Orchids are popular houseplants that come in myriad varieties, with such a wide array of flowers that the average collector will never run out of options.
Watering these beauties has a reputation for being complicated and tricky, but as long as you understand the requirements of your specific variety, it will become easier as time goes by.
One of the most commonly asked questions by newbie orchid growers is whether you should water an orchid from the top or from the bottom.
The answer is both. Watering from either the top or the bottom is fine for an orchid, as long as you do it properly.
In this article, we will discuss the differences between these two watering techniques to help you figure out which one you prefer. So, if you wish to learn more about correctly watering your orchid, just keep on reading.
Do you water orchids from the top or the bottom?
An orchid can be watered either from the top or the bottom, as long as you do it correctly. Factors that will determine which method is best include the type of potting medium, temperature, humidity, and airflow.
Watering the orchid from the top
Watering your orchid with a stream of water from above is the simplest method. Take the plant and place it in your sink or shower, and either pour water onto the plant or turn on the faucet or shower to let the water stream into the plant’s pot until all of the potting medium is thoroughly soaked.
The temperature of the water is important; make sure it is lukewarm and not cold. Coldwater can shock your plant and damage it. Most orchids are native to warmer climates and are not naturally exposed to cold water.
After soaking the plant with water, allow any excess water to drain out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Watering from the top is best for orchids that are well-hydrated, so this method is great to use for normal watering situations. This method will also help clean the dust from the plant’s leaves and provide the aerial roots with moisture. The stream from the faucet or the shower can also be strong enough to knock off certain pests that may be lurking on the foliage.
After allowing the excess water to drain, you need to remove as much water as possible from the crown and leaves of the plant by turning it upside down and shaking it gently. This will dislodge any water that has collected in the leaves and crown that may otherwise cause rot. Crown rot can be caused by poor air circulation or stagnant water in the plant’s crown, both of which encourage the growth of rot-causing fungi.
If the plant is too big, or the pot is too heavy to turn upside down, you can also just blow on the plant to remove the water, or dry it gently with paper towels.
Make sure you place the plant in a spot where it can get lots of bright, indirect light and good air circulation.
Watering the orchid from below
Watering from below can also be used as your regular watering method. It is especially helpful if the potting medium has become very dry because you forgot to water it for a bit too long. Watering from the bottom will bring the water retention of the potting medium back to normal.
If the potting medium is either sphagnum moss or orchid bark and it becomes very dry, watering it from above might not be sufficient because it is difficult to get these materials properly wet after letting them dry out for too long.
To water from below, prepare a bowl of lukewarm water and place the orchid’s pot in the bowl. Leave it there for 15 to 30 minutes.
Contrary to popular belief, this will not cause your plant to rot. You are only leaving the plant in the water for half an hour as opposed to days, which is the time it would take to actually start developing rot.
If your orchid is very dry and dehydrated, you can even leave the pot to soak overnight. This can be repeated every week until you can see that the plant has completely recovered from dehydration.
Once the 30 minutes are done, take the plant from the bowl and let any excess water drain out before returning it to its original spot.
As long as you allow the orchid’s roots to dry out between waterings, watering it from below is completely fine and is a great option to consider.
Letting the rain water your orchid
During the warmer months, you can take your orchid outdoors and place it in a shady spot, like under a tree.
This way, the plant will be able to get fresh rainwater, which saves you the work of watering the plant. It will also get better air circulation outdoors, which it needs to grow well.
When the temperature drops to 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it can help trigger the plant’s blooming. Just keep in mind that, if the night-time temperature drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time, you may need to bring the plant back indoors.
If you keep your orchid in a smaller pot that you place inside a decorative pot without drainage holes, you will need to empty out the decorative pot after every rainfall so that the plant does not sit in excess water.
When do I water my orchid?
Ideally, you need to water your plant just as the roots or potting medium are about to dry out, but if you are not sure how to tell exactly when that is, a safer bet is just to wait for the potting medium to dry out completely. Remember that underwatering an orchid is better than overwatering it, because overwatering can cause rot which is the more serious problem.
It can be helpful to touch the sphagnum moss or orchid bark to feel whether it is still wet. If it is dry, water the plant, but if it is still even just a little bit damp, wait one or two days before checking again.
Another trick you can use to see if the orchid needs watering is to sharpen a pencil and stick the end into the potting medium. Wait a couple of minutes and remove the pencil. If the sharpened end of the pencil has darkened, that means that the potting medium still has some moisture and you do not need to water it yet. But, if the pencil is still the same color, it means the potting medium is dry and it is time to water the orchid.
If you do not have a pencil, bamboo or any wooden skewer will work just as well.
Also, be vigilant about the humidity where the plant is kept. If the humidity is low, the potting medium will dry out quickly and so will the aerial roots. In a humid environment, you will not need to water the orchid as often.
Can I use ice to water my orchid?
No, do not water your orchid with ice. As we mentioned, orchids are tropical plants and they do not like cold temperatures, including in the water that they are given.
As the ice melts, the cold water that reaches the roots may damage them.
Professional orchid growers do not use this technique, and they know a lot more about orchids than most of us do.
If you leave a few ice cubes on top of the potting medium, it will not be enough to sufficiently moisten it. This method also encourages rot because the cold can kill the roots and leave them susceptible to pathogens that cause rot. It can even go as far as killing the entire plant if it is not treated immediately.
What are the most common orchid watering mistakes?
One of the most common watering mistakes made by orchid owners is giving the plant too much water. Orchids do not like their roots sitting in water for days on end; they need to dry out completely between waterings in order to absorb oxygen. Overwatering can lead to root rot, which can ultimately lead to the death of the orchid if not remedied in time.
Another mistake people often make when watering their orchid is doing so at night. Only water your orchid in the morning, because water given at night is more likely to stagnate in the plant’s growing tips and flower sheaths, and this can encourage the growth of fungi and bacteria.
When you water the plant in the morning, the sunlight helps to evaporate the water on the foliage so that it does not sit on the plant for too long. It is far preferable for the plant to be dry by the time evening comes.
Be observant of any changes in your orchid. In the growing season, if it is well-hydrated, it should have plump and fat pseudobulbs and its leaves close to the base should be thick.
If you are not sure whether your orchid needs water, it probably does not, so it is safer to hold off watering than to carelessly water it.
What are some factors that can affect orchid watering?
It may be intimidating to grow orchids as a beginner, but the longer you handle these plants, the easier it will become. You will develop a better instinct and sense of balance with regard to the plant’s growing requirements.
One of the main factors that affect the watering of your orchid is the potting medium that you use. If you are using bark nuggets, these tend to hold moisture for longer than clay pellets or charcoal. So, the longer the medium holds water, the less often you will need to water it.
In the same sense, if your orchid is mounted, it will be exposed to more air and will dry out much faster than a potted orchid.
There are thousands of species of orchids, and it is safe to assume that they all have different watering preferences, so it is important to research the type of orchid you are growing. If you are new to orchids, limit your collection to one or two species at first so that you do not become confused about how to water them.
The temperature of the room or the place where the orchid is kept is also important because higher temperatures will dry out the potting medium faster.
Orchids love fresh air because most species are epiphytic and have aerial roots that can absorb moisture from the atmosphere. Do not be afraid to expose your plant to some good airflow; as long as the wind is not too strong, the plant should be fine.
You can water your orchid both from the top and from the bottom. Watering from the top is the easier and most commonly used method of the two. Simply place the plant in the sink or shower and let the water flow through the leaves and into the potting medium until it is soaked. This method can also clean the dust off the leaves and knock off any pests. Make sure to let the excess water drip out and to shake or dry off any water that has pooled in the orchid’s foliage.
If watering from the bottom, place the plant’s pot in a bowl of water and the potting medium will absorb moisture through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Leave the plant in the water for about 30 minutes, after which let the excess water drain before returning the plant to its original spot.
Both methods are effective, but watering from the bottom is especially effective if the plant or the potting medium is very dehydrated.
You will know the orchid needs watering if the potting medium has dried out. Touch the potting medium with your fingers, and if the top two inches are dry to the touch, water the plant. If the potting medium is still damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
If you do not want to stick your finger into the potting medium, you can also poke it with a sharpened pencil or a wooden skewer; if the pencil or skewer darkens in color, that means the potting medium is still moist.
Image: istockphoto.com / Maryviolet