How to Water Orchids and How Often?

How to Water Orchids and How Often

The probability that the first person you meet on the street when you step out of your house knows what an orchid is and can identify one is proof of the popularity of the orchid.

Orchids are among the world’s oldest plants and certain orchid collectors would not mind betting their last bit of cash contending that orchids are the world’s oldest flowering plants.

Based on a recent discovery of an orchid fossil trapped in amber and dated to be between 45 and 55 million years old, this contention can verily be true.

Orchids are among the most diverse of flowering plants. There are about 30 thousand species of orchids known to man currently and varying amounts of hybrids already developed and still being developed.

These large numbers ensure that orchids claim about 6 to 11 percent of the total number of the planet’s seed plants and nearly equal the number of the world’s bony fishes.

By virtue of this large population, orchids are also quite widespread with orchids having been found growing naturally in every habitat on the planet with the Polar Regions and extremely arid desert areas being the exceptions.

This being the case, orchids can be cultivated by almost anybody in any part of the world and quite easily too. 

Orchids are particularly popular for the long-lasting, sometimes fragrant, and most beautiful blooms they produce.

This popularity is not just a new trend or fad as evidence exists which proves that orchids were found to be relevant in some other human dispensations.

For instance, the ancient Greeks associated orchids with virility and during Victorian England, they were viewed as symbols of luxury.

Again, the Aztecs were known to drink a cocktail of vanilla (which is an orchid specie) and chocolate to obtain strength and power. 

The question then is how are orchids watered and how frequently should they be watered? The following paragraphs will provide details on the watering of orchids.

Why should orchids be watered?

Adequate watering is crucial to the growth and longevity of an orchid. Under-watering and over-watering of orchids should be avoided at all costs as it is absolutely detrimental to the life of orchids.

As a matter of fact, the great majority of diseases suffered by orchids are connected in one way or another with watering.

For instance, basal rot, a fungal disease which causes withering of orchid stems, is usually a consequence of over-watering.

Similarly, bacterial brown spot disease thrives best in wet environments and affects orchid leaves which are allowed to remain wet.

Again, root rot, a fungal infection of orchid roots, is caused by a combination of decomposing potting materials and over-watering. 

What factors affect watering of orchids?

The potting medium, species, temperature, humidity, and airflow are some factors which direct implications on watering of orchids.

A potting medium with a low water retention capacity will require more watering than one with high water retention capacity.

The peculiarity of each orchid specie also determines the watering needs of the plant, hence it is important to be knowledgeable on the individual requirements of your specific orchid.

The lower the temperature of the environment in which the orchid is grown, the lesser the need for water and vice versa. The lesser the ambient humidity in the orchid’s location, the greater the need for watering and vice versa.

The lesser the airflow, the lesser the rate at which an orchid dries out, hence the lesser the frequency of watering. 

How frequently should orchids be watered?

Generally, orchids are best watered about once a week. Outside of this general rule, frequency of watering can be determined by a number of ways.

For instance, the appearance of grey or white roots is a clear prompt for watering as adequately watered roots are green in color.

Again, orchid mix feeling dry to the touch is another prompt for watering. Similarly, the size of the orchid container has direct implications on frequency of watering.

An orchid in a smaller container will ideally be watered more frequently than one in a larger container. The weight of the plant 

Ultimately, the rate of watering orchids should increase in the summer or warmer months and reduce in the winter or colder months.

What kind of water should be used in watering orchids?

Lukewarm or temperate water is preferred. Rainwater is also quite ideal.

Be wary of salt treated water or water having a high calcium content as they may leave certain residue on the plant which might negatively affect the plant’s growth.

The same applies to tap water treated with chlorine. Hence, it is advised that the plant should be watered below its leaves.

This will also prevent water getting in contact with the plant’s crown and which can in turn cause crown rot that can kill the plant.

What time is best for watering orchids?

As a general rule orchid plants are best watered in the morning, especially on sunny days. This will provide the plant with enough time to dry out evenly and water residue to evaporate fully off the orchid.

What are the modes by which orchids can be watered?

Orchids can be watered in any of the following ways – submerging, ice-cubing, or pouring. 

By submerging, the orchid plant is completely dunked into a bucket, sink or other container filled with water. The plant shouldn’t be submerged above the orchid’s crown.

What is most important is that the roots of the orchids are completely submerged and that the velamen is saturated. Leave submerged for about 5 minutes before taking the plant out and allowing it to drain completely.

Because of the draining requirement, this method is best used with orchids planted in pots that have draining holes and that are easily carried about.

By the ice-cubing method, ice cubes (usually one medium sized cube two times a week) are placed on top of the potting medium and under the orchid’s leaves and left to melt.

The ice cubes shouldn’t be in contact with the orchid. This method is easy, improves absorption and avoids overwatering or root rot.

Pouring is more effective for heavier or bigger plants that can’t be moved easily. This is done by directly pouring water into the plant.

When this method is used, water should be poured sparingly to prevent the creation of standing water and the water shouldn’t be poured directly on the plant.

Any water which gets on any part of the plant other than its roots should be dabbed off with a towel.

All of the above are general tips on watering orchids. More specifically here are some tips relating to four of the more popular orchids – Phalaenopsis, Vanda, Cymbidium and Dendrobium orchids.

The phalaenopsis orchid is also known as the moth orchid and is popular as an indoor house plant. Peculiarly, the phalaenopsis can do without watering for long periods provided humidity levels are high.

Ideally, a phalaenopsis orchid grown indoors should be watered once every three days in the summer and once every fortnight in the winter.

Vandas do best in warm temperatures as they have the warm islands of the South Pacific as their native habitats.

As such, vandas love water and can be watered on a daily basis if they are kept in environments imitating the slightly dry but warm climate of the tropics from where they originate.

Cymbidiums make for lovely gifts either as potted plants or cut flowers. They owe their origin to the cooler regions of the Himalayas and Orients.

They are widely cultivated and enjoy frequent thorough watering. Despite this, cymbidiums, like most orchids, are averse to water collecting around their bulbs. 

Dendrobiums and their many hybrids together make up.

The second largest group of orchids. With such large numbers they are widely distributed and cannot be easily pegged into a specific climatic category.

They however prefer increased watering in the spring when new growth emerges. In the spring and summer months, they have roughly the same water needs as phalaenopsis orchids. 

All of the above are valid tips on the watering of orchids.

What You Need To Know About Orchids

Structurally, orchids as a group are distinct from every other flowering plant on the basis of a number of peculiar features which they possess.

These features are solely related to the morphology of their flowers. Particularly, its flowers possess fused stamens and carpels (which are the male and female reproductive parts of the flower) and display zygomorphism.

This means that the orchid plant’s flowers can be bilaterally divided into two mirror halves. In addition it’s flowers resupinate, that is they grow in a twisted fashion and can twist as much as 180 degrees.

Again, they possess highly modified petals and produce millions of microscopic seeds that lack an endosperm and require the action of special fungi to germinate.

Generally, orchids due to their large numbers can be classified variously under a number of headings based on their possessing certain features.

These headings include nomenclature, growth patterns, natural habitat and preferred climate. 

By growth patterns, orchids are categorised as either having a monopodial or sympodial growth habit.

Monopodial orchids are those which grow out of single stem in an upwardly vertical direction. By this growth pattern, the single stem which may be attached to a tuberous root is the site upon which all of the orchid’s parts emerge.

This includes its leaves, flower spikes and blooms. Ideally in monopodial orchids, growth of the stem is continuous with new leaves consistently emerging on alternate sides at the apex of the stem.

The leaves produced by an orchid with a monopodial growth habit are likely to be thick and succulent as they may store nutrients and moisture for the plant’s use during harsh periods.

Monopodial orchids have the potential and tend to grow quite tall reaching several meters above the ground. The production of a terminal spike, which is a spike that emerges from the center of two leaves and forecloses the emergence of any more new leaves, is the sole event that can bring an end to the growth of a monopodial orchid in optimum growing condition.

Monopodial orchids are in the minority as far as the total orchid population is concerned. Examples of monopodial orchids include Vanda, Vanilla and Phalaenopsis. Sympodial growth pattern, on the other hand, is displayed by the vast majority of orchids.

In the case of sympodial growth in orchids, what obtains is that the orchid grows laterally or horizontally on a rhizomatous base. The rhizomatous base acts like a thread to which the plant’s engorged stems and roots are attached.

These engorged stems are known as pseudobulbs and are engorged because they function as storage organs for the plant. Pseudobulbs usually store excess nutrients and moisture for the plant’s use during periods of drought or other harsh conditions.

Pseudobulbs are the principal site of growth in sympodial orchids. Leaves, flower spikes and flower blooms all emerge from the pseudobulb.

Once a pseudobulb is spent, a new pseudobulb emerges at the base of the old one. While the new pseudobulb grows, the older one becomes a back bulb and with its last energy resources, supports the growth of the new bulb.

Once completely spent, the back bulb shrivels and dies off. This cycle is repeated time and time again and thus guarantees the continuity of growth of sympodial orchids.

Examples of sympodial orchids are Cymbidium, Bulphophylum, Cattleya, Oncidium and Dendrobium.

By natural habitat, orchids can be described as being one of the following – epiphytes, lithophytes or terrestrial. Epiphytic orchids are somewhat like parasites on the basis that they grow on a host.

They are more likely to be found growing naturally in the tropical and subtropical parts of the world. An epiphytic orchid has as its preferred habitat, the various parts of other plants.

An epiphytic orchid will most likely be found growing on the bark of tree trunks or clinging to strong lower branches of trees or even attached to twigs on the tree canopies. Epiphytes are able to attach themselves to other plants by virtue of the highly modified root networks they possess.

In the case of epiphytic orchids, their aerial roots are strong and used in attaching to the host to help provide the plant with structure. The comparison of epiphytes to parasites is restricted solely to the point that they grow on hosts.

Unlike parasites, epiphytes do not harm their hosts nor deprive them of the nutrients they are entitled to. Epiphytes absorb needed nutrients and moisture from the environment as well as from organic materials that might collect on the surface of their hosts.

In the case of Orchids, their older roots are covered with a tissue of dead cells known as the velamen which aid it in the absorption of needed nutrients. The points at which epiphytic orchids attach to their hosts is a clear indicator of the amount of light the orchid requires.

Specifically, those attaching to twigs on tree canopies would receive more light than those which prefer to attach at shaded lower points.

Popular orchids that are epiphytic are Oncidium orchids, Miltonia orchids and Cattleya orchids. Lithophytes are pretty much similar to epiphytes with the sole distinction being that the host of lithophytes are rocks and other rock crevices.

This breed of orchids are not afraid of height and grow well at high elevations. They will most likely be found growing naturally in the tropical parts of the world.

Terrestrial orchids are those which grow with some attachment to the ground. This group of orchids usually produce tubers at their roots which can lie just slightly below the soil or many meters deeper underground.

These tubers store nutrients and moisture for the plant’s use. Terrestrial orchids can be found in varied environments including marshes, ravines, boughs, semi-arid desert soil or even sandy dunes.

Terrestrial orchids make up a lesser percentage of the world’s total orchid population. Examples include Stenoglottis, Disa uniflora, Bartholina and Satyrium which all possess underground tubers.

According to preferred climatic conditions, orchids could be cool, intermediate or warm climate orchids. These descriptors are indicators of the temperature ranges within which orchids are at their optimum.

Cool climate orchids prefer environments with lower temperature registers and access to cooling agents such as shade, cold rain or the occasional snow fall. Intermediate climate orchids are better suited to neither too hot or too cold environments.

Warm climate orchids prefer warm humid conditions. Zygopetalums, Miltoniopsis, and Calanthe are each examples of cool, intermediate and warm climate orchids respectively.

In addition, orchids could be deciduous or evergreen that is, naturally shedding leaves on a periodical basis or never shedding leaves. 

Ultimately, orchids are perennial herbaceous plants and as such have the ability to live for more than two years. As a matter of fact, the lifespan of an orchid is not fixed and they can remain alive for an indefinite period of time.

This is subject to them receiving the best levels of care and attention including being provided with access to the right temperature, humidity level, light, potting mix, and fertilizer. In addition to these and maybe most important of all, orchids are to be adequately watered.