How to water orchids correctly – and the common watering mistakes that will harm your plant

The experts reveal how to water orchids correctly, to keep these exotic houseplants thriving and blooming for years to come

How to water orchids
(Image credit: Future)

Orchid care is notoriously particular, given the plant's preference for a rigid set of light, humidity, and temperature standards. But once you understand how to water orchids to help your flower thrive, orchids can be quite straightforward to maintain with the correct orchid care and maintenance.

Orchids belong to one of the largest families of flowering plants, a diverse group that runs to 28,000 different types. They are found pretty much everywhere in the world, and come in all shapes and sizes. Some even grow as tall as three metres. But what really distinguishes these indoor plants is, of course, their fantastic flowers. They come in a huge range of shades from magenta and purple, to yellow and orange, as well as pure white. Some have plain-colored petals while others are splashed or speckled with contrasting colors. 

So if you love the idea of flower-filled shelves, then opt for orchids as these beauties will bloom for months. Give them the right care and the plants will last for years too. Just remember a few key pointers: they like to grow in bright light, enjoy a little humidity and hate being overwatered. Here's how to water orchids for beautiful blooms every year. 

How to water orchids

There was a time, not that long ago, when orchids were grown only by specialist nurseries, to be sold at high prices and mainly to collectors who would show off their exotic blooms to anyone they wished to impress. The advent of micropropagation techniques changed all this and made it possible to produce some species of orchids cheaply and in large quantities. But if there is one element of orchid care that you need to perfect, it is how to water orchids correctly. If you find your orchid wilting, it could be due to incorrect watering.

Pink orchids in pots on windowsill

(Image credit: Alamy)

1. Feed them rainwater

Although orchids are versatile, if you live in an area with hard tap water it’s better to water them with rainwater. Whatever water you use, lukewarm is best. You shouldn’t leave the roots standing in water for long periods, as they will rot. As a general guide, if the leaves are green, your orchid is happy. If silver or white, they could do with a drink, especially if slightly wrinkled. If they’re brown, this could be caused by overwatering. Trim off any affected areas and water more sparingly next time.

2. Mist daily 

It is vital to mist – not water – daily. Aim to water your orchid once a week. In very hot weather, switch this up to every two or three days. In winter, water no more than once every two to three weeks. When watering, dunk the whole pot into a sink or bowl of water and leave it submerged for a few minutes to allow the roots to absorb all the water they need. Or run the pot under a tap for around 20 seconds, allowing water to drain out of the bottom.

3. Plunge in water 

The best way to water an orchid is not to simply pour water into the top of its pot, but rather to give it a weekly plunge into water. Then lift up the pot and let any excess water drain out through the holes in the bottom of the pot. Once it’s well drained, place it on a saucer of gravel. This will help air circulate around it and make sure any unwanted water drains away.

Although it won’t inherently hurt the plant to get water on the leaves, I find that I have fewer problems with leaf diseases and crown rot issues when I keep the leaves dry.

Orchid - top 10 house plants

(Image credit: Yeimy Olivier/Unsplash)

The common orchid watering mistakes

With any new plant you have not grown before there is always the same learning curve: what does it need in terms of temperature, light level and (often the real make or break) how much water and how often. Over and underwatering accounts for more orchid deaths than any other single factor, and the matter is made worse if you correct one by doing the other. 

Knowing when and how to water orchids is one of the more difficult aspects of orchid care to master. Here's what to avoid when it comes to watering orchids: 

  • Watering too often: Orchids should never be allowed to sit in water for long periods of time. In fact, the plant should be dry before watering.
  • Watering at night: This might sound bizarre but no matter what kind of orchid you grow, always water in the morning. Night-time watering allows water to stagnate – often resulting in death. This will also encourage unwanted bacterial and fungal diseases. You have been warned – keep your orchid relatively dry during the night. 

You can find out how often to water orchids in our dedicated guide, or learn about growing orchids in water.

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.