Underwatered Orchid Roots – Signs and How To Revive

Underwatered Orchid Roots - Signs and How To Revive

We all know that overwatering orchids can lead to the plant developing root rot. This is because the constant moisture on the plant’s roots, and not allowing them to dry out properly, encourages the growth of fungi and bacteria that can ultimately kill it.

But did you know that underwatering your orchid can also have a very debilitating effect on the plant’s roots?

An underwatered orchid’s roots are brittle and dry, and look more grey than green, while healthy roots are plump and flexible and green in color.

In this article, we will discuss the signs of underwatered orchid roots and how to effectively remedy the problem. So, if you think your orchid’s roots are underwatered and you want to learn how to save your plant, then keep reading.

How can I tell if my orchid’s roots are dehydrated?

Generally, when your orchid’s roots are dehydrated, it means the plant has not been watered for a very long time. Like all plants, the orchid will prioritize its roots when it is trying to survive. In the early stages of underwatering, the blooms and the leaves of the orchid will be the first to show any sign that the plant is not receiving as much water as it needs. The leaves will start to become pleated, meaning lines appear on them. The plant’s pseudobulbs will also start to shrivel, and the leaves will become soft, droopy and turn yellow. You may also observe bud blast, which is when the buds fall off the plant without blooming. This is essentially the plant’s way of conserving resources by sacrificing the foliage so that there is more water stored for the roots.

Throughout the earlier stages of underwatering, the roots will remain green and flexible. However, as soon as all of the moisture in the plant has been used up, the roots will also shrivel, dry up, and become brittle and brown.

Why are my orchid’s roots underwatered?

The most common reason your orchid’s roots are underwatered is that you forgot to water it. Orchids are tropical plants that grow on the bark of trees and use their roots to collect water and nutrients from the air around them. In the rainforest, the rain and humidity can supply the moisture that the plant survives on, but in your home the orchid depends on you for all its moisture.

Maybe you went on a trip and forgot to ask a friend to water your plants. It is also possible that you do in fact water your orchid, but the potting medium does not retain moisture well enough and dries out too quickly between waterings.

Another reason the orchid’s roots are underwatered could be that you are not taking into account  factors such as the local climate, the season of the year, and the current weather conditions, all of which affect the plant’s watering needs. This means that an orchid in a home in a cold climate, during the winter, with lots of rainfall, will not need to be watered as much as an orchid in a drier climate, in the summer, with little to no rainfall.

Adjust your watering schedule depending on the current circumstances. Orchids are living beings that react to their environment, so keep that in mind.

What are the environmental factors that can lead to underwatered orchid roots?


As mentioned above, orchids are tropical plants that grow in rainforests in the wild. They thrive in humidity and do not do well in arid places.

During the warm months of the year, the orchid’s roots will be especially vulnerable to drying out, so you need to keep an eye on them and remedy any dryness as soon as you notice the first signs. To avoid underwatering in drier circumstances, place the plant’s pot on top of a water pebble tray or use a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity in the room where the plant is kept.


In warmer regions, the sun is out for most of the day and can cause the water in the plant’s potting medium to evaporate faster than normal. You therefore need to adjust your watering frequency according to the season and local climate. Drastic changes in temperatures from season to season should factor heavily into your watering technique.

Keep the plant away from heating vents and air conditioners, because the drafts they produce can dry out both plant and potting medium.


Naturally, when the plant is kept under direct sunlight, it will become dehydrated much faster than if it is kept indoors with only indirect light. If you are growing the plant outdoors, keep it under a gardening net or under the shade of a large tree. In their natural habitat, epiphytic plants grow on the trunks of trees and are protected from direct sunlight by the treetop canopy.

If you keep the plant indoors, place it next to north- or east-facing window. If the only window available is one that lets in harsh light, you can always diffuse the light using a sheer curtain.

Even though orchids do not like direct light, do not place them in low light conditions either, because they need light to survive. Balance is always the key.

Fertilizing problems

Getting too little water or drying out because of the elements are not the only reasons your orchid’s roots can be dehydrated. If you feed your orchid too frequently or if you use too strong a concentration of fertilizer, the minerals can build up in the potting medium and on the plant’s roots. When the roots are affected by mineral toxicity, they can no longer do their job of absorbing water, so this can also lead to underwatering.

How can I save my orchid if it has underwatered roots?

If you suspect that your plant’s roots are underwatered, you need to check whether your current watering techniques are effective. A lot of times, this can be fixed through trial and error until you come to know exactly how much water your plant actually needs, and how often.

Take into account the factors discussed above, which are climate, season and current weather conditions.

The easiest way to know whether your plant needs to be watered is by touching the potting medium. If the potting medium is dry to the touch, water the orchid, but if it is still a bit damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.

To avoid underwatered roots, water the potting medium thoroughly but make sure the potting medium is well-draining and allow any excess water to drip out of the pot.

If returning to a normal watering routine does not seem to be working to revive your orchid’s roots, you may need to remove the plant from the pot to inspect them more closely. If there are any roots that look too shriveled and have turned completely brown, remove them using sterilized pruning shears. Spray fungicide on the remaining healthy roots to protect them from opportunistic pathogens.

Plant the orchid in a pot with drainage holes, using a potting medium that is well-draining and airy, and remember to water the plant correctly going forward.


Underwatered orchid roots are caused by poor watering techniques, low humidity, high temperature, too much sunlight or fertilizer problems. Dry roots are brittle and break easily, and are grey or brown in color.

In order to save an orchid with underwatered roots, you need change your watering technique. Make sure you take into account variations in climate, season and weather. If there are any heavily affected roots, remove them so that the plant can recover more quickly and effectively. Going forward, make sure you water your orchid whenever the potting medium is dry to the touch. Understanding the needs of your plant is key to keeping its roots healthy and hydrated.

Image: istockphoto.com / IKvyatkovskaya