How often do you water an orchid? Expert’s ‘best indicator’ and tips to keep plant alive

Orchid grower provides advice on watering the plants

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Despite their reputation for being difficult, many orchids can be easy to grow as houseplants. Without needing much care, some varieties can bloom every year, or even multiple times a per year, you just need to know exactly how to care for them. Express.co.uk spoke to orchid expert and Head Grower at Love Orchids, Malcolm Gregory about the best way to look after an orchid and how often you should be watering them – including the best ways to water. 

The once expensive exotic plant has become common thanks to tissue-cloning techniques that makes mass production of orchids possible. 

Although you can buy the majority of orchids for under £20, that does not mean you will know how to keep the plant alive at home. 

Orchids can be fussy – or at least mysterious – in their demands, but Malcolm has shared his expert tips for when it comes to caring for your plant and how to water them. 

When to water an orchid 

“The colour of the roots in the pot is the best indicator of when to water, if they are green then they don’t need watering, if they are a silvery grey then they do,” Malcolm explained. 

“Depending on your home conditions and time of year this usually works out watering once a week.

“Other indicators that the orchid does not need water are: – there is condensation on the inside of the pot, the bark is a dark brown or black colour, the bark is damp to the touch or the pot feels very heavy.

“The weight feeling is a useful method to assess the water needs of an orchid in a decorative pot or planter where the roots cannot be seen, or the bark cannot be touched. If it feels light then it needs watering, again usually only once a week or longer, if heavy then it doesn’t,” he added. 

How to water an orchid 

“There are many ways of watering an orchid, each has its own merits and pitfalls,” the expert said. 

“The ‘Dunk and Drain’ method is the one I recommend, especially for beginners to gain experience on the watering needs of orchids which is little and not very often. Take a bowl of water and dunk the pot in to just cover the top of the bark. Take care not to get the plant wet. Leave to soak for a few minutes, take the plant out of the water and allow the excess to drain out.

“A variation is to stand in an outer pot, fill with water to top of bark, allow to soak then drain out. Ensure that the plant is not standing in any water left in the outer pot when replaced in its home. This method uses less water than the bowl one and a lot less than the ‘Soaking from the Top’ way. 

“The ‘Soaking from the Top’ way is simply holding the pot under a tap and soaking the bark, again taking care not to get the plant wet. A watering can or a jug could be used. Again, allow to drain and not have it stand in water in its home.

“If the above methods cannot be employed e.g. if planted up in an outer pot or glass jar and the pot cannot be removed then some way of getting water to the roots must be used,” Malcolm explained. 

“Spoons, egg cups, long spouted mini watering cans have all been used successfully, even the widely debated ice cube method. The key is to use just a small amount of water once a week. The amount and timing perfected as experience is gained. Remember to avoid the ice cubes touching the plant.

“Whatever method is used it is most important not to leave any water in the centre crown of the orchid as it can cause crown rot, the second biggest killer of orchids. Simply remove with a paper tissue if any gets in the crown or leaf axils,” he said. 

As for what is the biggest killer of orchids, Malcolm said “overwatering”. 

You can avoid this “by not constantly standing [the orchid] in water and allowing to dry out between waterings”. 

Signs of overwatering

– Black dead roots rotting off.

– Black bark that starts decomposing.

– Bark doesn’t or takes a long time to dry out.

– Black crown of the plant spreading into leaf joints.

– Yellowing of leaves eventually dropping off.

– Sudden flower or bud drop.

Misting orchids – when to do 

Mist leaves when they are wrinkly to rehydrate if plant has really dried out. 

Mist when roots are suffering to dry bark out to encourage root growth but maintaining plant’s turgidity.

Mist plant during hot spells and humidity is getting low. 

Restrained misting can be used as a watering method if cannot do the Dunk and Drain method.

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How to water an orchid? Our head grower Malcolm has some brilliant tips to keep your orchid healthy! ##Orchids ##phalaenopsis ##orchidcare

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Misting orchids – don’ts 

Don’t let water pool in crown or leaf axils as can cause rot. 

Don’t mist late in day as leaves must be dry at evenings and night, causing rot then if wet, mist mornings only.

Don’t mist in winter as usually not needed unless in very low humidity, high temperature room.

Don’t mist flowers as can cause botrytis spotting rot. Don’t use cold or hot water.

Feeding Orchids

“Phalaenopsis require very little nutrients in the wild, so if feeding orchids use the special orchid feed which is a very weak feed, ordinary houseplant feed can also be used but at least a quarter strength,” Malcolm commented. 

“Overfeeding or using a high strength feed will scorch the roots and kill them, eventually killing the plant.

“Because of this I recommend that beginners do not need to worry about feeding and not bother, also newly purchased plants have enough reserves for a year or so not to require feeding either.”

About Malcolm 

“I have been growing Phalaenopsis orchids for 15 years now, though I have been growing houseplants, ornamentals and vegetables commercially for decades,” he explained.

“During the year that the new orchid house was being built, replacing a collection of older glasshouses, I spent some time working on orchid nurseries in Holland and Germany learning the mysteries of orchid cultivation and production methods.

“I also spent some time on the Dutch nursery that was growing our plants to all stages of growth in production, thus when our orchid house was (nearly) finished and ready, I moved in with a few hundred thousand plants and we were up and running.

“Next job was to pass this knowledge onto the rest of the team, the use of the machinery and the glasshouse and the growing techniques. I am still doing this job now but to a much wider audience,” Malcolm added. 

“This is my second stint of working at Double H Nurseries, the first being five years at the end of the Seventies when I left school. 

“After going to Horticultural College, the next 25 years I spent on my own nursery growing nearly every plant you could think of for selling in my nursery shop and garden centre.

“After working six and a half days a week for many years, I decided to retire and have a sit down. 

“The technical manager at Double H seeing me out walking the dog one day, learning I was no longer working dragged me back to Double H and locked me in one of the glasshouses saying they needed a Grower as we are a rare breed. 

“I have been here since and that’s how I got suckered into orchid production,” he continued. 

“My favourite orchid is the current incarnation of my favourite colouration white blushed pink, currently the variety Pink Clouds. 

“It is my favourite as I think it symbolises me…..the pure white of innocence with a little pink blush of naughtiness!” 

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