Orchid Leaves Shriveling

Orchid Leaves Shriveling

A healthy orchid’s leaves are typically smooth and rarely have any unusual texture. If the leaves on your orchid look shriveled, this usually means there is an environmental factor that is stressing the plant and will need resolving.

The sooner you are able to determine the cause of the problem, the faster you can address it and the sooner the plant will recover.

The most common causes of shriveled orchid leaves are too much water, not enough water, and low humidity.

In this article, we will discuss more about each of these problems and how to fix each of them. So, if you are currently experiencing this problem with your orchid, keep reading to learn more.

Why are my orchid’s leaves shriveling?

Too much water

If you give your plant too much water, its leaves can become shriveled due to the roots being compromised.

There are several ways your orchid can end up overwatered: You might be giving it too much water each time you water it, watering it more often than you need to, using a poorly-draining potting mix or pot, or not adjusting your watering habits to changes in the weather, season or climate.

If the potting mix around the orchid’s roots is too compact and dense, it will retain water a little too well and the orchid’s roots will be constantly exposed to moisture, which is not ideal for this plant. Many orchid plants are epiphytic, meaning their roots can actually absorb moisture directly from the air. 

With continued overwatering, the orchid can develop root rot. This is a condition caused by prolonged exposure of the roots to waterlogged soil or potting medium, so that they are never able to dry out and they eventually drown and die.

The dead roots will begin to rot, and will become susceptible to opportunistic soil-borne pathogens, such as fungi and bacteria, that will make the rot even more aggressive.

It will spread until all of the roots are affected, at which point the plant will no longer be able to absorb water and nutrients. This will cause the leaves to shrivel, and eventually the plant will succumb and die.

If you think your orchid is overwatered, you need to stop watering it immediately and transfer it to a spot with lots of light and good air circulation. This will help the potting mix dry out faster.

If you suspect root rot, you will need to remove the orchid from its pot so that you can inspect the roots. Be gentle as you unpot the plant, because the roots may be quite fragile in their current state.

Healthy roots are green in color, and firm when you touch them, while dead and rotten roots will be brown or black, and soft and mushy to the touch. Remove the rotten roots using a sterile pair of pruning scissors until only the healthy, green roots remain.

Prepare a new pot for the orchid by filling it with a fresh orchid potting mix. Plant the orchid in the new pot and water it very lightly. Do not water it again until the potting mix is dry to the touch.

Not enough water

The most logical cause of shriveled orchid leaves is probably underwatering. This is a safe assumption that is often the truth. If you do not give the orchid the water that it needs, it will not be able to maintain the smooth, plump appearance of its leaves.

Shriveled leaves on an underwatered plant are typically accompanied by shriveled roots and dry potting mix.

If an orchid is underwatered, it not only loses moisture; it will also be unable to absorb its required nutrients and minerals from the potting mix. Just like other plants, orchids use water as a vessel to transport these substances from the potting mix into the roots and throughout the plant.

This is why an underwatered plant becomes weak and flaccid.

If you suspect that your orchid is not getting enough water, you need to water it immediately and then keep an eye on the roots and foliage to see whether they are recovering well.

There is no set schedule that you can just follow when it comes to watering your orchid. It is best to check the condition of the roots and the potting mix every few days, so that you know exactly when it needs watering.

A good rule is to touch the potting medium in the pot and, if it feels dry, water the plant. If it still feels a little bit damp, rather wait a day or two and then check it again. That said, even if the top of the medium feels damp to the touch, it could be that the roots at the bottom of the pot have dried out. If that is the case, you can water the orchid.

Developing good watering habits is the best way to prevent any water-related problems for your plant. Also always remember to adjust your watering according to changes in the weather, season or climate.

Low humidity

Another reason your orchid’s leaves are shriveling may be that the humidity around the plant is too low. In such conditions, the rate at which water is transpired, or lost, is accelerated. The plant will struggle to maintain a healthy level of moisture in its body, and when it loses too much water too quickly, its leaves will start to shrivel.

Remember that most commercially-available orchids are native to tropical regions where the humidity is high, allowing their aerial roots to absorb moisture directly from the air. It is therefore best if you can maintain a humidity level of 40 to 70 percent around your plant.

If you live in a particularly dry climate, you might need to take measures to artificially raise the humidity in the space where you keep your orchid.

You can do this by misting the plant once in a while, or you could keep it in one of the more humid rooms of your house, such as the bathroom or the kitchen.

You can also use a pebble tray filled with water. Place the plant’s pot over the pebble tray and, as the water evaporates, it will moisten the air around the orchid.

If you have other plants that enjoy higher than normal humidity, you can group the orchid close to these plants and together they will create a microclimate around themselves.

If you have the means, a humidifier is a good way to automatically regulate the humidity in the room where the plant is kept.

Finally, if the plant has become very shriveled due to low humidity, you can place a plastic bag over the top of it temporarily. This creates a greenhouse effect around the plant, making a very humid environment very quickly, and your orchid’s leaves should be plump again in no time. Of course, this will depend on the severity of the damage to the leaves. The less damage, the faster they will recover, and vice versa.

While you have the plant under the plastic bag, do not put it under direct sunlight or anywhere that gets too much of the sun’s heat. This will create too much heat inside the bag, and can harm the plant.

If you want to be extra vigilant about your humidity levels, you can purchase a humidity meter. It costs very little and gives you an accurate reading of the temperature and humidity in your home. It can also record the highest and lowest temperatures and humidity levels, so that you know the exact range of conditions that your plant goes through in a day.


When an orchid is healthy and happy, its leaves have an even, green color all over, and they are taut, plump and rubbery. If an orchid’s leaves are shriveling, this means there is something wrong with it.

Shriveled orchid leaves are a sign of stress caused by a change in the plant’s environment that is affecting its health. You will need to identify the cause of the stress in order to accurately and promptly rectify the problem.

The most common causes of shriveled orchid leaves are too much water, not enough water, and low humidity.

To avoid both overwatering and underwatering your orchid, you need to develop good watering habits. Before watering your plant, check the moisture in the potting medium by touching it. If the top of the potting medium is dry, water the plant, but if it is still a bit damp, wait one or two days and check again.

Most orchids are tropical plants that prefer higher humidity than the average houseplant. If you live in a place where the climate is particularly dry, you might need to artificially raise the humidity in the space where you keep your orchid.

Whatever the cause of the shriveled leaves, the sooner you can pinpoint it and take action, the sooner your plant will make a full recovery.

Image: istockphoto.com / Martysjahlushyk