Wrinkled Orchid Leaves – Causes and Fix

Wrinkled Orchid Leaves - Causes and Fix

If your orchid’s leaves are wrinkled, it means there is a problem either within the plant or in the plant’s living conditions that will need to be addressed and resolved. The cause of the wrinkled leaves can be benign, or it can be something serious that may cause a rapid decline in the plant’s health, and possibly even death.

The possible causes of wrinkled orchid leaves include damaged roots, too much water, not enough water, hot temperatures, insufficient or too much light, disease, and nutrient deficiencies.

In this article, we will discuss the different causes of wrinkled orchid leaves and what you can do to remedy it. So if you are having this problem with your orchid plants at home and wish to learn more, just keep on reading.

What do healthy orchid leaves look like?

Before we discuss the causes of the abnormal wrinkling of orchid leaves, let us first understand what healthy orchids look like, so that we know when the leaves are unhealthy just by looking at them.

Healthy orchid leaves are bright olive-green; not quite the same as other plants, which have light or dark green leaves. Healthy orchid leaves are sturdy and plump, and stick out from the stem of the plant with no problem. The leaves should not be droopy, and they should be smooth with no pleats or wrinkles on them. 

Why are my orchid’s leaves wrinkled?

Damaged roots

One of the most common causes of wrinkled orchid leaves is damaged roots. When an orchid’s roots are damaged, they are unable to do their job effectively, which is to absorb water and nutrients to keep the plant alive. Because most orchids are epiphytic and their roots are therefore exposed, they are more vulnerable than the roots of most plants. Roots are important to the plant’s survival, and they need to be protected at all times. If you are not careful, you may damage the roots simply by repotting the plant or moving it to a different location. Always be gentle when you handle an orchid plant – or any plant, for that matter.

Too much water

If you unknowingly overwater your orchid, this can cause its leaves to wrinkle as well. If you keep the plant outdoors, it may get too much rain if it is not under some kind of canopy. However, even indoor orchids can get overwatered. If you keep a tray under the plant’s pot and forget to empty the excess water in the tray, the water can be reabsorbed by the potting medium and this means the roots will stand in a soggy potting medium for long periods of time. This can lead to root rot, which damages the roots significantly and affects their ability to provide water and nutrients to the plant.

Not enough water

If you neglect your orchid’s watering needs and it ends up underwatered or dehydrated, this will damage the roots. Damaged roots are unable to absorb water and nutrients effectively, which will affect the health of the orchid and cause drooping, shriveled roots, yellowing leaves, and wrinkled foliage.

Fortunately, dehydrated orchids are much easier to salvage than those that have been overwatered. If you are able to catch the dehydration in its early stages, just start watering the plant regularly or, more specifically, when the potting medium is dry to the touch. The plant should be able to recover after a few days of normal watering.

Hot temperatures

Even though orchids are tropical plants, they cannot be exposed to elevated temperatures for extended periods. Avoid exposing the plant to temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours of the day, or it will dry out quickly and the leaves will start to wrinkle as they lose their water stores.

Orchids will naturally lose moisture from their leaves through transpiration, but this happens in a balanced manner when the temperature is stable and not in the extremes.

Not enough or too much light

The best kind of light for your orchid is bright and indirect. Never expose the plant to direct sunlight, because this can cause the plant to dry out and droop, and the leaves to wrinkle.

The sun damage suffered by the leaves from too much light can affect the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, which will affect its overall health and may stunt its growth.

Inversely, keeping the plant in low light conditions can also cause its leaves to discolor and wrinkle. The key to keeping your orchid happy is finding the right balance of light exposure for it.

Disease

Fungi and bacteria can also cause your orchid’s leaves to become wrinkled. This is because they attack the roots and eventually the foliage of the plant, and the more damage is incurred, the weaker and less healthy the plant becomes. This stress will manifest as wrinkles on the plant’s leaves.

Not enough nutrients

When your orchid is not getting all the nutrients it needs, this can result in poor growth and wrinkled leaves. You may need to feed the plant more often to supply it with the nutrients it is lacking. Choose a fertilizer that contains boron, potassium, and zinc, because these are essential to keep the orchid’s leaves healthy.

How can I fix my orchid’s wrinkled leaves?

Get rid of pests and treat disease

If pests or diseases are the cause of the wrinkled leaves, you need to check the entire plant for their presence and to note which parts of the plant have been affected.

Treat a fungal infection with a fungicide, or use hydrogen peroxide. Do not forget to change the soil and the pot, because they will be harboring pathogens that could lead to reinfection.

If the plant has pests, like aphids, you can use a garden hose to knock the insects off with a jet of water, or you can use an insecticide made specifically for orchids.

Whether the plant is afflicted with pests or disease, make sure you keep it quarantined and away from your healthy plants so that they do not get infected.

Replace the potting mix

If the orchid has wrinkled leaves because of a poorly-draining potting mix, you need to change it. Use an orchid mix that contains bark, perlite and sphagnum moss.

Make sure the pot is large enough to accommodate the roots of your orchid because a pot that is too small can damage the plant’s roots.

Good watering techniques

Because both overwatering and underwatering can cause orchid leaves to become wrinkled, you should review your watering techniques and correct any mistakes you may be making.

Some changes you can make are watering the plant in the morning as opposed to the evening, making sure the excess water is flowing properly out of the pot’s drainage holes, not giving the plant water that is too cold, and making sure you do not give it more water than it needs.

Before watering, always check the potting medium. If the top two inches of potting medium are dry, water the orchid, but if the potting medium is still damp, wait one or two days before checking again.

Inspect and treat the roots

If you want to be sure that your plant is 100 percent healthy, you will need to check its roots. Remove the plant from the pot, inspect the roots, and note whether they are brittle and dry. If so, they are underwatered.

If the roots are soft and soggy or have turned brown or black, this may be due to root rot and you will need to cut away the affected roots to prevent the rot from spreading to the rest of the plant. Use sterilized pruning shears to cut off the rotten roots, spray the remaining healthy roots with fungicide, and allow the plant to dry out for a few hours before repotting it in a new pot with a fresh potting medium.

Keep the plant in indirect light

If you suspect that the wrinkled leaves are due to incorrect light exposure, move the plant to a spot where it can get bright, indirect light for most of the day. Near a north- or east-facing window is ideal, but if the only window available is letting in harsh light, diffuse it by placing a sheer curtain over the window.

In the winter, when light is scarce, you may need to use a grow light to help the orchid get its daily dose of light and keep it wrinkle-free.

Feed the plant

If the cause of the wrinkled leaves is a nutrient deficiency, feed the orchid with a balanced nitrogen fertilizer. Half-strength is recommended so that you do not end up causing a buildup of minerals in the potting medium and around the plant’s roots.

Conclusion

Wrinkled orchid leaves are an indication of a problem caused by an environmental factor, and this can be benign or serious enough to kill the plant within a matter of days.

The most common causes of wrinkled leaves in orchids are damaged roots, too much water, not enough water, hot temperatures, not enough or too much light, pests and disease, or nutrient deficiency.

Correctly identifying the cause of the problem is the first step in fixing it promptly.

Save your plant by getting rid of pests and disease, ensuring that the potting mix is well-draining, correcting any faulty watering techniques, inspecting and treating the roots, giving the plant lots of bright, indirect light, and fertilizing it if necessary to replenish the nutrients in the potting medium.

Fixing the problem without delay will return the plant to perfect health and save its overall aesthetic.

Image: istockphoto.com / Olga Evtushkova