Orchids are tropical plants, so you may expect them to need frequent watering. It turns out that they can survive for a surprisingly long time without water. How long depends on the type of orchid, as well as a few other factors.
Given optimal health and conditions, most orchids can survive one to two months without water. If you forgot to water your orchid last week, or plan on going on vacation, this is great news.
Factors That Affect How Long Orchids Can Go Without Water
Just how long they can survive without water depends on several factors. These are:
- The type or species of orchid
- The soil or potting medium used
- Growth Cycle
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.
Species of Orchid
The species of orchid goes a long way to determining how long it can survive without water. Some orchids have evolved to survive periods of drought, while others rely heavily on water.
The good news is, it’s fairly easy to determine if your species of orchid can survive for a long period without water. Drought-tolerant orchids have a cane, or pseudobulb.
This is a fleshy stalk or stem. It can look similar to bamboo, but it’s much softer. For example, dendrobium orchids have canes, while phalaenopsis do not.
Orchids that have a cane are native to areas with drought, while orchids without canes are common in tropical locations with frequent rainfall. This is because the orchid stores water inside its stem.
This is similar to succulents and cacti, which store water in their leaves to see them through long periods without water.
Generally, orchids with canes can go about two months without water, while orchids without a cane can go about one month without water.
Soil or Potting Medium
Some potting materials are better at retaining water than others. Sphagnum moss is excellent at retaining water and is recommended if you will be away from your orchid for a long period of time.
Orchids are often shipped and sold in moss to keep them from drying out during shipping.
However, you don’t want to leave your orchids in moss long term. It doesn’t allow proper airflow, and it will keep the roots moist. This is ideal if you won’t be able to water it for 2 weeks or more, but it’s not an ideal long-term growing solution.
When using moss, soak the moss in water for at least 30 minutes. Then allow the pot to drain. This will help give it a head start on soaking up moisture.
Obviously, the higher the temperature, the faster water will evaporate. Your plant also releases water, similar to the way humans sweat, to cool off in hot temperatures.
If you are going away for a few weeks, it’s tempting to turn the thermostat up to save energy and money. However, you should keep in mind that if the home gets too warm, the orchid will need more water.
Humidity also plays a role in how long your orchid can go without water. The higher the humidity, the longer the orchid can go between waterings.
One reason for this is many orchids, particularly epiphytic orchids, can get some water from their leaves and roots from the air. A higher humidity level also slows the rate that the water evaporates into the air.
You can increase the humidity in your home in a few ways. One option is to use a pebble tray. Choose a shallow tray, and place an inch or two of rocks in it.
Fill it with water below the pebble line, and then place your orchid pot on top of the pebbles. This allows the water to slowly evaporate, increasing the humidity around your orchid.
The other option is to use a humidifier. This is particularly useful in winter when the air gets uncomfortably dry. Place it near your orchid, but not directly beside it.
The final factor that affects how often your orchid needs watering is its growth cycle. Orchids have four parts of their growth cycle.
The first is leaf growth. This is when the orchid produces new leaves. The leaves help it to photosynthesize, so it can move into the next phases of growth.
Next, the orchid will grow more roots. This allows it to take in more water and nutrients, preparing it for the third stage.
The third, and most anticipated stage, is budding and blooming. This stage begins when your orchid produces buds and ends when the blooms die.
The last stage of the cycle is dormancy. This is similar to hibernation in animals. Growth slows or stops. The orchid doesn’t require nearly as much water, and no fertilizer is needed.
Surviving vs. Thriving
An important consideration is surviving vs. thriving. How long your orchid can survive without water is much different than how long it should go without water for optimal health.
This is particularly important when the orchid is blooming, rather than when they are dormant over the winter. If the plant isn’t watered often enough when blooming, the blooms will die much earlier.
Ideally, your orchid should be watered once every one to two weeks for optimal growth.
How Often Should You Water Your Orchid?
So, how often should your orchid be watered to maintain ideal conditions for growth? This will depend on the environment and the type of orchid.
The best rule of thumb is to allow orchids with canes to dry out completely between waterings. Orchids without canes should not be allowed to dry completely.
As you care for your orchid, you’ll learn how often you should water it. First, water it whenever it’s dry, if it has canes, and before it’s completely dry, if it doesn’t have canes.
To determine if it’s dry, just stick your finger about 1 inch into the soil. If this is dry, it’s time to water your orchid.
Summing It Up
Most orchids are fairly resilient when it comes to watering. However, it’s never ideal to allow your orchid to go too long without water.
Most orchids can survive a maximum of one to two months without water. You can safely leave your orchid without water for about two weeks, without worrying.
If you are going to be gone longer than two weeks, follow the steps mentioned earlier to minimize the stress on your orchid, particularly if it doesn’t have canes.