How Do I Tell if My Orchids Are Overwatered or Underwartered?

Last Updated on August 13, 2022 by Stephanie

The main difference between an underwatered orchid and an overwatered orchids is the fact that their roots change brown and have an achy texture and unpleasant smell because of root rot due to overwatering. the roots of orchids that are underwater shrink in size and exhibit an appearance of gray and shriveled.

Moth phalaenopsis orchids (the most commonly used orchid species in the house) retain water in their leaves and roots. When the orchid is submerged it draws on the moisture reserves, causing roots to shrink and the leaves to curl.

Here is a table of reference to highlight the main distinctions between underwater and over orchids:

It is important to note that growth slows significantly if the orchid is submerged, while growth is more likely to slow down and the orchid will deteriorate faster because of root rot due to overwatering.

It is much simpler to revive an underwatered orchid than an orchid that has been overwatered.

Read on for tips keep from drowning and over-watering your orchids, and also how to repair the orchid…

How to Tell if an Orchid is Underwatered

The signs of an orchid that is underwater are the following: The growth rate is reduced and leaves begin to wrinkle, giving a wilting appearance. The flower buds and flowers disappear or dont grow in any way. The roots of orchids shrink, turning white and papery.

There is an abundance of similarities between the signs of being drowned or overwatered orchid because both cause orchids leaves to become yellow and die and the flowers and buds disappearing.

The main distinction between an underwatered and an overwatered orchid lies in the fact that the underwatered orchid roots shrink, and become papery, but they dont turn brown or feel mushy, or smell decay.

Roots that are brown, rotting and brown are the result of poor drainage.

If the roots of your orchid are changing from a firm, plump appearance to a shrunken appearance, but they do not exhibit any indications of decay turning brown, or smelling bad, then your orchid has been submerged.

Orchids store water within their roots, which is why they be firm when properly watered.

A orchid that is underwater is a plant that draws moisture within the roots, causing the roots to shrink, which is the reason why gray, shriveling roots are usually the first indication of an orchid that has been underwatered.

deep purple orchid

Orchids need to be watered whenever the potting medium appears to be dry. If the potting medium dry completely between periods of watering the orchid is probably underwater.

Orchids can be watered at the appropriate frequency (around every seven days) however, it will still be susceptible to drowning, if not watered enough.

Orchids must be watered with an ample amount of water to ensure they can be cultivated in a potting media that remains evenly damp.

When the orchid has been watered light, just the upper inch or two in the orchids pot medium gets wet, and the roots of the orchid are unable to access the water they need, resulting in an underwatered orchid that has root swollen and shriveled.

The problem of water logging can be exacerbated by other causes, such as:

  • Low humidity (orchids require high humidity and must be misted or placed in a room with a high humidity like bathrooms).
  • Temperatures that are high (orchid prefer temperatures between 55degF (12degC) in the evening as well as 75 degF (23degC) in the daytime If temperatures are too hot, the potting medium gets dry too fast and the orchid exhibits signs of submersion).
  • Dry areas or air flow through forced or conditioned air (strong air currents can strip the orchids leaves of moisture and potting medium, resulting in an underwatered orchid).

How to Fix and Underwatered Orchid

To revive an orchid that has been underwater it is necessary to give the orchid a thorough soak to ensure its potting medium remains evenly humid. Spray the aerial roots and leaves to boost the humidity. Then, cut back the roots that have turned white and then died.

  • Put the orchid into a bowl that is filled with water and let it sit for 10 mins, making sure the roots and the potting medium are submerged. If the orchid is constantly underwater it is the most effective method of instantly hydrating the roots and making sure that the potting medium has the capacity to take in water. The roots will begin to grow and then change color to green.
  • Mist the underwatered leaves of an orchid stems, ariel roots and stems to boost the humidity. Mist the leaves daily while the plant is clearly submerged. The misting process increases the humidity and mimics the humid conditions of the orchids natural habitat to combat the dry air inside and to keep the orchid from losing water through the leaves. You can also purchase an orchid humidifier that can help other tropical houseplants indoors.
  • Take away the roots that are hollow and papery using the sharpest pruners. The orchids roots that have been submerged shrink and become gray. Dead roots are white and papery and dont regenerate. While not necessary however, it is advisable to cut these dead roots because they dont help the orchid, and it is recommended to ensure that they dont decay within the container.
  • Keep your orchid far from any direct sources of heating in the indoor space. It doesnt matter if its the dry air flow of forced air or air conditioning, or even near radiators, put the orchid on the opposite part of your room. Orchids are usually tolerant of room temperatures however high temperatures can cause dry conditions that are contrary to their preference for tropical conditions.
  • Always give orchids an extensive watering to make sure the soil in the pot is equally damp. A thorough soak is vital in order to make sure that roots can get the water they need. One of the main reasons for an orchid to become underwater is not watering enough and therefore, it is essential to use sufficient water to ensure that the excess water flows out of the drainage holes at the base.
  • The orchid should be watered at the point that the top of the potting medium is beginning to dry out. This usually means watering every seven days. It is crucial not to water until the medium has become dry to avoid moving between extremes to the next and excessive watering.

It is much simpler to save an orchid that has been submerged than an orchid that has been overwatered. Make sure to mist the leaves and the roots regularly to encourage the recovery. The orchids roots that are watered should change from being shriveled to a smooth texture.

The leaves are often revived after a regular watering routine is established and misted frequently, becoming plump from wrinkles. appearance.

Sometimes, individual leaves change yellow and then fall off. This isnt necessarily a sign of the orchid has died because new leaves may emerge in active growth when the orchid is in better conditions.

Do not use any fertilizer for orchids while the orchid is submerged because it can encourage growth when the orchid is already stressed.

(Read my article on the best way to bring back an orchid that is dying).

How to Tell if an Orchid is Overwatered

The signs of an overwatered orchid include the roots appear soft and mushy, with a strong smell. the leaves change color from yellow to brown, with a wilting look. When the roots are consistently overwatered, they change from brown and mushy to papery and shriveled that indicates that the roots have been dying back. The flowers and buds could be able to fall off.

There is a great deal of similarity between the signs of an orchids that are overwatered and those that are underwatered The best method to determine if your orchid is dehydrated rather than underwatered is to look to the root and then feel the clay medium.

Moth orchids (the most commonly used orchids for the home) can be described as epiphytes that are found within the trees within their natural tropical habitat and, therefore, require humid, well-drained conditions.

The healthy orchids roots are light grey or green and are firm. They dont have any distinct scent.

If orchid roots are the soil that is overwatered or boggy and they suffer from fungal and root rot that turn the roots soft and brown and rotting look and a foul odor.

When the roots begin to rot and die, they become into the appearance of a gray, papery color. This indicates that the root is dead.

If the roots of orchids are dying, they will not take in water or nutrients that they transport throughout the plants stems, flowers and leaves that causes the leaves to yellow and then wilt, giving the plant the appearance of dying.

The leaves are often brown with spots of yellow that usually indicate fungal illness, which is usually the result of excessive watering.

The flowers are also likely to die when a large portion root systems are dying.

Orchids should be watered only after the potting medium has been allowed to dry slightly. This typically means that orchids shouldnt be kept watered for seven days.

If youre frequently watering your orchid than 7 days, while the medium for potting remains damp, then you may be excessively watering your orchid.

It is crucial to emphasize that the fact that watering can be a problem might not be the sole reason for the orchid to die.

A proper watering schedule has to be paired with a good drainage. It is essential that orchids be placed in a specific orchid potting mix made from pine wood.

This mimics the normal drainage conditions found in orchids native habitat, allowing water to drain quickly after watering , and allowing oxygen to flow around the root.

The issue is that organic pots and potting media decompose over years , which transforms the pine bark pieces into compost. This keeps excessive moisture and restricts the airflow around the roots of the orchid which results in an over-watered, dying orchid.

It is also essential that orchids are planted in containers that have many drainage holes at the base. Also, empty all saucers and trays under the pot frequently to prevent the effects of excessive watering.

How to Fix Overwatered Orchids

To repair orchids that have been overwatered Reduce your frequency for watering, trim off any dying brown roots using pruning scissors and then repot the orchid in an appropriate pot using an orchid-based potting medium to increase drainage and spray the foliage with mist.

  • Reduce the frequency of watering your orchids to around every seven days. The potting medium needs to dry slightly between watering sessions. When the top inch of the potting medium is dry provide the orchid with an extensive soak. The soak and dry cycle of watering mimics conditions of its natural environment and is in line with the orchids needs for water, without putting it at risk of root rot or fungal diseases.
  • Remove the orchid from its pot and examine the roots. The roots that had just been watered are now green and they ought to be a little gray, nevertheless, they should feel firm throughout the watering process. If the roots smell brown, stinky and smelly, cut the roots back using the help of a sterilized pair of pruners to encourage healthy growth or all the way to the root to the base of the plant. Clean the blades with an abrasive-soaked cloth between each snipping to avoid spreading fungal pathogens from rotting or rotting roots to those which are healthy.
  • Repot the orchid using an orchid-specific potters medium. Pine bark-based pots are the best choice for moth orchids because they absorb sufficient water from the orchids roots and yet form a soil structure that drains well to let excess water be able to drain easily. It is essential to change the potting medium when the roots are dying.
  • Mist the orchids roots and stem regularly after the repotting. Orchids are natives to tropical climates, so misting leaves may increase humidity and lessen pressure on orchids following the repotting process.
  • Plant your orchid each 2 to 3 years to reduce the effects of excessive watering. The potting mix for orchids degrades with time, making the potting medium less compact and improves moisture retention and decreases the oxygen levels around the roots, resulting in the signs of an orchid that has been overwatered. Repot your orchid using a new potting media in the spring, in the time when orchids are at their strongest.
  • It is best to plant your orchid inside a transparent plastic container with plenty of holes in the sides and base of the container. Clear plastic pots permit you to see the roots to see if theyre healthful (green or light grey with smooth appearance and a plump texture) and determine whether they appear like they are drowned or overwatered. The holes on the sides of the pot can also assist in circulating air, which helps ensure that the roots are healthy. Then, you can put the pot in an outer, larger decorative pot.
  • Beware of allowing saucers, trays and pots that are outside to collect around the bottom after watering. Remove everything that is under the orchids container to prevent root rot caused by overwatering.

Dont remove any leaves that are yellow as theyre likely to die back and disappear by themselves. If you remove them while the leaves are still attached cause additional stress to the orchid already inundated.

Transparent plastic pots have another benefit of helping to save the orchid that is overwatered. Moth orchids are unique in the sense that their roots are able to photosynthesis (provide energy to the plant via the sun) which is the usual purpose of leaves. (Read my article on selecting the most suitable containers to grow orchids).

Because overwatering can cause leaves to turn yellow and then die back, they are unable to longer photosynthesise.

The orchids roots inside their transparent plastic pots will be able to absorb enough light , and thus energy that allows fresh green plants to grow to ensure that the orchid overwatered can be saved.

(Read my article on the best way to care for orchids).

Key Takeaways:

  • The most effective way to determine whether your orchid is damaged or underwatered is to look to the root. The roots of orchids that are underwater change color and become shriveled in appearance. Overwatered orchid roots become brown soft and mushy with a rotting appearance . They also emit a foul odor.
  • To save an orchid that has been submerged make sure to provide the medium for potting a regular watering. Mist the roots of the leaves and leaves daily to boost the humidity, and protect the orchid from indoor heat sources or air flow from draughts and air conditioning.
  • To save an orchid that has been overwatered cut back the brown mushy roots using pruning tools, change the potting medium to an apricot bark-based mixing and only water the orchid once you notice that the surface on the medium has become dry.


Went from an inexperienced gardener to a half-decent one over 10+ years. I cover anything from general indoor plant guides and lawn care, to succulents and flowers. Super happy to share my tips and tricks with you :)