Why is Your Orchid Dying?

Last Updated on November 17, 2022 by Stephanie

The reason orchids die usually is due to overwatering or because they were planted in the incorrect medium for potting. The overwatering of potting medias or the mediums for potting that hold excessive moisture creates conditions that cause root rot, which causes the leaves of orchids to turn yellow, wilt and eventually die.

But orchids are tolerant to a variety of environmental conditions that can cause their death.

Heres a table that lists the most frequent orchid deaths:

To save orchids dying, it is essential to cut off any diseased or decaying roots. Then, recreate the conditions that they have in their natural canopy of tropical forests by using more humidity, indirect lighting and well-draining pine bark-based potting mediums and watering every week.

Continue reading to find out the causes of your orchid dying and the best way to fix the issue…

1. Orchids dying due to overwatering (Root Rot)

The most frequent reason orchids die is due to excessive watering. If orchids are watered excessively often, will develop root rot that turns leaves yellow and loses its appearance. In general, orchids need to be watered every week. If youre not watering your orchid more than once per week, this could be the reason the orchid has died.

Signs of excessive watering and root rot:

  • The leaves are yellowing and drooping.
  • Roots become rotten and emit the unpleasant smell.
  • The roots eventually die and become an enveloping texture and white in the color.

The majority of the household orchid species like the phalaenopsis or moth orchids as seen in the image can be described as epiphytes meaning that they grow on trees , not in soil in moist forests.

This means they are accustomed to the growing conditions with excellent drainage, with low humidity and moderate rain.

The reason that the roots grow beyond the potting medium in the manner they do is due to the fact that the orchids are adept at absorbing the water vapor the humid air around them rather than absorbing water out of the soil.

If the orchid is watered excessively often, the potting medium remains too moist for the orchids roots to endure, which causes root decay.

Sometimes, just a few roots begin to rot , which then shrinks to the point of turning into a white paper and cannot carry nutrients and water around the plant, causing the leaves to yellow and drop.

orchid green background

How to Restore Overwatered Orchids that have root rot…

  • The most effective way to save overwatered orchids suffering from root rot is to cut down the amount of watering. Orchids should be watered only every week during summer and spring and every 7-10 days during Fall and winter.
  • Let the potting medium dry and then examine the roots for indications of diseases. Healthy roots appear green (and lighter gray) in appearance and have an enveloping feel. Root rot in orchids may appear like they are brown, and can feel soft or decayed with a smell that is unpleasant. The roots eventually appear white, and then fade away.
  • Take the orchid out of the potting medium , and cut back any dying or diseased appearing roots back to the root of the plant, or to healthy growth. This stops this rot spreading, causes the whole orchid to die.
  • Make use of sterile pruning tools or scissors to slice the roots. Always wipe the blades clean with a cloth that has been soaked in alcohol disinfectant prior to every cut, since this will stop the spread of fungal pathogens to healthy areas of plants.
  • All roots that are either gray or green, but arent rotten, can be revived and continue to work properly.
  • After youve cut back the roots that are diseased, replant your orchid in a new pine bark-based potting medium to increase drainage. or plant it in an entirely new container (with drainage holes at the bottom) or wash the existing pot with disinfectant and plant your orchid again.
  • The orchid should be given a good bath after replanting it in the new potting medium . This will help reduce the shock of transplanting and then water it once more after one week.
  • Sometimes, the leaves of orchids remain dead and eventually, they fall off. Orchids can actually photosynthesizing through their roots, so even if the leaves fall off, the orchid could still be able to recover.
  • The orchid should be misted every couple of days to ensure a moist micro-climate that mimics the humid conditions of its natural environment. This helps reduce stress following cutting back the orchids roots.

The likelihood that the orchid will recover is contingent on how long it was overwatered and the number of roots that are decaying or dying.

If the majority of root systems are dying back or are damaged, the orchid will not be able to recover. The healthier the roots that are left, the more likely the orchid will be of regaining its health.

The most crucial steps are to trim back dying or diseased roots and then replant them in a new pine-based potting media as this will stop spreading rot. Also, The pine bark potting medium dramatically improves drainage, which lowers the chance for root rot.

Plant orchids in pots that have drainage holes at the base , allowing excess water to drain after the watering. (Read my article on selecting the most suitable orchid pots).

2. Orchid Dying Due to Underwatering

If the orchid isnt regularly watered or is it is watered in a way that is too light, the roots of the orchid are unable to get the moisture or water the vapor they need, and cause root die back and the leaves of the orchid to fall and become yellow.

The suggestion that orchids dont require much water can be wrongly interpreted by growers meaning that orchids must be watered using only tiny amounts of water.

When you are watering orchids in a way that is too light it is only the upper inch or two of the potting medium gets wet, and the water will not get to the roots that are deeper within the medium.

This causes drought stress, which causes roots that have the inaccessibility to water, to shrink in size and then die back. If there are less healthy roots, then there is less nutrients and water drawn up , which leads to the leaves falling and becoming yellow.

Orchids need to be watered at least once every week during the spring and summer months with a good soak to ensure that the excess water drips out of the pot. Watering should be done once every 7-10 days during winter and fall when the plants growth slows due to less sunlight.

If you water your orchids less frequently than once every seven days, your orchid is drowning and that is the reason of the leaves becoming yellow and the plant dying.

(Read my article on what is the best time should orchids be watered?).

3. Potting Medium Retains Too Much Moisture Around Orchids Roots

Orchids may turn yellow and then wilt when they are placed in soil or moss base potting mediums. Tropical orchids grow naturally in trees, not soil, and are more suited to an air-conditioned pine bark-based potters medium. The soil and moss hold excessive water and hinder air circulation, which results in death of the orchid due to root decay.

The vast majority of the orchids that grow in our gardens are tropical Moth (phalaenopsis) orchids that grow among other tropical trees, which means their roots do not get rooted in soil, like the majority of species.

So potting media that are moss or soil base do not permit sufficient circulation of air or water vapor around roots, and also retain excessive moisture, which can cause the conditions that cause root rot.

The restriction of air circulation (which hinders the roots breathing) within the root as well as the root rot caused by too much humidity can cause the leaves of orchids to turn brown and causes them to die. Flowers may also drop off in the early signs that stress is present.

The root of orchids changing from a plump and healthy dark grey or green shade to grey and shriveled roots that ultimately die back.

The less healthy roots that the orchid has , the less nutrients and water they will absorb and move throughout the plant, causing the leaves to die then turn yellow, and then fade back.

It is crucial to remember that orchid roots are unique in the sense that they are equipped to photosynthesis therefore the use of a potting medium made from soil could also block light and limit their use.

But pine bark is a natural material that breaks down into a compost-like structure over time.

So your orchid may be in the right pot however the bark of the pine has broken down and is no longer able to retain the same aerated and draining structure, which results in the leaves becoming yellow due to root decay.

How to Save Orchids Turning Yellow and Wilting

  • Remove the orchid from its pot and gently remove the soil or moss around the roots . Then, inspect the roots for signs of illness or signs of stress. Healthy roots appear light gray or green and appear full and supple. Healthy roots are thin and or shriveled, and may be brown, yellow or gray.
  • Utilizing a sterilized pair of pruning tools or scissors, remove any diseased or unhealthy roots to their base and clean the blades with an ointment-soaked cloth between cuts to stop the spread of any fungal infection to otherwise healthy growth.
  • Replace the soil in the potting pot with a brand new pine bark potting medium which is specifically designed specifically for orchids. The pine bark pieces are big enough to allow for more air to circulate, and also allow the excess water to drain effectively. Pine bark particles absorb some water, which evaporates and forms water vapor, from which the orchid absorbs moisture, resembling the conditions of its natural habitat.

If there are healthy, plump roots left then the orchid will be regenerated even if the leaves turn yellow and fall off.

Since orchid roots can photosynthesis (which is the main function of the leaves) the plant is able to survive and grow in absence of any leaves. In a couple of weeks, new leaves will emerge from the bottom and the top.

With a new potting medium and proper care techniques, your orchid will have the highest chances of regaining its health.

How to Save Underwatered, Drooping and Yellowing Orchids

  • Always give orchids an extensive soak instead of just a gentle watering. This will ensure that the moisture can be absorbed by the roots within the pot, not only the roots on the surface. The roots remain in good health, plump and functional to transport water and nutrients to the orchid instead of its leaves becoming to yellow as well as becoming wilting..
  • The roots that are under water tend to shrink up when the plant is using its moisture reserves. This means that unhealthy damaged roots may regenerate when they are soaked with an extremely good soak. When the orchids roots are able to absorb water, they will replenish their water reserves and then return to a lush texture.
  • Your orchids should be watered once every seven days during the spring and summer months to prevent stress from drought and every 7-10 days during winter and fall. Regularly watering is essential to prevent stress from drought and to save your orchid. Dont over compensate or frequently water more than every week, as watering from either extreme could cause root decay.
  • Make sure to mist your orchids daily while they recover and then once every 2 or 3 days based upon the level of humidity in your area as well as the space where you keep the orchid (bath rooms and kitchens typically have more humidity, which is ideal for orchids).
  • Misting your orchid mimics the greater levels of humidity in the orchids tropical forest, which helps to limit the loss of water (transpiration) through the leaves, helping to ease the stress of drought.
  • Make sure that your orchid is in a room that stays within the temperature that is between 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12degC) at night , and the maximum daytime temperature is 75degF (23degC) as excess heat from heating indoors can accelerate the rate of evaporation of the soil, and also increase the loss of water from the leaves, which can increase the stress of drought on your orchid.
  • Keep orchids away from the air conditioner or draughts as the dry air saps moisture from the soil, leaves and roots, and creates conditions that are in opposition to their humid tropical climate.

If taken care of properly, the orchid is able to be saved. The leaves which have become yellow could fall off in response to the severity of the drought stress and some roots might not repopulate.

It is best to remove dead roots as soon as possible using a pair of sharp and sterile scissors, If theyre readily accessible.

If they are however deep within the pot of orchids, it is usually best to keep them because roots that die due to submersion arent afflicted with disease (as could be the case with water-logged orchid roots) instead, they have shrunk and died as a result of drought stress.

So, you dont need to alter the existing roots and the plant will have greater chance of recovering.

The orchid will begin to show signs of growth over the next few weeks, or if its winter or fall it should be showing signs of new growth by the next spring time.

(Read my article on on how you can determine whether an orchid is either over or under the water).

4. The Air currents and low humidity (Flowers and Buds Fall off)

The majority of household orchids are moth orchids that are native to tropical forests and have an average humidity between 60 and 70%. Low humidity conditions and the draughts of air conditioning can suck the leaves of orchids of moisture which causes them to lose excessive water, which results in the death of an orchid.

The humidity inside our homes is usually significantly lower than outside and less than the 60-70 percent humidity that moth orchids have adjusted.

This dry air also increases the amount of water removed from the leaves. This it also causes the soil to dry out too fast and causes the orchids roots to exhaust their water reserves, causing the orchids to shrink. The leaves to turn yellowand the orchids droop and the flower buds may fall.

The draughts of air conditioning or air flow that causes heating in the indoors can also cause orchids to shrink and then die again.

How to Save Orchids Dying in Low Humidity

The key to preventing orchids from that drop flowers and die in humid conditions is to replicate the conditions in the orchids natural habitat. Mist the orchids leaves and roots every day to stop further losses of water from leaves . Also, keep your orchid out of the air and from draughty places.

The orchids can be sensitive when humidity is low, and the first indication of stress is usually dropping their blooms or the development of flower buds.

Orchids are usually suitable for kitchens or bathrooms because they tend to be humid than other rooms of the house. But they can thrive when they are frequently misted.

In areas with low humidity, it could be essential to mist orchids each day to replicate their ideal conditions.

Mist both the leaves as well as any roots that are stretched beyond the potting medium since roots absorb moisture from water vapor, which helps reduce stress.

Making sure that your orchid is away from any drafts from the air conditioner or doors that are open often is a great way to ensure the proper humidity level for your orchids, and also to prevent dry air from sucking up the moisture.

When the orchid is placed in the correct environment and has the proper humidity, it will start to recover in the next few weeks.

5. Too Much or Not Enough Sunlight

Orchid leaves are extremely delicate to sunlight and may turn a scorching yellow or brown hue in direct sunlight. Orchids are well-adapted to the forest canopy and require filtered or partial sun sunlight in the house to allow enough sunlight to bloom, but also protect them from scorching.

When your orchid sits located on an outside window with direct sunlight, this could cause the leaves to burn, which could stop the orchid from blooming or result in flower buds and flowers to fall off, causing similar symptoms as drought stress, as the additional sunlight and heat dry out the roots of the orchid as well as its leaves.

When the orchid grows located in an area that receives particularly dim lighting, the orchid usually displays less flowers and could be stunted in growth.

The ideal location for orchids is a space with direct light that is bright or an area with filtering light since this mimics the intensity of light that are typical of the natural surroundings and guarantees that the orchid gets sufficient light to flower.

If the leaves turn an orange or brown color then they will not recover and generally turn brown before falling off. Dont try to force the dying leaves to go away as it could cause an unneeded wound that could result in more damage for the plants.

The orchid should be placed in a place that is bright and indirect sprinkle the leaves with mist and regularly water them every week. The orchid will be able to recover and grow new leaves sprouting from the base of the plant during the spring and summer.

6. Hot and Cold Temperatures- Dying Orchids

Moth orchids require temperatures between 55degF (12degC) in the evening and the maximum temperature during the daytime that is 75degF (23degC). When orchids are subjected to temperatures that are not within this range, the orchid may lose flowers, cease to grow and turn yellow before drooping with a dying look.

Orchids arent just sensitive to extreme temperatures however they are also sensitive to sudden changes in temperature that can result from the closing and opening of a door outside which allows cold air in, which causes the temperature to drop suddenly.

Fortunately , the difference between 55degF (12degC) as well as 75degF (23degC) are usually within the limits of the temperature of room, so its not usually the issue.

It is also common to observe individual orchid leaves dying when the orchid is placed on an unfinished window sill. The leaves are touching the cold frame of a window, which could cause the leaves to change color, turning brown or yellow.

Additionally, orchids that are close to heat sources within the home can lose their blooms or develop buds when temperatures rise dramatically.

The only solution for this issue is to move your orchid to a space with the proper temperature range and isnt susceptible to frequent draughts or temperatures that can drastically change the temperatures.

Damaged leaves can be able to die back and drop off but new leaves may appear in the primary growth season. If excessive heat was the issue, then you should be on the lookout for indications of drought stress since the higher temperatures will dry out the orchid much faster.

Spray mist on the foliage, then offer the orchid good bath to aid in its recovery.

7. Causes of Dying Orchids- Crown Rot

Orchid leaves may form an elongated funnel around the stems that collect water and prevents the water from being drained away. The stagnant water that is contained inside the funnel may cause crown rot, which can cause the orchids leaves and stems to yellow and then wilt, giving them a faded appearance.

It is not the case in every orchid, but the way that the leaves are designed and placed can result in water pooling around the top of the orchid.

In the orchids native habitat, it is found on trees, usually with an angle of about 45 degrees, which allows water to drain safely from the crown instead of being trapped by the leaves

In the home environment, orchids are planted vertically. over-watering the leaves directs the water to the top of the orchid, without giving it a the chance to drain efficiently.

The easiest way to prevent it is to pour water in the soil at the bottom of the plants directly on the medium, rather then letting it drip overhead onto the leaves.

If you accidentally pour water on the leaves and it accumulates in the crown, then apply a hairdryer to the crown on an airy setting to dry out the crown.

Restoring an orchid suffering from crown rot is difficult because the pathogens that cause the disease could spread to other organs of the plant. however, with a drastic change there is a possibility that it could be saved.

The process of saving orchids with crown rot can be a difficult visual procedure to explain, I suggest watching the video to get a visual guide on how to save orchids that have crown rot

8. Too Much or Not Enough Fertilizer- Dying Orchids

The roots of orchids are extremely delicate and easily burn when you apply a common fertilizer to your houseplants or apply fertilizer too frequently or in excessive amounts that causes the roots to change to black or dark brown according to the severity of burning.

It is recommended to make use of a specific orchid fertilizer because they are designed to supply the orchid with the correct amount of nutrients in the appropriate concentration.

If there is just a little root damage with some discoloration, you can keep the orchid alive by putting your orchid inside a bowl of water for about 10 minutes or by using the faucet to wash the potting medium in order to dissolve the salts in the fertilizer that cause the harm.

If you suffer from more severe burns to the roots, it is recommended to take your orchid out of the container and remove the dying or dead roots of the orchid using an sterile pair of pruning scissors or pruners. Repot your orchid using a new pine bark-based potting medium since the old medium for potting will likely have a high level of harmful salts resulting from fertilizers.

If there are sufficient healthy green (or light gray) roots that are firm then the orchid stands an excellent chances to be saved. If however, the majority of roots are papery, thin and dying, then the orchid may be difficult to save.

Provide the orchid with a good irrigation after repotting, and make sure that the pot has drainage holes at the base to avoid root decay.

Key Takeaways:

  • The wrong medium for potting create the conditions that encourage root rot, which causes orchids to yellow, die and wilt again. Orchids thrive in 60-70 percent humidity. The low humidity saps moisture from the roots and leaves which causes the orchid to shrink and then die.
  • Moth orchids thrive in a pine-based potters medium because the well draining aerated structure recreates the normal conditions of the orchids native habitat. The soil and moss-based mediums hold too much moisture and block air flow, which results in root rot, resulting in the death and wilting of the orchid.
  • If orchids are not regularly watered or too much the roots shrink and die, which causes the orchids leaves to become pale yellow and appear to be dying. The orchids must be watered well every week during spring and summer and every 7-10 days during Winter and Fall to prevent dying due to drought stress.
  • Air currents and draughts from air conditioning or other sources of heat sap moisture from the orchids roots and leaves that cause them to lose their moisture and turn yellow, then fade and the flower or buds that are developing fall off. Mist orchids frequently to boost humidity and stop flowers from falling.
  • Orchids are a natural part of forests and are extremely susceptible to sunlight that is direct. Insufficient sunlight causes orchid leaves to change to a scorched brown or yellow color , and then the leaves dry up and fall off. The intense sun can cause flowers to fall and may worsen the symptoms of stress caused by drought.
  • Orchids thrive best in temperatures between 55degF (12degC) and 75degF (23degC). When temperatures are too high or cold, the orchid leaves change color and the flowers fall off. Orchids are sensitive variations in temperature caused by the cold or heat of indoors which could cause the flowers to die back.
  • When orchids are watered in the overhead, it could cause leaves to funnel water into the crown of the plant , which results in the stems and leaves that the plant has to turn yellow and die from crown rot. The crown rot can spread to other areas of the orchid when not treated, which kills the roots and causes that the plant to die back.
  • The fertilizer used for house plants is too harsh for orchids and can cause burns to the roots. If the burn to the roots is severe, the orchids roots are dying and they can no longer absorb the moisture and nutrients that are needed to move around the orchid, resulting in the stems and leaves becoming yellow, the flowers dropping and the orchid dying back.

 

Stephanie

Stephanie

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 :)