Garden & Greenhouse


How to Tell If You Are Over-Watering or Under-Watering your Orchids

Posted April 10th, 2015 by Robin Nichols in ,

OrchidOrchids add beautiful splashes of vivid color to their surroundings and so many people opt to have these rainforest beauties in their homes. These delicate plants have special watering needs though. For this reason, many people unwittingly either over-water or under-water their orchids.

Over-watering of orchids if the most common reason why these household plant don’t flourish as robustly as they should. There is a common misconception about rainforest plants like orchids needing lots of water. However this is untrue because while rain forests do indeed receive a lot of rainfall, only a fine misting of rain ever reaches the forest floor because of the thick canopy of leaves above. So in reality, wild orchids clinging to the trunks of giant rainforest trees only get a sprinkle of water. There are several common symptoms of over-watering in orchids to watch out for.


Mushy Roots

These will be dark looking and very mushy.

Limp Leaves

These will usually have spots or blotches of yellowing and or darkening.

Decaying Leaves

At the base of your leaves near the plant you may see signs of rotting or growths on the underside of leaves.

Overall Lack of Health

The plant will appear to be generally struggling, weak, and lackluster.

There are, however, the well-meaning but overprotective orchid owners who have heard of the evils of over-watering and keep their plants on a strict ration of a few ounces of water once every other week. This most often results in another problem just as serious as the first, and that’s under-watering. One of the most distressing things about an under-watered orchid is that its symptoms are almost identical to over-watering. Therefore, fearing for the life of their precious orchid, these water-shunning owners further abstain from supplying the much needed liquid, and the poor orchid languishes away from thirst. Here’s how you can distinguish under-watering from over-watering.



The biggest difference to help you decide will be that the roots will be thin, dry, and shriveled looking as opposed to the mushy ones of an over-watered orchid.


May have growths, yellow blotches or be thin and dry feeling.


There may be leaf death and rotting as with over-watering, but leaves will be shriveled and pinched looking instead of wet and rotting.

Overall Lack of Health

An under-watered orchid will be stunted, limp, and scrawny looking and will lack the robust green leaves of a healthy plant.

What to Do for Over-Watering

Remove the suffering orchid from its pot and trim off all the rotting roots. Depending on how much damage there is to the plant, this may be a rather brutal process and the plant may appear rather bare of roots afterward. If this happens you should place the root end of the orchid in a plastic bag and put the bagged orchid somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight. This will induce humidity and stimulate the growth of new roots. Repot your orchid in potting mix that provides better drainage and reduce watering to once every 4-7 days.

Monitor the health of the plant and adjust the watering schedule to its needs. Remember to always water during the daytime to allow your orchid sufficient time to dry off during the warm day and before nightfall. Your orchid will slowly put out thick new leaves and begin blooming again.

What to Do for Under-Watering

Remove your orchid from its pot and trim off any dead roots. If all roots are dead then follow the same bagging procedure for orchids that have been over-watered. Repot the orchid in potting mix that retains more water and increase the frequency of watering. In time your plant will begin to develop new healthy green leaves but the old shriveled ones will remain that way. This is normal with orchids recovering from a long dry spell.

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Want more information? Read these articles:

4 Simple Orchid Care Tips For Newbies

Miltonia Orchid Care

The 6 Keys to Brassia Orchid Care

The Basics of Tropical Orchid Care

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3 thoughts on “How to Tell If You Are Over-Watering or Under-Watering your Orchids”

  1. Francine Forrester says:

    Acer bring a gorgeous large orchid home it proceeded to totally shrivel all blossoms and buds, the leaves are folding up and turning yellow. At first I thought over watering but the roots and medium look dry. Thoughts?

  2. Leews lee says:

    i think you must use orchid pots to overcome from this under-waterning and over-watering problems related to orchids.