Orchids comprise more than 22,000 species and are popular across the world for their unique, colorful flowers. These tropical plants can tolerate drought, but they may wilt and start to die if not watered at least once a week, although this will vary according to species. In this article, we will get to know the reasons your orchid may be dying, and what you can do to save them.
Why is my orchid dying?
Overwatering your orchids could endanger or even kill them. Symptoms of overwatered orchids include stems and leaves that turn yellow and become droopy. These plants thrive in a well-draining potting medium, and if it is always damp these symptoms might begin to appear. The roots may also die from root rot, which is caused by damp conditions. The roots will appear gray, thin and papery, as opposed to healthy roots that are green or light gray.
Orchids prefer bright, indirect sunlight and filtered morning light, rather than full sun. When they are exposed to direct sunlight for a long time, it could endanger their health. Symptoms of sunburn include leaves that are turning yellow or brown and have a scorched appearance. The leaves and flowers may also fall off due to stress.
Orchids that are not watered sufficiently could suffer from drought stress. The leaves may turn yellow and the flowers will start to drop off or droop. The roots will appear shriveled and die back, and the stems will turn brown and eventually die. Other contributing factors include excess heat and/or low humidity.
If the roots become shriveled and die, they cannot transport nutrients and water to the rest of the plant. This is why the leaves turn yellow and the flowers and leaves wilt and drop off. Orchids should be watered once every week or so, but this will also depend on the climate and the species.
There are specific fertilizers that are formulated for the needs of orchids, and regular fertilizers are too strong for them. If you over-fertilize your plants it could burn their roots. The roots will then turn black or brown and the leaves may turn yellow and droop. Over-fertilizing could also alter the blooming season of your plants.
How to revive your dying orchids
1. If your orchids were dying due to overwatering:
Hold off from watering the plants and allow the soil to dry out. The plants should only be watered once a week, and you should always check that the top inch of potting mix feels dry before watering again. This could vary according to your local climate, the size of the pot and the type of potting soil.
Make sure the potting mix is formulated for orchids. Ideally, a pine bark-based mix works best for these plants. Avoid potting soil, which retains too much moisture.
Check the roots for signs of disease; they should look green to light gray, and be plump and firm. Unhealthy roots are brown or black and have an unpleasant smell. Trim off any unhealthy roots with a pair of sterilized pruners or scissors. If there are healthy roots remaining, it means your plant can probably be saved.
Yellow stems should be cut back to healthy growth near the base of the plants. This way, the spread of rot can be prevented and you will help stimulate new growth. If there are yellow leaves still attached to the plant, let them be and do not pull them off.
It is best to replant the orchids in a new potting mix and a new container. Give the plants a good soak after replanting, to mitigate transplant shock. Place them in an area with indirect sunlight and a temperature of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Be sure to mist the leaves with water every three days to maintain humidity and reduce water loss, or transpiration.
2. If your orchids were dying due to sunburn:
Place the plants in an area with bright but indirect light to reduce the stress and avoid more damage. If there are damaged leaves, allow them to dry up and fall off on their own. Repot the plants in clear plastic pots so the roots can have access to light. New leaves will start to grow and with the right care the plants will be revived.
3. If your orchids were dying due to drought:
Place the plants in a water basin for at least 10 minutes and submerge the roots. Give them a good soak and allow any excess water to drain out freely. The potting mix should be thoroughly soaked. Increase the frequency of watering your plants, keeping in mind that orchids require less watering than most house plants. These plants only need to be watered about once a week, depending on the species and your local climate.
Water the plants only when the top inch of potting medium has dried out. Mist the leaves and roots regularly. The plants should be kept in temperatures of around 55 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. If your orchids were dying due to burned roots caused by over-fertilizing:
Stop using fertilizers and place the plants in a basin of water for about 10 minutes to rinse off the roots. This will help minimize the salts that have accumulated in the potting medium from all the fertilizer. Check the roots for any rot or burn. Brown or black roots should be trimmed off near the base of the plants. Repot the orchids in a new potting mix. Yellowing leaves should not be removed from the plants by force. Give your plants loving care and new leaves will begin to sprout in a matter of months.
Orchids are popular house plants because of their unique, attractive flowers. Like most plants, they may droop, wilt or turn yellow if not given the proper care, and this is an indication that they may be dying. This could be due to overwatering, underwatering, over-fertilizing or too much sun exposure. If you act quickly to rectify the situation, you may be able to save your plants.
Image: istockphoto.com / Olga Evtushkova