Most orchids are potted in bark or moss instead of soil, so their watering needs are a little different from the rest of your houseplants. Here's what you need to know to do it right.

By Deb Wiley
Updated August 24, 2020

If you're used to growing houseplants in regular potting soil, growing orchids (which usually use either bark or moss instead of soil) might sound like a tricky task. But like other houseplants, watering at the right time is key; too much or too little water, and your orchids won't thrive. Rather than watering them on a schedule (every Tuesday, for example), pay attention to the potting medium you use. The way it looks and feels will give you the best clues about when it's time for more moisture. These tips will help you water your orchids the right way.

white potted orchids lined up on windowsill
Credit: John Bessler

How to Water Orchids Grown in Bark

When watering orchids, the goal is to saturate the bark pieces, not the roots themselves. Always use room temperature water; not cold, not warm. Avoid letting water stay inside the places where leaves meet the stems of an orchid; this promotes rot. If some inadvertently splashes there, wipe it away with a soft cloth or blot with a paper towel.

The best way to water orchids potted in bark is to place the entire pot into a bowl that's at least as deep as the bark line. Pour room temperature water over the bark so it fills the bowl to just below the lip of the pot and let the bark soak for 10 to 15 minutes. If you put water in the bowl first, you're likely to push the bark out of the pot when you sink it into the water. Then, lift the pot out of the water, let all of the excess water drain out, and place the orchid back in bright, indirect light.

Clay pots make excellent vessels for orchid plants because the terra-cotta also absorbs moisture, offering the orchid a little more humidity and water when the bark dries out.

surrounding orchid roots with sphagnum peat moss
Credit: Dean Schoeppner

How to Water Orchids Grown in Sphagnum Moss

Some orchids are grown in sphagnum moss. You can water these from the top, the way you water other plants, but you may find it easier to let it soak in a basin to give the moss enough time to rehydrate. Sphagnum moss holds on to moisture longer than bark, so keep in mind that it could feel dry on top but still be damp inside the pot. Before watering, poke your finger into the moss up to the first knuckle to make sure it's completely dry. Be careful not to overwater your orchids if they're growing in moss, especially if they're in a plastic or glass pot that retains water. Orchid roots need air to grow, and too much water displaces the air, leading to rotting roots.

watering orchid plants with canister
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

How Often to Water Orchids

Watering orchids is more of an art than a science. How often to water depends on a number of factors, including how warm it is in your house, how much light the orchid gets, what type of orchid you have, and what type of potting medium the orchid is growing in. A general rule of thumb is to water once a week for drought-tolerant types of orchids such as cattleyas, oncidiums, dendrobiums, and once every four or five days for others such as phalaenopsis, but always check the potting medium before you water. All orchid mixes should be moistened thoroughly each time you water, then allowed to dry out before watering again.

orchid plants along window sill
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

Should You Mist Orchids?

Misting by hand does not need to be part of your orchid care. The idea is to raise the humidity, but you can do this more efficiently by placing orchid pots on top of a layer of rocks that are sitting in water. You don't want the water constantly touching the bottom of the pot; you just want the evaporating water to humidify the plant. You also can help your orchids by running a humidifier in the room where they are.

Comments (1)

March 20, 2021
Most mass market & florist orchids are sold in a ceramic pot THAT DOES NOT HAVE DRAINAGE HOLES! If you water your orchid in such a pot, you will drown it within 2 to 3 months! However, these plants pretty much ALWAYS have an inner plastic pot that DOES have drainage holes. Lift your orchid and the plastic pot out of the ceramic pot and water it as described in the article. Let it drain for half an hour & you can put it back in its display pot until the next watering. (Submitted by a reader who has been growing and flowering orchids indoors in a cold climate for about 35 years.)