How to Properly Water Orchids in Moss: A Complete Guide

When it comes to caring for orchids, understanding the proper watering techniques is crucial for their overall health and longevity.

Orchids grown in sphagnum moss require a different approach compared to those growing in a bark mix potting medium.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the essential tips and techniques for watering Phalaenopsis orchids grown in moss, ensuring their optimal growth and blooming potential.

Let’s dive into the details of each section:

Understanding the Watering Needs of Orchids in Moss

When it comes to watering orchids grown in moss, it’s essential to understand the unique properties of this medium. Sphagnum moss has excellent water retention capabilities, allowing for less frequent watering compared to bark mix.

However, this can also pose challenges if the moss stays wet for too long, potentially leading to root rot. Finding the right balance is key to ensuring the health of your orchids.

Determining the Right Time to Water

Watering When Adequately Dry

Unlike orchids in bark mix, it’s relatively easy to determine when to water orchids in moss. Simply wait until the top half an inch to an inch of moss feels dry.

To assess the moisture level, insert your index finger into the moss and judge its dryness. Once the top portion is adequately dry, it’s time to water your orchid.

To water your orchid, take it to the sink and remove it from its decorative pot if it’s in one. Thoroughly water the sphagnum moss until excess water escapes through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.

There’s no need to measure the amount of water—simply use enough to moisten all the moss.

It’s worth noting that the popular practice of watering orchids with ice cubes is not recommended. Orchids are tropical plants that naturally avoid ice in their environment. Using room temperature water is ideal for their overall health and well-being.

Soaking the Plant if the Moss Has Gone Too Dry

Orchids in moss detest drying out excessively. If you notice the orchid starting to droop, with dry and wrinkly roots, it’s a sign that the moss has gone too dry. In this case, it’s crucial to take immediate action to rehydrate the plant.

To remedy the situation, you can soak the orchid in water. If the plant is in a clear plastic pot with drainage holes, leave it in the decorative pot and fill it with lukewarm water over the surface of the moss. If there’s no decorative pot, you can place the plant in a bowl or small bucket filled with water.

Leave the orchid in the water for at least half an hour to an hour, allowing the sphagnum moss to hydrate.

Once the surface of the moss feels moist, lift the plant out of the water, drain the excess water, and place it back in the decorative pot. You’ll notice that the plant feels heavier since it has absorbed water.

It’s important to avoid letting your orchid in moss dry out to the same extent again, as it can lead to prolonged stress and hinder its recovery.

Repotting Orchids in Moss

One common issue with orchids purchased in sphagnum moss is that the moss is often packed too tightly. While this configuration may work well in a greenhouse environment, it can cause problems in a home setting.

Cooler indoor conditions and reduced light can prevent the moss from drying out quickly enough, potentially leading to root rot.

If your orchid is tightly packed in moss, it’s advisable to repot it to promote better air circulation and prevent excessive moisture retention.

However, if the plant has been growing in sphagnum moss, it may be best to continue using this medium. Transitioning to bark mix is possible but comes with its own pros and cons.

Dealing with Tightly Packed Moss

After your orchid finishes blooming, consider repotting it if you find the sphagnum moss is tightly packed. Loosening the moss will improve airflow and reduce the risk of root rot. When repotting, ensure that you use a well-draining potting mix suitable for orchids.

Choosing Between Bark or Moss for Orchids

Both sphagnum moss and bark mix have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to growing orchids. The choice ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the growing conditions in your home.

Understanding Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss has excellent water retention capabilities, allowing for less frequent watering. It’s particularly suitable for orchids grown in lower humidity levels and higher temperatures.

However, if you’re growing orchids in lower light and lower temperatures, sphagnum moss may retain water for too long, increasing the risk of root rot.

Using clay pots or terra cotta pots can help accelerate the drying process of sphagnum moss. It’s important to avoid following a strict watering schedule and instead wait until the top half-inch to an inch of moss is dry before watering again.

Exploring Bark Mix

Bark mix provides superior drainage and aeration for orchid roots. It closely replicates the natural growing conditions of orchids in their native habitats.

Orchids in bark mix require a more regular watering schedule compared to those in sphagnum moss. A once-a-week soak is a good starting point, but adjust based on your specific growing environment.

If you find that your bark mix dries out too quickly and you don’t want to increase the frequency of watering, you can incorporate sphagnum moss into the mix. A ratio of 1 part sphagnum moss to 3 parts bark mix can help retain moisture while maintaining adequate airflow.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can You Tell if Orchid Roots are Happy?

Healthy orchid roots should appear plump and have a silvery color when dry, turning greenish when wet. Wrinkled or shriveled roots indicate dehydration, necessitating more frequent watering.

It’s important to note that aerial roots may dehydrate even if the roots in the pot appear healthy. Mist the aerial roots regularly to prevent them from drying out.

Mushy, dark, or foul-smelling roots indicate root rot, resulting from prolonged moisture exposure. Prompt action is necessary to address root rot and prevent further damage to the orchid.

What Type of Water is Best for Orchids?

While tap water is generally acceptable for most orchids, it’s essential to avoid using water treated with water-softening systems. These systems often contain sodium, which can be harmful to plants. Rainwater is an excellent option if available.

Using distilled water alone is not recommended by the American Orchid Society, as it lacks essential minerals. If you choose to use distilled water, supplement it with a high-quality orchid fertilizer to ensure your plants receive the necessary nutrients.


Properly watering orchids in moss is essential for their overall health and well-being. By understanding the unique properties of sphagnum moss and following the recommended watering techniques, you can ensure that your orchids thrive and bloom beautifully.

Whether you choose sphagnum moss or bark mix, finding the right balance between moisture retention and adequate airflow is key to successful orchid care. Remember to observe your orchids closely, adjusting your watering routine based on their specific needs. Happy growing!

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