As beautiful and unique as they are, orchids require the same environmental conditions as any other plant in order to survive and thrive. These necessary conditions are heat, light, nutrition, water and oxygen, with each individual plant species and family requiring differing amounts of each. Out of all of these factors it’s the watering of orchids that seems to cause the most concern.

The majority of orchid species are part of that specialist group of plants known as ‘epiphytes’. This is a group of plants - mainly found in the tropics - that have turned their back on growing in the ground and instead have made their homes up in the tree canopy.

Because of this, the roots of epiphytic plants have evolved to become more than just a structure used for support, and nutrient and water uptake. In the specific case of orchids they are also used for water storage and - rather impressively – to house chlorophyll pigment so that the roots can produce energy rich sugars through photosynthesis along with their fleshy leaves.

As mentioned previously, in their natural habitat epiphytic orchids live high up in the canopy often secured to a suitable branch. Although this makes them safe from grazing predators it also puts them well out of reach from the ground water. In order to obtain vital life-giving water from their elevated position they have to rely on the rain, damp air or cloud moisture that can condense on the surface of their leaves and roots.

All of this means that to water orchids successfully, it helps to understand the environment they come from.
When buying a shop bought orchid you will notice two things.

1. The ‘root-ball’ of your orchid is growing – I hope – in a clear container and,
2. Your orchid is not grown in compost but rather a course, free-draining bark substitute.

The free-draining bark that the orchid is rooted in is there to prevent the root environment from becoming waterlogged. It is also to mimic – as best as possible – their natural environment in which they are found to be clinging for dear life onto the bark of their host tree. The container is clear so that the orchid roots can continue to photosynthesis using the available light.


There is a simple saying when it comes to looking after orchids which goes like this:

‘Water weekly – feed monthly.’

However it is important to keep the free-draining bark compost moist all the year round so during the summer you may find that watering once a week isn’t enough. When watering the plant, remove it from its pot cover – if it has one - and gently submerge the root-ball. As soon as the root-ball is completely submerged take it out of the water and allow any excess to drain away, After 20 minutes or so place the orchid back into its pot cover. Remember to never allow the root ball to stand in water for extended periods as the roots are designed for growing in the air and can easily become damage. Allow the compost to dry out slightly and for the pot to become lighter before watering again. Avoid water collecting in the crown of the plant as this can cause fungal rots.

Naked Man Orchid - Orchis italica

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