them in a clear, plastic pot. This way I can keep an eye on the potting media and the roots. Water condensation on the sides of the pot is a key indicator the the orchid is moist. I wait to water until most of the water condensation has been absorbed before watering again.

I would also like to add a word about what it means to allow orchids to dry out between watering. For orchids that like to dry out, I recommend potting them in fir bark. This is a well-draining potting mix that allows you to give the orchid a good soaking, but does not retain a lot of moisture.

How do I know if my Phalaenopsis is getting enough water?

You will know if your Phalaenopsis is getting enough water if the leaves are upright and stiff. The roots will be bright green when wet with green or magenta tips. When dry, the roots will be silvery. Wet or dry, the roots will be firm and plump.

An overwatered Phalaneopsis will have mushy roots that have turned black or brown. The roots will be floppy and lifeless. The leaves will droop and will be leathery and floppy.

An underwatered Phalaneopsis will have dry, brittle roots and the leaves will be similar to those of an overwatered Phal, droopy, leathery and floppy.

TIP: Don’t let aerial roots trick you into thinking your Phal is underwatered. Look to the potting medium, the roots growing down in the potting medium and the leaves as watering indicators.

Which Orchid Potting Mix Do You Use and Trust?

In case you are wondering which orchid potting mix I use, here is a link to the bark-based mix I love. I will receive a commission if you purchase through these links.

BARK-BASED ORCHID POTTING MIX

And, here is a link to the sphagnum moss I use and love:

SPHAGNUM MOSS

The Bottom Line

More orchids are killed by over watering than by under watering.  When in doubt, wait a day or two. Another consideration that greatly influences watering and overall plant health is the growing medium for orchids.

Sphagnum moss soaks up and retains moisture, so orchids potted in this medium need less water, less frequently. Orchids potted in fir bark need more water, more frequently.

During winter months, transpiration, or the rate that orchids breathe, slows down. Resulting in a need for less water.

During active growth and when the orchid is flowering, water your orchids regularly as needed.

You’ve got this! When watering, let your orchids be your guide, not your own timetable and your orchids will flourish.

Are You Fertilizing Your Orchids?

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For optimum health, repot your orchid every 1-2 years. Come learn how.

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Check out my EBOOK: WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR GROCERY STORE ORCHID to learn how to care for you Phalaenopsis orchid.

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22 Comments
  1. Bess P Falls says:

    If the air roots are shriveled, I’m guessing that I’m not watering enough. Should I cut off the shriveled air roots

    1. Anna says:

      That is a very good question. Leave the hard, shriveled aerial roots alone and let them do their thing. It’s the roots that are down in the potting medium that will tell you if your orchids need more water. Don’t take watering cues from aerial roots. If they are too unsightly you can cover them with some preserved moss.

  2. Chantile says:

    I ALWAYS tried the ice cube trick, and it never worked. I thought it was just me! Phew! I’ll try your tip from now on, thanks!!!

    1. Anna says:

      Chantile,
      That’s how I started out caring for orchids as well, following the instructions on the care tag. You’re right, ice cubes just don’t work. There are much better ways to water orchids!
      Anna

  3. barbara rowe says:

    Why do my leafs wilt??

    1. Anna says:

      Barbara,
      In most cases limp leaves indicate a watering problem. Look at your orchid’s roots to determine if you are more prone to over or under watering. Then adjust your watering schedule accordingly. Most of us tend to over water our orchids. Over watered roots are limp and brown. Under watered roots are dry and brittle. Another possibility may be that the orchids are too hot. Check out these two posts: Limp Leaves and Temperature and Air Circulation.
      Best of Luck!
      Let me know how it goes.
      Anna

  4. Sherrie Doherty says:

    What do I do about black spots on some leaves?

    1. Anna says:

      Hi Sherrie,
      Follow this link: GETTING RID OF SPOTS ON ORCHID LEAVES
      for more information.
      Let me know if you have anymore questions. I’m always glad to help.
      Anna

  5. Lindie says:

    Thanks for your wonderful advice, my sick babies are now in clear plastic pots so l can see what’s going on but what outer pot do you recommend and is small best ???? 🤔

    1. Anna says:

      Lindie,
      For the outer pots, use a ceramic pot that’s large enough to hold and stabilize the plastic pot.
      About pot size: Orchids like a pot that’s just large enough to contain their roots and allows for a couple of years of growth. Using a pot that’s too large doesn’t allow the center of the pot to dry out and results in rotten roots.
      Thanks for your thoughtful questions,
      Anna

  6. Madonna Spaulding says:

    Hi, after I trim my orchid do I water it still or wait till it gets flowers on it. Can you please let me know? You have great tips.
    Thank you.
    Madonna Spaulding

    1. Anna says:

      Madonna,
      Yes continue to water your orchid. There are some orchids that go dormant during the winter months, but those orchid varieties lose their leaves in the winter. If you are growing a Phalaenopsis or a Phaphiopedilum these orchids do not have water storage and need to be watered regularly. Other orchid may need you to cut back on water in the winter.

      I am going to guess that you are growing a Phalaenopsis orchid. If this is the case continue to water normally.
      Good luck!
      Anna

  7. Beth A-H says:

    Last week, for our 20th wedding anniversary, my darling husband gave me a dozen red roses and eight (yes, EIGHT) orchids! I have always thought orchids were difficult to grow… I think I have a LOT to learn, but I’m picking it up fast. My biggest problem is finding places to put all of them in the correct light. One is a Dendrobium Nobile which I understand can be kept outside until the temperature drops to frost level. The rest are Phalaenopsis. I only have north and south facing windows to work with. Would either of those exposures be okay? Do they need to be on a windowsill or will they get enough light, say on an end table in the sitting room that is perhaps 10 feet from the window? Many thanks for your help. I’m sure I’ll be back to your website many, many times.

    1. Anna says:

      Beth,
      What a thoughtful husband you have! Congratulations on 20 years of marriage!
      I love Dendrobium orchids. It is very helpful that you know which type of Den you are growing. Nobile Dendrobiums are winter-deciduous. So don’t freak out when it loses it’s leaves in the fall.

      In the summer, water thoroughly and regularly. Then, during the fall begin to restrict water as the orchid begins to go dormant. If you can keep the orchid at about 55F for about 3 months in the winter (that’s the hardest part), you will help the orchid prepare to bloom in the spring/summer.

      South-facing windows can provide good light for orchids. If you could keep them 3-5 feet from the window that would be ideal, but you still need to enjoy them. Perhaps leave them where you can best enjoy them while they are flowering and then once the blooms are spent, move them to a more ideal location.
      ~Anna

  8. nancy Roberts says:

    i am using Leca pebbles and a clear plastic pot with slits in edges. should i put that pot in a solid ceramic type or clay type pot? or can it be just clear platic pot alone? I am finging that the slits open to air are better for the orchid, i hope!

    1. Anna says:

      Nancy,
      I have orchids growing in LECA, some with ceramic and some with a plastic outer pot. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong here. I thinks it just depends on your preference. Try both ways and see what you, and your orchids, like best.
      Anna

  9. Kanchan says:

    Thanks Anna for all the info. Will try all the tricks. Where will I get a wiffle ball

    1. Anna says:

      Kanchan,
      These balls are unconventional, but they’ve worked well for my orchids. Here is a link for a wiffle ball. I will receive a commission, if you purchase through this link 🙂

      WIFFLE BALL

      Thanks,
      Anna

  10. Mariet Robinson , Moama, NSW, Australia says:

    Thank you so very much for all of your good advise.
    My husband gave me a Phalaenopsis 14 months ago while he was in hospital. One of the nursing staff purchased it for him to give me. after 4 months of gorgeous flowers it is flowering again! I could squeal with excitement We watched eagerly as soon as a node was visible, at first I thought it was root, no, I ve been rewarded with Three spike, 1 with 11 blooms, 1, 10 blooms and one with 12 blooms.
    Not sure when to repot it though. It is in a glass vase, gravil at the bottom and moss around the roots.

    1. Anna says:

      Mariet,
      Wow! What an amazing orchid! It sounds like your orchid is growing in water culture. I have successfully grown orchids using semi-hydroponics, but I haven’t tried water culture. I will insert a link on how to pot orchids semi-hydroponically since the methods are similar. Be aware that your orchid roots are accustomed to water culture and wouldn’t take kindly to repotting in the traditional way.

      POT ORCHIDS USING SEMI-HYDROPONICS

      Take care! Sending prayers to you and your husband,
      Anna

  11. Dora says:

    I’m Dora Marcone from Entre Rios, Argentina. I like growing Cymbidiums but they don’t flower every year. Will you please give some tips to grow them successfully?
    Thank you very much for all information about orchids.

    1. Anna says:

      Dora,
      It was great to hear from you. The main reason that Cymbidiums fail to bloom is because they don’t get cool enough in the fall/winter. If you have a way to get them down in the 40 F/ 43 C for a few weeks they should bloom for you. These cooler temperatures help set the flower spikes.
      Best of luck to you!
      Con carino,
      Anna

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