Many orchids are epiphytic, meaning they typically hold themselves on other organisms such as trees, getting moisture and nutrients from the air with their aerial roots. They have adapted in a way that water is drawn away from the crown of the orchid, preventing water from reaching it and rotting it. This can be a problem when we care for them in our own homes, so we have to give them the correct pots to prevent this from happening. If you’re wondering, ‘why do orchid pots have holes?’, it’s pretty easy to understand.
In their natural habitat, orchids live in very humid environments. They are usually native to places with tropical forests, semi-arid regions or tundras. These create the perfect environment for an orchid, supplying them with humidities of around 70-80%, the correct temperature and a reasonable amount of water.
As expected, we’re not able to replicate these conditions exactly in our homes, but we can try our best. To increase the humidity in our rooms, we can mist the orchid frequently, get a humidifier or use drip trays. We can ensure the temperature stays stable by keeping orchids away from any doors or windows that are opened frequently, and we can water them when needed.
Watering is one of the most essential aspects when it comes to orchids; or any plant. Without it, plants wouldn’t be able to photosynthesise, meaning they can’t produce food and, therefore, will die. No one likes to go hungry, right? But we have to find the right balance too. Too much water can starve the orchid’s roots of oxygen, which isn’t any good either.
One of the most common beginners will run into is underwatering. This is usually because they don’t understand how much water orchids need and instead tend to give them a few drops every few weeks or an ice cube. These are both unsuitable methods, and I’ll explain why.
When we water our orchids or any plant in general, it’s best to water them thoroughly. This makes sure the roots have received an adequate amount of water, and it also saves us from having to monitor their watering needs every waking hour! Giving icecubes to an orchid is unsuitable, as they cannot handle the drastic temperature changes associated. In their habitats, they have a very stable temperature as it doesn’t vary much in the seasons.
Some common symptoms of an underwatered orchid include yellowing leaves and stems, eventually turning brown. Unfortunately, if it has turned brown, it’s likely that part of the plant has died. The roots may turn grayish-white, indicating that they’re unhealthy. If the orchid has any flower buds, it may also decide to drop them.
We can prevent underwatering by checking the soil’s moisture every few days. I like to do this by sticking my finger an inch deep into the substrate – if it’s still soggy, I’ll hold off on watering until it dries out slightly. Not only does this help us prevent underwatering, but it also helps us avoid overwatering, which I’ll discuss now.
As I said, it’s all about finding the right balance for your orchid. Too much water can kill your orchid, and not enough can kill your orchid. Water demand will vary depending on many conditions, so let’s go over that first.
Water demand is how much water your orchid needs to survive. During flowering, orchids usually have a higher water demand, as they need more energy to keep those flowers and produce seeds. So, when this is occurring, we should increase the amount of water we give our orchids to ensure we’re keeping up with the demand.
Though, there are times when your orchid will need less water than average. Orchids will usually rest for a period after flowering, and after a few weeks, their water demand will gradually decrease. This will return to normal after a while, but as I’ve mentioned, it’s always best to test the moisture of the soil constantly before watering.
Symptoms and Prevention
Symptoms of an overwatered orchid include brown and mushy roots instead of green and plump roots. The leaves may also look leathery, and some may begin to turn yellow; any new growth may look pleated. If you haven’t noticed a pattern already, it’s that orchids like to display their stress through their leaves!
To prevent overwatering, my best method would simply be to use the finger in the soil trick. It’s foolproof; you only need to water the orchid when the soil starts to dry. Though make sure the soil never dries out, as the orchid will die pretty quickly – and any other plant, for that matter. Make sure that when you water the orchid, it doesn’t stand in any excess water that may have drained out for an extended period of time. I usually let them stand in water for about 15 minutes, removing them after that.
Letting orchid roots sit in water is a terrible idea, and it’ll rot them pretty quickly, turning them brown and mushy. Remember – it wouldn’t be exposed to that in nature, so don’t expose it to that in your home!
Hopefully, you should be able to answer this question for yourself after reading this information, but if you can’t, it’s simple! Orchids don’t like to stand in water for long periods of time, so, therefore, the pots need drainage holes to make sure that they aren’t.
You’ll find that on pretty much every plant pot you buy from a garden center or nursery, they all have drainage holes. There are not many that don’t, and those are usually for specific types of plants which can handle large amounts of water. If you accidentally buy one for your orchid, there is no need to worry! If you have one on hand, you can drill through it to create a drainage hole with something like a diamond drill bit. If it’s plastic, you could also do this by heating a sharp object such as scissors or a knife, which is my preferred method.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Should orchids be in pots with holes?
Absolutely! Orchids don’t like to sit in water for long periods of time, so it’s vital that we make sure that any pots we give them have holes. These are referred to as ‘drainage holes’; before buying any pots for your orchids, I recommend checking that they have them. The longest I like to let my orchids sit in water is about 15 minutes after watering to ensure they take up as much water as possible. Any longer may start to rot the roots, turning them brown and mushy, which could lead to the death of the orchid over time.
Do orchids like tight pots?
Orchids prefer somewhere in between loose and tight, just right! Loose pots may hold too much substrate, which could damage their roots, while tight pots may mean they become rootbound too quickly, damaging the orchid’s health. The ratio of the roots to the potting mix should be around equal. Another tip is to make sure to use a suitable substrate for your orchid when repotting them. Otherwise, you’ll find they won’t be happy at all. Airy and free-draining mixes are the best for orchids, such as mixes of perlite and chipped bark. Substrates such as compost are too heavy for orchids and hold too much water, which is unsuitable for them.
When do I need to repot my orchids?
Orchids will need repotting around every 2-3 years. If they are left for longer, you’ll find that they become root-bound, and their growth will slow down, which could cause damage to the orchid. When the leaves hang over the pot’s edge quite prolifically, I like to repot them. Orchids that are root-bound will usually start to put out a lot of aerial roots, which means that it’s looking for water and nutrients elsewhere as the soil below is becoming unsuitable.
Do orchids like to be in a window?
Absolutely. I keep my orchids on a windowsill which faces north, getting just the right amount of light for them. East-facing and west-facing window sills will also work, but south-facing window sills typically get too much direct sunlight for orchids. Orchids can become sunburnt in high amounts of direct light, so it’s crucial that we keep them out of it. If you only have south-facing windows, you can get away with positioning the orchid a few feet away from the window, where it should still get a good amount of light.