Watering an orchid in sphagnum moss is going to be quite different compared to when it is potted in bark chips. This is mainly because of the nature of sphagnum moss. It can hold on to water for days on end.
If you are accustomed to caring for orchids potted in orchid potting media, or bark, you’ll have to make some adjustments to your watering routine. Knowing how to properly water your orchid in sphagnum moss is essential. Otherwise, you run the risk of your orchid dying of root rot.
When an orchid is potted in sphagnum moss, you will only need to lightly water it when the moss is nearly dry. Use a chopstick or skewer to test the inner center of the pot. It is better to err on the side of caution, as orchids can tolerate being a little dry better than they can being constantly wet.
Many store-bought orchids or orchids sold at wholesalers are potted in moss these days. If you are accustomed to caring for orchids growing in traditional orchid potting media consisting of bark chips, you may be unsure of how to care for an orchid potted in moss.
You might be wondering, how do you water an orchid that is grown in moss? I’ll answer that question and walk you through the steps below. Keep reading to learn more.
Note: I may use the term “orchid bark” throughout this article. When I say “orchid bark,” I am simply referring to orchid potting media made of bark chips, perlite, charcoal and so on. I did a comparison of orchid potting media, with regards to bark vs. moss, on Everyday Orchids. Please check that out if you are curious to learn more about the differences between the two.
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How Do You Water An Orchid Potted In Moss?
Watering an orchid grown in sphagnum moss is quite different than watering an orchid grown in orchid bark. One of the biggest differences is that you shouldn’t water your orchid every week like you would if it was potted in bark. Weekly waterings for an orchid grown in moss is a sure way to cause root rot and kill the orchid.
Keep in mind that the moss retains water better and longer than orchid bark does. You will need to water these orchids differently and less frequently in order to avoid root rot.
If the orchid is potted in moss, the last thing you want to do is soak the pot. I repeat, do not soak your orchid pot in water if it is potted in moss. This is another difference in watering technique. Normally, for an orchid potted in bark chips, you would soak the pot for at least 5 or 10 minutes.
However, doing so for an orchid potted in moss will only cause the moss to soak up more and more water.
Picture putting a dry sponge in a bowl of water. If you leave it there for 5 minutes, it will soak up as much water as possible until it is dripping wet. That can happen to the moss in your orchid pot if you leave it soaking in water. But unlike that sponge, you won’t be able to wring out the moss.
There is one exception to this and I go over that at the end of this article.
When Should You Water Your Orchid In Moss?
In my experience, I have found that orchids potted in moss only need to be lightly watered once every two weeks on average. Some orchids can go even longer, such as several weeks, without water. This can happen if they are in a larger pot with a lot of moss.
That said, your orchids grown in moss should not be watered on a specific watering schedule. I just gave you that time frame above so you can get a general idea of what to expect.
There is no specific watering schedule if your orchid is potted in moss. You’ll need to check your orchid regularly, at least once a week, to see if it needs water and go from there.
Numerous factors can influence how long the sphagnum moss stays wet, including the size of the pot, the type of pot used, airflow, and the temperature and surrounding humidity levels.
Bigger orchid pots will have more sphagnum moss, and therefore can go longer between waterings. High humidity, minimal air circulation and low temperatures will also keep the moss from drying out.
It is very easy to overwater an orchid grown in moss, so these factors are not something you should not take lightly.
Personally, I check my orchids and their pots every few days, if not every day. Besides looking for pests and new growth, I look to see if they need water yet. If the moss is still slightly damp and the roots on the periphery are still green, I let it go a few more days, then check it again. Rinse, repeat.
You should do the same if your orchids are grown in moss. Rather than stick to a watering schedule, use the methods below to decide when you should water your orchid.
Check If Your Orchid Needs Water
There are a couple of ways to tell if your orchid needs more water.
The Chopstick Method
Use a skewer or a chopstick and carefully place it down the center of your orchid pot, going in about 2 or 3 inches. See if the end is damp, wet or dry when you remove it. That will tell you if it is time to water your orchid.
This is probably the most accurate way of checking the condition of the sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum moss, like a sponge, can really hold on to water for days. The center of the moss may still be damp even if the outer edges of the moss look dry. This is why it is important to use a chopstick or skewer to test the moss in the middle of the orchid pot.
If the end of the chopstick is wet, then you know that your orchid does not need to be watered yet. Wait a few days and check again. If it is nearly dry or dry, you can safely water your orchid.
Look At The Roots
Another way to check if your orchid needs water is to look at the moss and roots. If your orchid is potted in moss, most likely, it will also be potted in a clear plastic nursery pot. You will be able to see the roots and moss inside the pot.
If the roots are still green, then your orchid does not need to be watered yet. The moss in the pot is still damp and providing moisture to your orchid’s roots. You may also see some humidification or condensation on the inside of the pot.
If the roots inside the pot are silvery-gray or dry looking, and the top layer of moss is dry, go ahead and water your orchid. Follow the technique outlined below to water your orchid.
Watering Your Orchid In Moss
Instead of soaking the pot, hold your orchid pot under a running faucet of luke-warm water. Alternatively, you can slowly pour a small amount of water over the moss. Be careful to avoid getting water on the leaves and orchid crown.
Lightly run water over the top of the pot, wetting the top layer of moss. Give the water time to absorb into the moss. The water will slowly move down the pot to the bottom.
Use this method to flush the orchid pot and allow the water to run gently through the sphagnum moss.
Get Rid Of Excess Water
Tip the pot to the side. This will allow any excess water sitting on top of the moss to be poured out.
If there is any water at the base of the pot, remove the outer pot and pour it out. You don’t want to leave a pool of water at the bottom of the pot. The sphagnum moss will just absorb this extra water and stay wet longer. In the long run, this will do more harm than good to your orchid.
When Should You Soak The Orchid Pot?
Unlike with orchids potted in orchid bark, you want to avoid soaking an orchid potted in moss. I went over this above, but again, soaking an orchid pot is a quick and easy way to overwater your orchid.
That said, there is one exception to this rule, and that is if the moss has completely dried out. By that, I mean the moss throughout the pot is bone dry. Perhaps maybe even the orchid is starting to get dehydrated, and the roots are starting to shrivel. In other words, it has been a long time since your orchid has seen some water.
In that case, go ahead and soak the orchid pot in a bucket of water for about 30 seconds. This will give the moss enough time to absorb the water and begin to soften up. However, it won’t be so much time that the moss becomes overly saturated.
Allow the excess water to drain away. As with any time you water your orchids, do this in the morning. This will give your orchid the best chance of draining away excess water before nightfall.
What Problems Can Occur When Using Moss With Orchids?
One of the biggest, and perhaps most obvious, problems is that moss is water-retentive. Sphagnum moss is like a sponge and can soak up 20 to 30 times its weight in water. It will hold on to that water for days.
This is incredibly problematic. Orchid roots can only absorb so much water. Constant exposure to moisture from the surrounding moss will cause the roots to start to rot. Overtime, the roots will die from root rot. The orchid’s leaves will turn limp as the orchid itself starts to die.
In addition, sphagnum moss also expands when wet. As it expands, it takes up the available space in the pot between the roots. This fills the gaps between the roots and takes away the spaces necessary for airflow and circulation. The lack of airflow, in combination with the constant moisture, causes rot and root death.
In short, the problem with potting an orchid in moss is that the moss stays wet for too long. It is easy to overwater an orchid potted in moss.
Obviously, you can’t wring out the moss like a sponge to remove the excess water. Otherwise you’d break and damage the roots!
This makes watering orchids potted in moss very tricky. Too little water and just the outer edges of the moss get wet and the innermost roots don’t receive any water. Too much water and the moss becomes saturated and the roots rot.
Why Do Growers Pot Orchids In Moss?
With all that’s been said about sphagnum moss and how tricky it is to water an orchid in moss, you may be wondering why growers use moss as an orchid potting media to begin with.
Maintains Humidity And Moisture
One reason why orchids are grown in moss is because certain orchid varieties simply need to be kept moist at all times. They would fare poorly if the potting media starts to dry out.
Examples of this would be Miltonia, Miltoniopsis, and Paphiopedilum Lady Slipper orchids. These orchids prefer high humidity, frequent watering and lots of moisture. Potting these orchids in sphagnum moss helps address some of their growing needs.
Another reason why wholesale growers may grow orchids in moss is because keiki orchids, or baby orchids, need a high level of humidity when they are starting out. Sphagnum moss, with its incredible water retention properties, provides just that.
These keikis are started in moss and then, as they grow, are never transitioned into a different potting media. Moss is easy to use and very cheap. The motivation for switching orchids to bark is probably not that high for mass orchid growers.
Convenience and Cost
A third reason why wholesale orchid growers use sphagnum moss is because it saves them money. Sphagnum moss is cheap, much cheaper than traditional orchid bark. It is also lightweight when it is dry, helping companies save on shipping costs.
Also, potting the orchids in moss helps keep the orchids hydrated during the long shipping journey and in the stores. Suppliers then don’t have to worry about keeping up with watering the orchid.
Remember, sellers don’t necessarily pot orchids in moss because it is best for the orchid. It may also simply be best for the companies’ bottom line and for their convenience. As a result, don’t feel as if you have to keep your orchid potted in moss just because that’s how it came from the store.
What Do You Do If Your Orchid Is Potted In Moss?
Honestly, there’s only two things you can do. Learn to live with it, or repot it.
That may sound like a flippant answer, but many orchid growers have learned to deal with sphagnum moss. Some even use it as their preferred potting medium.
Many more orchid growers, including myself, have used sphagnum moss at one time or another. In fact, I have a few orchids right now that are potted in moss.
Sphagnum moss is not all bad. It has a specific place and role in orchid growing. It is best used for growing keikis, saving orchids without roots, or caring for orchids that require high humidity and moisture levels.
Growing orchids in moss takes some getting used to. Once you are attuned with your orchid’s needs and general watering schedule, caring for your orchid in moss becomes quite easy. However, it may take you a few months or several tries to get the hang of it, and that’s ok.
Follow the guide above as you learn how to water your orchid in moss. Just remember to err on the side of caution and that it is safer to let your orchid dry out a little rather than overwater it.
Repot Your Orchid
All that said, if you are struggling with watering an orchid potted in moss, as in orchids keep dying, you may want to switch to a bark-based potting media. I’ve found that it is easier to tell when to water an orchid potted in bark, as opposed to moss.
To be totally honest, this is what I have done with some of my orchids. Once the blooming season is over, I’ve repotted my orchids that were in moss into orchid bark. I personally prefer having my orchids in potted in bark-based media. It gives me peace of mind to know that excess water can easily drain away and I don’t have to worry as much about root rot.
Unlike sphagnum moss, bark-based orchid potting media leaves lots of gaps for airflow around the roots. Plus, I can peek into the pot and see lots of healthy roots growing. I can’t see much with sphagnum moss, and certainly not to the center of the pot. That is where I worry that roots might be dying.
All that said, changing from moss to bark is generally not recommended. This is because of the stress it puts on the orchid. Some orchids have a hard time with the transition from moss to bark. You may see their leaves turn yellow and fall off, or the roots may start to dry out.
If you repot an orchid from moss to bark, you will need to shift your care practices. It’s going to need a lot more TLC during this time after repotting. Pay close attention to the orchid, as it may need more frequent waterings. You will also need to supplement with a humidifier or humidity tray to replace the humidity once provided by the moss.
It may take a few months for the orchid to adjust, and it may lose a leaf or two due to the transplant shock, but be patient. It took some time for my orchids to adjust to the new potting media, but now they are thriving and have rebloomed multiple times over the years.
If you are interested in repotting your orchid and don’t know where to start, check out these guides:
- How to repot your orchid. Step-by-step guide to repotting orchids.
- How to choose an orchid pot. Information about different orchid pots and how to find the right one for your orchid.
- Orchid potting media. This will walk you through how to choose the right potting media for your orchid.
- Alternative potting media. This will give you more information about using sphagnum moss as a potting medium for your orchid.
- Humidity and orchids. Learn why proper humidification is so essential for orchids and their care.
- Five easy ways to humidify your orchids. Here are some easy ways you can add humidity to your orchid’s growing area.
- Bark vs. moss. Learn the key differences between these two growing media and see which is best for your orchid.
When caring for an orchid potted in sphagnum moss, the main thing you want to keep in mind is that moss is water-retentive and can take a long time to dry out. For this reason, don’t water your orchid on a specific schedule.
Instead, use a chopstick or skewer to test the inner center of the orchid pot. Check if the moss there is still damp. If it is, let your orchid go a few more days without watering it and then test again.
When it is time to water your orchid, let the water run over the moss. Allow time for the moss to slowly absorb the water before you add more. Remove any excess water from the upper parts of the moss, as well as the bottom of the pot. As always, do your watering in the morning.
Many orchids sold in the stores these days are potted in sphagnum moss. However, just because your orchid came potted in this medium doesn’t mean that you have to keep it in the moss. Feel free to repot it. Doing so may even save your orchid from dying of mold and root rot.
Hope this helps! As always, happy orchid growing.
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