Orchids need water and humidity. That’s why most people mist their orchids with a spray bottle. But is this best practise? Could it cause more problems than it solves?
Do you need to mist an orchid? You don’t, and it can cause more problems than it solves. While it provides the orchid with a small amount of water and helps control humidity, it can also cause crown rot, a bacterial or fungal infection that kills orchids. Other methods of watering or providing humidity don’t cause this problem. As such, we recommend either bathing the orchid or showering it safely to provide it with water; for humidity, we recommend using a humdifier or a humidity tray. These methods of watering and humidifying don’t cause crown rot if done correctly and make misting obsolete.
The guide below first looks at what misting is, and why you should mist orchids, where to mist orchids, and more. But afterwards, we’ll also look at why you shouldn’t mist an orchid, and even whether misting can kill orchids. The final section will address how to provide orchids with humidity if not by misting them, e.g. with humidity trays and humidifiers.
Should You Mist Orchids?
We don’t recommend misting as a way to water your orchid, nor as a way to raise the humidity to an acceptable level for your orchid. That’s because it causes as many problems as it solves, while other methods of watering/raising the humidity don’t. If misting is somehow your only option for either watering or raising the humidity, then you should use it, but you must be careful and assess whether it really is the only way you can do either of these things.
This doesn’t stop many people using misting as a way of caring for their orchids.
What Is Misting?
Misting is where you spray an orchid (or any plant) with a spray bottle. The idea is to cover the plant in fine drops of water. This achieves two things: first, it provides the plant with a small amount of water, which it may prefer to being watered in a conventional way. But it also raises the general humidity level around the plant, which again it may prefer.
All you need to mist an orchid is a regular old spray bottle. The finer the spray that comes out of the nozzle, the better. A finer spray makes the water evaporate quicker, but that’s what you want. You spray the orchid all over, or just in the particular places you want to spray. When you’re done, the air should feel cool and damp, and there should be a light sheen of droplets on the place that you sprayed. Some orchid growers do this once a day, others much less frequently, and others not at all. We don’t spray our orchids, instead relying on other ways to keep the humidity and water levels up.
Where Do You Mist Orchids?
Some people mist their orchids all over. Others only mist in one or two places and avoid the rest. So if you are going to spray your orchids, where should you spray, and why?
- Should you mist orchid roots? The roots are the most important part of your plant to spray, as they absorb the most water—that’s their job.
- Should you mist orchid leaves? You can, but there’s no real need to, and if you spray too much then you could give your orchid crown rot.
- Should you mist orchid flowers? You can spray orchid flowers. Doing so stops them drying out so much.
- Should you mist in the air around orchids? This instantly raises the humidity in the air, which may be all you’re trying to achieve. The problem with doing so is that if you don’t have a very fine misting nozzle, the water will form large droplets or even pool up around/on your orchids rather than being absorbed into the air. You’ll quickly get mold or rot if that’s the case.
The roots are easily the most important part to spray, so if you’re going to spray anywhere, spray there. Everywhere else is optional.
Can You Mist an Orchid Instead of Watering It?
It is theoretically possible to mist an orchid instead of watering it. But it’s a lot of effort, and it can mask problems that only emerge gradually.
Orchid roots are very good at absorbing water. They don’t typically live in medium in the wild, instead clinging to the sides of trees or other structures. Then when it rains, rain trickles down under, over and around the roots. But whereas other plants take advantage of soil or sand holding onto moisture, orchids don’t have that pleasure. That means they have to absorb as much water as possible while they can. That’s why orchid roots go green so quickly when you bathe them or spray them with lots of water.
There are a few problems with this idea. The first is that you’ll have to mist your orchid a lot to give it the water it needs, whereas you would only have to bathe your orchid infrequently to give it an equivalent amount. It’s therefore more effort on your part.
But more importantly, misting as a form of watering can cause gradual underwatering that’s difficult to notice. You’ll spray your orchid each day, and you’ll see its roots turn a light green; but despite that, your orchid still may not be getting enough water. Very gradually, over time, the symptoms of underwatering may appear—and since they appear so slowly you may not notice them. It is of course possible to switch back to regular watering as soon as you notice these issues, but it’s better not to allow them to happen in the first place.
On the flip side, frequent misting can also cause rot. When orchid roots sit in water permanently, they turn black and soft. Orchids prefer a cycle of watering and drying out rather than having a constant dampness.
Does Misting Kill an Orchid?
There are several problems with misting orchids—and if you’re not careful, you can kill your plant. This isn’t something that will happen overnight, which means that these problems can go undetected for a long time. The rest of this section addresses the many problems that can arise when you mist orchids.
1) Crown Rot
The key problem with misting your orchid is that it precipitates crown rot. Crown rot is where the crown (the top of the stem of the orchid, i.e. the place between the topmost two leaves) contains standing water, which then causes either a bacterial or fungal infection. Crown rot can kill an orchid, and commonly occurs in orchids that are misted frequently. That’s because water on the leaves can travel down into the crown and has nowhere to escape. Further mistings compound the problem by replacing any water that didn’t evaporate, essentially leaving the crown damp 24/7, in which case crown rot will surely occur.
But why does crown rot occur when you spray an orchid, then? If orchids love humid conditions and get covered in tiny droplets of water, just like they do when we spray them, how come they don’t like it when we do it for them?
Well, first of all, crown rot can and does happen in nature. Orchids kept at home can practically live indefinitely, and that’s because we can control the environment we keep them in. We can ensure that our plants live in optimal conditions, and with good care, crown rot in orchids is less common at home than it is in nature.
Something you do have to look out for, though, is the shape of your orchid. Orchids in the wild aren’t guided in their growth. They typically grow at an angle, e.g. wrapped around the side of a tree, with their stem a long way from vertical. As this is the case, it means that water doesn’t get trapped in the crown, whereas it won’t (or at least less will) when the orchid is at an angle. The more water gets stuck in your orchid’s crown, and the longer it’s stuck there, the more likely that crown rot becomes. If you’re spraying your orchids every day, the problem gets worse and worse.
These problems are most obvious in winter, especially if you don’t have much ventilation in the room your orchids live in. This stops the water from evaporating. And if the humidity in the room is already high, then this problem will only get worse. Since most people keep their orchids in moist and humid environments anyway, this problem is especially relevant.
2) Bacterial & Fungal Infection
Orchids can also develop fungal and bacterial infections elsewhere. These form when a spot of water remains in place on a leaf for a long time, anywhere along the leaf from the crown to the tip. If the water stays there a long time, it can form a small, round bacterial/fungal infection that gradually eats away at the leaf from wherever it forms.
This isn’t as serious an issue as crown rot, as the crown is more important than an individual leaf. A leaf might die, but the orchid still has other leaves that it can use to photosynthesize with. The only problem is if the infection spreads, which it will if neither the orchid nor if you can deal with it.
To do so, you can cut the leaf at a point above the infection, i.e. between the infection and the crown. This will completely solve the problem, i.e. it will stop the infection spreading up the leaf towards the crown and from spreading to other leaves.
3) Opening & Closing Stomatas Causes Dehydration
Another problem with misting is that it causes dysfunction in your orchid’s water regulation and gas exchange.
This problem is less easy to understand than crown rot. On the undersides of their leaves, orchids have tiny holes called stomatas. These are like thousands of tiny mouths, opening and closing at regular intervals, allowing the orchid to breathe. If you remember anything from biology class, you probably remember that plants breathe air in, use carbon dioxide as part of the photosynthesis process, and breathe out air with a higher oxygen content. The stomatas are what the orchid breathes through.
What’s even more interesting is that orchids are clever enough to open and close the stomatas wider when it’s beneficial for them to do so. When there’s high humidity in the environment, opening the stomatas wider is one way to take in more water. The problem is that when you spray your orchid, you fool it into thinking that there’s more humidity in the environment than there is; that’s because the water will soon evaporate and the humidity will go back to normal, which doesn’t happen in the orchid’s natural environment. They open their stomatas wider and consequently lose water as they breathe out.
What this means is that it’s possible your orchid loses more water than it gains from you misting its leaves. Misting its roots will probably still be effective, but this is something to bear in mind.
How to Provide Humidity for an Orchid (Without Misting)
While misting may not be perfectly safe, providing humidity is still a good idea for your orchid. There are many ways to do that that won’t result in the same issues above, at least if done correctly. They also allow you to control the level of humidity more accurately.
Buy a Hygrometer
The first thing you should do is buy a hygrometer. People are good at identifying the temperature to within just a few degrees, but when it comes to humidity? We can tell the difference between very humid and very dry, but beyond that, we’re useless—how does 40% humidity feel compared to 60%? And how does temperature play into that, making the air feel more humid or more dry than it really is?
The good news is that you don’t need to figure it out for yourself. If you buy something called a hygrometer, it can tell you exactly what the humidity in a particular room is. Hygrometers are like thermometers but for humidity, and they ‘tell’ the humidity in percentage: 100% being the most humid the air can be, 0% the least humid. You can buy either an analog or a digital hygrometer, or a special hygrometer-thermometer combo. It doesn’t matter which you get, so long as you have one.
The point is that if you go in all-guns-blazing, buying a humidifier and setting up a humidity tray, you could actually get the humidity too high. The hygrometer will tell you your starting point. It will tell you which rooms are more humid than others, how far away from the ideal humidity you are, how much the humidity changes at night compared to the day (or if it changes at all). You can then use this knowledge and adjust the humidity as necessary to provide your orchids with optimal growing conditions.
Pick a Humid Room
You may find that you don’t need to take any special steps to provide humidity for your orchids. Some rooms are naturally more humid than others. The bathroom, for example, is typically more humid because it has several water sources that are used frequently throughout the day. Something as simple as droplets left over from a shower can provide the bathroom with humidity for hours. The basement is often more humid, too, as it’s below ground level. But every house is different, so you may find that your hygrometer tells you that one room or another is much more humid than you expect. If light sources permit, you can move your orchids here and not have to worry about humidity ever again!
Good bets for humid locations include:
- In the bathroom
- In the basement
- In the kitchen (near the sink)
- Near your washing machine and dryer
Try leaving your hygrometer in these locations and checking to see how humid they are.
A humidity tray is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a small tray filled with water that gradually evaporates. This adds moisture to the air. What’s great about humidity trays is that they’re localized. They allow you to raise the humidity around your orchids without raising the humidity level all around your house.
There are a few things you can do to make your humidity tray more effective. One is to add in a small bunch of rocks—enough that they poke through the surface of the water. This breaks the surface tension of the water, meaning that it will evaporate quicker. You can also add something called a surfactant which breaks water tension. The most common surfactant is regular household dish soap. This is perfectly safe to add to the mix. It won’t hurt your orchid if you mix a little into its humidity tray.
A humidifier is the opposite of a dehumidifier. Humidifiers generate air with a high humidity level that’s pumped around the room. Some are large and intended to make whole rooms more humid, while others are smaller and are meant for pet enclosures and similar applications. Which you use is up to you, but a humidifier allows you tight control over how humid the air is around your orchids.
What’s great about humidifiers is that most will automatically sense how humid the air is and correct the humidity level to whatever you set it to. You can tell your humidifier that you want the humidity to stay between 40-50%, and any time it gets lower than that, it will pump out a little more humid air. But it also won’t pump out enough to push the level above 50%. It will essentially do whatever you tell it to do.
This is a great option if you don’t want to spend all day worrying about your orchids. Your humidifier will take care of misting them for you. Just make sure that if you are going to use a humidifier, you’re comfortable with the humidity remaining at the level you set it to; otherwise the room that your orchids live in would become a no-go area!
What Is The Best Way to Water an Orchid?
Watering both provides the orchid with water, and provides it with humidity. That’s because while the orchid will absorb some of the water in its medium, some of it will evaporate into the air and raise the humidity around the plant. As such, methods of watering are relevant to this discussion.
One way of watering orchids is to use ice cubes, which has become very fashionable of late! The idea is to provide a low level of moisture over a longer period. The problem is that no part of an orchid should ever come into contact with ice, as they don’t live in icy, frosty environments. And if your orchids are old like mine are, then there really aren’t many places in the pot to put ice cubes where they wouldn’t be touching a root or a leaf (or a basal keiki). On top of that, you don’t want your orchid to sit in water for a long time, so you have to make sure that all the water is absorbed. That’s extra work. So, you can use ice if you want, but we would class it more as one of those life-hacks that’s not everything it promises than a game-changing way to water orchids.
The best way to water an orchid is to give it a bath. Our orchids have clear plastic inner pots and harder ceramic outer pots, the inner pots having holes for water to run through and the ceramic outer pots being solid. What we do is fill the pot with water and let the orchid sit for about 10-15 minutes. When this time is over, the orchid’s roots will be a bright or deep green, which indicates that they have drunk lots of the water they were sitting in. We then take the inner pot from the outer one, drain the water away, and let the orchids sit for ten minutes. This gets rid of excess water, something we find to be necessary, as if we don’t then there will be a big dribble of water that sits in the pot for the upcoming week until we water them again. This can make the orchids’ roots rot. If you are going to do this, remember:
- Orchid roots need access to air and oxygen, so some of the roots should be left above the water line
- The stem and leaves don’t need to be submerged
- Be careful as you pour water into the orchid’s pots so that it doesn’t enter the crown
- Avoid splashing water from one orchid to another, as this can spread fungus and infection
Should You Mist Orchids Anyway…?
You’re free to care for your orchids however you like. If you’re careful in how you spray and where you spray, and you’ve had success misting orchids you’ve owned before, then go ahead and do so again. So long as you’re aware of the problems it might cause, and you know how to avoid them, there’s no problem.
But if you want the healthiest, prettiest orchids possible, then it might be worth exploring other options. Using a humidity tray instead of misting, for example, could help your orchids live longer, look healthier, and have longer-lasting blooms. If that’s not worth experimenting, we don’t know what is!
How Often to Mist Orchids
If you’re going to mist your orchid anyway, we recommend a) limiting how often you do so, and b) doing so carefully.
Your orchid will benefit from periods of time where it dries out. That’s not to the point where it’s all wrinkly and ugly looking, but rather where the roots stop being that light-green, just-watered color. The top of the medium (if you have any) should be dry to the touch, and you shouldn’t see any water clinging to the inside of your orchid’s pot. If your orchid’s medium is still damp, its roots are still green, and the inside of its pot is still wet or damp, then there’s no point misting it—it has plenty of water to drink, and the gradual evaporation of that water should be enough for it.
When you notice that your orchid’s pot and potting medium are dry, then a misting may be in order. How often you notice this depends on where you live, the season, and how humid the specific room is. But you’ll probably see your orchid in this state about four or five days after it was last watered. Your orchid could happily wait until its next watering, but a mist wouldn’t hurt at this point either.
What Bottle to Use for Misting Orchids
You should use a bottle that has a very fine spray nozzle. The finer the spray, the better. That’s because fine spray dissipates and evaporates far easier than the large droplets you get from some spray bottles. You want something closer to aerosol rather than a garden hose!
As for the bottle itself, there’s no kind that’s any better than another. The kind of regular plastic bottle you can pick up at any big store or garden center is fine.
What Water Should You Mist Orchids With?
Most people use tap water to water or mist their orchids. But depending on where you live, you may have to explore other options. The best option is rainwater followed by soft water, be that filtered, purified, bottled or tap water.
Generally speaking, the more natural your tap water, the better. You want to feed your orchid with water that’s like what it gets in the wild. If the water has been treated heavily, had fluoride added to it, or had other minerals added or removed, it may not be best to feed this to your plant.
That’s because rainwater is naturally soft, while the water you get from your tap may be hard. Water becomes hard when it runs through the ground and picks up the minerals calcium and mangesium. Neither of these minerals will make your orchid burst into flames or implode, but you want to offer your plant conditions that are as similar to those it would find in the wild as possible. To do that, you should give it rainwater or soft water.
If your tap water is hard, you have several options. There are filters that can remove calcium and magnesium from water, effectively making it soft. Or, you could buy purified water or regular soft bottled water. If these options aren’t available, then tap water will do. You also don’t need to load the water with any kind of fertilizer, either for roots or for blooms. Plain water will do fine.