Orchids are some of the most stunning and showstopping plants out there, so advice on how to save an orchid is vital. However, when something goes wrong, which it probably will, orchids can very quickly start to look sad, shriveled and yellow. This article will explain how to revive your orchid and get it back to its usual stare with beautiful flowers and great leaves.
The best thing is that most plant problems are completely salvageable, it never has to be goodbye. So, keep reading to learn all about how to check the way you care for your orchid, revive it with our best tips and avoid harming it again in the future. Plus, we’ve got all the tips on how to propagate your orchids so you can keep growing them indefinitely.
Table of Contents
- Step One: Check That You’re Caring for It Correctly
- Exposure to Extreme Temperatures
- Step Two: Try Our Failsafe Tips!
- Step Three: Propagate!
Step One: Check That You’re Caring for It Correctly
If your orchid is dying, the first thing is to make sure you’re not accidentally causing the problem yourself. The usual candidates are overwatering, over-fertilizing and damage from extreme temperatures. It’s also important to understand a basic run-through of what type of care your orchid should be receiving normally.
Unfortunately this is super common, you’re enjoying taking care of your plant and end up killing it with kindness. A good starting point is to water the plant once a week in the winter, then twice when the growing season starts and the weather gets hotter. Another big factor that people often forget is that the size of your pot will really impact how much water the orchid will need. Roughly, a 6 inch pot needs water once a week, and every inch either way will correspond to one more or less day. So an 8-inch pot will need watering every 9 days and so on.
Before you water, every single time, you should be checking that the soil is dry enough. Don’t think of it as better to be safe than sorry by watering. Think of it as needing to justify watering by checking if the soil actually needs it.
Here’s How to Check If the Soil Is Dry / Needs Watering:
If you’re using just your finger or a stick:
When the top 1 inch of the soil feels dry and your finger comes out of the soil clean (the wet soil sticks, the dry soil falls off) it’s time to water your plant. If you don’t want to use your finger just use a stick or similar for the same process.
If you have a moisture meter:
Keep your moisture meter in the soil at all times or stick it in to test the moisture levels every week or so and when the soil is dry, give the plant a drink. Make sure to not have the moisture meter too deep in the soil or the plant will end up underwatered.
If you are increasing the humidity surrounding the plant then make sure to decrease the frequency of watering as plants lose less water in a humid environment. If the light levels or temperatures are going to increase then it can be beneficial to water your plant slightly more often.
Personally, I find bottom watering the most effective way to care for most of my plants. Use lukewarm water (cold or hot water can shock the roots) in a container, allow your plant to sit in the water for roughly twenty or thirty minutes, just watch for when the plant stops absorbing water. Bottom watering encourages strong roots as the plant has to grow downwards to find the nutrients it needs. A stronger root system will help your plant in the long run. So don’t be discouraged or disappointed if your plant is putting out more roots than foliage to begin with, it’s all part of the process.
The most important thing is to not stick rigidly to a schedule. Whilst consistency is good for a plant it’s okay to wait longer to water or to water early when you think it’s appropriate.
|Factor||Increase or decrease in watering|
|Humidity increase||Decrease moderately|
|Temperature increase||Increase in accordance with temperature change|
|Light increase||Increase marginally each time you pot up|
|Bigger Pot Size||Decrease|
|Age of plant||Young plants require more water|
|Dormancy period||Reduce the amount of water you give your orchid when it is not in flower.|
Orchids tend to grow in the canopy of the jungle, high up from the forest floor as epiphytes on other trees. Additional food is sparse in the jungle and thus orchids are not heavy feeders. Nutrients tend to wash out of the soil in containers more quickly than garden soil so even though the soil mix has added nutrients it helps to fertilize every few weeks. The frequency of fertilizing will vary depending on which soil you use and the amount of nutrients already in the mix.
Usually the bag of the potting soil will tell you how long to wait until you begin fertilizing. You can add a little bit of liquid fertilizer occasionally, and that will be enough. Alternatively, you can mix a small amount of slow release fertilizer granules in the soil, just personal preference, make sure you never combine both fertilizers. Some people don’t even know that you can over-fertilize your plants. Unfortunately this is absolutely a possibility but it is not the end of the world.
|Liquid||Easier to control and use since you can simply add the right amount into water and feed straight into the soil||Needs to be use more often which provides more opportunity for over-fertilizing and is also just more hassle|
|Better for young plants as they have a lower salt content||Harder to keep track of as they require regular application|
|The nutrients are more mobile so can reach the roots more easily||Can be significantly more expensive and sometimes too concentrated|
|Granules/ Pellets||Usually much cheaper||Less control over the nutrients|
|Easier to store, usually in a sealed box||Harder to use effectively|
|Needs using less frequently||Less adaptable and easy to modify|
If your plant is blooming it’ll require more fertilizer.
Signs to Look Out for:
- Flaccid leaves
- Salt concentrate on the soil or leaves (salt buildup looks like an off-white crust)
- Dry leaves
- Yellow or brown tips of the leaves
To amend this problem you should remove damaged foliage including any yellow or wilting leaves. Use a spoon or trowel to remove any mineral buildup left on the surface of the soil. This will be water soluble meaning the next time you water the plant it’ll get even more nutrients unless the deposit is removed. Aerate the soil gently and then thoroughly water to flush out excess minerals from the soil.
I’d then recommend flushing out anything nasty from the soil by soaking it under running water for around 30 seconds. Let the water run until it is draining from the holes at the bottom of the pot. Then just wait a while before beginning to fertilize again.
Many people don’t realize the dangers just under their noses, radiators, windows, doors and electric appliances can all damage your plants. The air around these things can experience extreme temperatures, the cold can shock the plant and the heat can scorch the leaves. Plants rely on a series of processes that can only take place in certain conditions. Also within a relatively narrow range of temperatures.
Extreme temperatures can therefore damage your plants in two ways. Either by preventing them from conducting their everyday business or by being so hot or so cold they cause immediate surface damages. You’ll want to be vigilant to keep an eye out for brown edges, crispy leaves, dull leaf color, yellowing, wilting or stunted growth near any dry spots in your home.
Step Two: Try Our Failsafe Tips!
Okay, so it seems like you’re doing it all right, but your orchids still look unhappy, don’t worry – you can still save your dying orchid! Sometimes your base line care can be correct but there’s something else going on, or a different boost your orchid will need.
Sometimes They Just Need a New Pot
Repotting your dying orchid to give it a fresh space and new soil can be just the nudge your plant will need to become revitalized and bloom again. You need to be careful however, to repot at the right time.
Roots growing over the pot are a clear sign the orchid is begging for a bigger pot. If there are roots growing out of the base of the pot, or over the top of the sides it’s definitely time for an upgrade. Also if the orchid seems to be too heavy for the container and it keeps falling over then you might also want to consider repotting into a larger container.
Additionally, a new pot with fresh soil can help to dry out and heal the root system if it has been damaged by lack of oxygen or overwatering.
Soil Can Make All the Difference!
Most orchids prefer growing as epiphytes with their roots in the air. It is particularly important that the mix is breathable for orchids because of the structure of orchid roots. The roots have an outer layer which is made up of specialized cells called velamen. These cells are there to absorb water and nutrients whilst protecting the inner root from excess heat and water loss. If the roots don’t have a good air flow, moisture can build up and cause the roots to break down. The ingredients in your orchid’s potting mix should aim to create a breathable environment for the plant in order to minimize this risk.
Check out our top choices for orchid soil if you need some guidance, or try mixing your own. Fir bark, sphagnum moss, coconut husk, perlite, charcoal, leca, fertilizers, charcoal and lava rock are all great options to add into your soil mixes. Fir bark and coconut husk help to encourage solid air flow as they prevent the soil from becoming compacted. Sphagnum moss is essential for orchids that are terrestrial, meaning they grow in the ground, and for the epiphytic orchids too. Orchids either grow in bogs which are full of sphagnum moss, or on plants or rocks. These plants and rocks tend to be covered in moss so orchids of all sorts are adapted to growing in moss.
Another key thing is the pH levels of the soil. Orchids prefer a pH between 5.5 and 6, so slightly acidic but closer to neutral. If the pH is off, the orchid is more likely to suffer from nutrient deficiencies. When a soil mix is too heavy in clay the pH often falls too far into the alkaline conditions, but this can be easily rectified by the addition of organic matter like dried leaves and composted vegetable scraps. Most but not all potting mixes will say on the bag what pH the soil is, but if the information is not available on the packaging it is very easy to test yourself. You can use a cheap piece of litmus paper which you can get in a gardening center or online to test the pH of your soil.
Orchids Need High Humidity Too!
These plants are going to need more humidity than is naturally available (probably) in your home. Tons of people recommend misting but I strongly advise that you do not do this. Create a humid environment using a humidifier if need be, check out this guide for finding the best one: 10 best humidifiers for plants.
Orchid plants enjoy a 40% to 70% relative humidity. This is considered moderate to high humidity.
Misting encourages pests and sunburn by creating pools of stagnant water – I highly recommend you do not let any water sit in your plant or pot.
Alternatively, if you want to boost humidity in your home without spending any money on a humidifier there’s a few DIY tricks. Grouping plants together – plants lose moisture in their leaves, by grouping many plants together they create a more humid microclimate.
Here are the main signs your plant needs some more humidity:
- Brown edges/ crispy leaves
- Dull color
- Yellow leaves
- Stunted Growth
The Two Types of Orchids: Monopodial and Sympodial
Another important thing to know about when trying to revive a dying orchid is whether it is monopodial or sympodial. Did you know that orchids can be split into two distinct categories based upon how they grow and the patterns of new growth they show?
Monopodial (meaning one footed) orchids grow all of the new growth from the same main stem which grows throughout its lifetime. The leaves grow from either side of the new stem and flowers tend to grow at the apex of the stem. The phalaenopsis orchid, one of the most common types, grows in this pattern.
Sympodial growth is by far the most common growth pattern for orchid plants to exhibit. Some sympodial orchids form pseudobulbs to store nutrients and water, but not all types of orchids will. The key characteristic of sympodial orchids is the horizontal growth habits they practice, the plant will still produce shoots from the older rhizomes whilst continuing to produce new growth.
This is important information too as not only will it change how you care for your orchid, it will also change how you might choose to propagate your orchid. Which might be its last shot at survival!
Step Three: Propagate!
Luckily, no plant is ever truly lost as you can always propagate it to save an orchid. Orchids aren’t the easiest to propagate but it is certainly doable! These plants can be propagated four different ways. These are aerial root division, propagating from bulbs, propagation of orchid keikis and dividing sympodial orchids. Whilst all of these methods might technically be feasible, propagating from back bulbs is so slow and difficult that I would not recommend trying it. The most accessible route for propagating orchids at home is by the division of sympodial orchids or by aerial root division.
Dividing Sympodial Orchids
The first step for this method of propagation is to turn the pot over (ideally outside or on a potting mat, if not have your vacuum ready) and ease the orchid out of the pot. Always taking care to avoid damaging the plant wherever possible. If the plant is not coming out of its pot easily, for example if the soil is very compacted, then you can use a trowel, spade, knife or other thin blade to gently loosen the potting medium.
Once you have removed the plant from its pot, remove as much of the growing medium (the soil/ LECA etc) as possible. This will help you get a clearer look at what is going on with the root system. Now it is time to look for the primary rhizome at the base of the main stem. Each piece that stems from this primary rhizome is another rhizome which shows active development and should have stems with developing leaves and pseudobulbs.
After finding the primary rhizome, locate a few of the newer rhizomes that have active growth, you’ll want to make a cutting that has around 3-4 actively growing leads. If these leads have any roots, try to be gentle but it is okay if you lose a couple, they’ll grow back.
This next step is up to you but I’d recommend sterilizing the surfaces where you have made cuts. You can use any fungicide you like or hydrogen peroxide or cinnamon (a natural antifungal). It’s not guaranteed that your propagation will go wrong without sterilizing, but this will increase your chances of success.
Plant the cutting you’ve just made in some orchid medium, in a sterile pot that is just larger than the size of the division. Then leave the pot in indirect sunlight and keep the surface of the soil moist, but don’t water it deeply just spray the surface. Ensure to avoid watering or fertilizing until the new roots and leaves appear.
Aerial Root Division to Save an Orchid
This method of propagation can provide a decent chance at success but it does take a while until you will have an orchid that is mature enough to produce flowers.
The first step is the same here, just removing the orchid from its pot, taking care not to damage the aerial roots. Gently hold the base of the plant and shake out loose soil or potting medium before wriggling the orchid free. This should help to dislodge the roots and make the orchid easier to lift from its pot. This step will obviously be very messy so have a think about when and where to do it beforehand.
Next you’ll need to locate the roots that are the oldest, these will be clumped further down the stem. The further up the stem the roots are the younger/ newer they are. Remove the older root ball using a sharp, sterile tool of your choice. Now you just need to pot up the separated root section. Refer to our earlier advice about which soil to use here. Place the root section in a clean pot with the roots directed into the base of the pot. The key thing is to not cover the top, cut surface of the root ball. You should leave this so that it is situated above the potting medium.
Can you revive and save a dying orchid?
Absolutely, a sad looking orchid isn’t necessarily done for, there’s always hope, as plants are much more resilient than we give them credit for. Just because the flowers have fallen off does not mean that the orchid has died. It could just be in a dormant stage, or struggling to maintain flower growth due to a deficiency of some kind. The most important thing you can do is try and figure out why your plant is looking a little worse for wear, so you can give it the help it needs. You can encourage new blooms to emerge by following the steps outlined in the article above, pruning and repotting. Take a look for pests and root problems to check that there’s no issues there and also ensure you’re providing adequate light and water. If in doubt, repotting with new, dry and nutritious soil can make a huge difference.
How do you keep an orchid alive indoors?
The majority of houseplant orchids thrive with bright, indirect light. You could consider supplementing your homes’ natural light with some grow lights. Keep in mind that the plant could get shock or sunburn from being moved too quickly. I’d recommend gradually increasing the sun exposure in order to acclimate the plant a bit better. As orchids do need lots of humidity people recommend misting but I strongly advise that you do not do this. Create a humid environment using a humidifier if need be, check out this guide for finding the best one: 10 best humidifiers for plants.
What do I do with my orchid when the flowers fall off?
The flowers of your orchid will sometimes fall off, this is completely natural and usually nothing to be worried about. If the stem is turning brown it is best for the plant to cut it off completely at its base, using a sterile pair of gardening shears. The flowers might be falling off because the plant isn’t happy. If you notice flowers dropping, check to see if your orchid is being kept in indirect light, is the right temperature, and is being properly watered.
Do wilted orchids come back?
Wilted orchids can be saved! The most important thing you can do is try and figure out why your plant is wilting, so you can give it the help it needs. The first reason an orchid might wilt is if it has just finished blooming. The process of blooming uses up a lot of the plant’s energy. So it is completely natural for it to look a bit sad when it’s done, just wait!
Underwatering is another cause of wilting in orchids. If this is your cause you might also see your plant dropping an unusual amount of leaves, usually you can tell it’s time to water your plant when the soil becomes dry. Another thing to look out for is if your orchid is too warm on a spot, such as next to a radiator, as it causes the plant to dry out and wilt. Keep your plant at a moderate temperature and humid conditions to fix this issue. A bathroom could be a great option for example.
Is an orchid dead if all flowers fall off?
If the flowers are falling off your orchid, you probably have nothing to worry about. The plant does not bloom year round, and the dropping of flowers is a completely normal part of the plant’s process. Once the orchid has bloomed, it will enter a dormant period, which will typically last from six to nine months. Two extra things you can do during your plant’s dormant period to take extra care of it is using fertilizer, and moving the orchid to a cooler room.
Bringing It All Together: How to Save an Orchid
And that’s a wrap. You’ve learnt all the top tips and must know pieces of information that are absolutely essential when it comes to keeping your orchids happy and healthy. You should compare your care routine to the basic standard of care for orchids. Especially checking that your orchids aren’t being over-watered, fertilized or experiencing extreme hot and cold temperatures. After that you should consider following our fail safe tips which include repotting with a good quality soil, and nurturing the humidity in your home.
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