Phalaenopsis orchids are the most readily available orchids and tend to be an orchid newbie’s first; however, many of these beauties don’t come with instructions. Proper watering is key to maintaining a healthy and happy orchid plant, so I’m here to offer up some advice on how to water a phalaenopsis orchid.
First, let me explain the issues with improper watering. When an orchid is over-watered its roots will rot, which prevents the orchid from absorbing water and nutrients; as a result, the plant will die a lot sooner than you’d like. Conversely, under-watering dehydrates the plant and slows its growth, meaning the plant won’t offer up as many of those beautiful blooms. And the blooms are why we buy orchids, right?!
So, how do you know if it’s time to water your orchid? Basically, you want to make sure that the plant isn’t sitting in water but you also don’t want it to completely dry out. A general rule of thumb is to water a phal every 7 to 10 days, but there are a few methods you can use to determine whether your orchid is ready for watering:
- 1. Take a look at the roots. What color are they? Dry phalaenopsis roots are whitish or silvery in color (see top roots in image to the right); moist roots are green (see bottom roots in image). And remember: brown/mushy roots are bad. Aerial roots – those that you can see sticking out of the top of the pot – dry out more quickly than roots deep inside the pot, so simply looking at those won’t tell you about the whole plant’s moisture level. To deal with this you may want to plant the orchid in a clear plastic pot, which will give you a good view of the interior roots. In the example picture, the orchid does not need to be watered.
- 2. If you can’t see any of the roots, here’s a good trick: insert a bamboo skewer into the potting medium (trim the skewer down so that it just fits in the pot). When you think it may be time to water, take the skewer out and feel it. Is it damp? Don’t water yet. If it’s dry, it’s watering time.
- 3. Sometimes you can tell that the orchid needs watering just by picking up the pot. This is especially telling if your plant is in a lightweight plastic pot rather than ceramic or terracotta. If the plant feels light when you pick it up, chances are it has sufficiently dried out and needs more water.
The third method is not as foolproof as the first two, but you’ll get a feel for it over time. I tend to use a combination of the three tricks before watering.
Now that you’ve figured out WHEN to water your orchid, you need to know HOW. First off, water your orchid in the morning to allow extra moisture to evaporate during the day. The simplest method is to water the orchid directly from the faucet. Just make sure that the water is lukewarm; water that’s too hot or too cold can shock the roots. Thoroughly drench the potting medium, but take care not to get any water in the orchid’s crown (the center point from which the leaves grow), as this can lead to rot. If you do get water in the crown (which I do every time even though I try not to!), stick a piece of paper towel in there to soak the water up. Then, let the orchid drain. This is important. To prevent root rot, you want to get as much of the standing water out of the pot as possible.
If you want a visual demonstration on watering, here’s a good video from GrowingWisdom.com. Note that the video talks about fertilizing your orchid, which you should do about once a month. Orchid fertilizing post to come. 🙂
And that’s it — the basics of watering a phal. It may seem complicated, but it’s really not so bad once you get the hang of it. Happy watering!
[UPDATE] Let me also say this: DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT water your orchids using ice cubes. The “ice cube method” is a marketing gimmick that is in no way an appropriate orchid watering method. When growing an orchid in the home you should try to approximate the conditions the orchid would experience in nature. So think about it this way: would three ice cubes magically land on a wild orchid once a week? Very doubtful. 😛
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