Is my orchid dying? Is it too late to save it?
Does this sound familiar: you recently bought or received a beautiful blooming orchid that you enjoyed for a few weeks. When you got it, the tag listed its care as “easy” or the person who sold it to you assured you that orchids are “not hard” and you can keep it alive with a few simple steps.
And yet…here you are, a few months later, dealing with yellow leaves, dropping buds, and a generally sick looking plant. Here are the things you need to know about what’s going on (and the questions you need to ask).
What kind of orchid is it? This might seem obvious, but it’s definitely the place to start. Many orchids have very definite growing seasons, and it’s natural for flowers and flower spikes to wither away and die even on the healthiest plants. These are not necessarily a sign that your orchid is dying or even sick. For most orchids, if you want a good indication of health, look at the roots. Healthy roots are plump and covered with a fine silvery skin when they’re dry. There should be a tiny growing point at the end of the root. If you see this, your plant is likely much healthier than you think and may simply be resting.
If, however, you see any of the following, you might in fact be dealing with a sick plant: wrinkled leaves that flop around or just lie on the potting media, roots that are shriveled and brown or break easily, or large necrotic or black spots on the leaves that seem to be growing. Although each of these can mean something different, if you see any of them, you have an issue.
Look for signs of lack of water. Lack of water is most easily seen in the leaves, which become floppy and wrinkled on many popular species of orchids. But here’s a major caution: lack of water is rarely the cause of orchid failure. Although orchids have a reputation as fussy little plants that need to be watered constantly, it is surprisingly easy to drown most orchids. Remember, most of these are epiphytic plants that like to cling to trees. They are used to drenching rains followed by long periods of dryness, and in fact, most orchids need a “hard dry” to thrive. So unless you’ve skipped watering for weeks, it’s probably not the issue.
Look for signs of too much water. This is where you’ll likely hit the jackpot. Most orchids today are sold in cheap plastic containers that do not breathe at all. Worse yet, their roots are wrapped in water-retaining moss that makes them perfect targets for fungal infections. If your plant has been sitting in water at all, or has been kept continuously wet, this is most likely your issue. In this case, the first step is likely to repot the plant or at the very least remove a lot of the material around the roots that’s keeping it too moist.
Bugs! This should be pretty obvious, but sometimes they can be surprisingly hard to spot. Look for tiny webs in the leaves, lift up the leaves to look underneath them, and disturb the potting media to see if anything crawls around. If you see bugs, first find out what type they are (e.g., aphids, mites, and scale are all common culprits) and then treat with the least toxic option.
The key to reviving your orchid will be to create that gentle, friendly climate they like so much. Successfully growing orchids is a matter of find the right balance between heat, humidity, light, water, and air flow. If your plants aren’t thriving, chances are your growing environment is missing something.
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