Help My Orchid Is Dying! How To Bring Your Orchid Back From The Brink

Orchids are not like any other houseplant out there. They produce the most fantastic flowers, but they can also be very fussy plants, even when you think you are doing everything right.

It doesn’t help that wildly different problems in the growing conditions can create the same symptoms, making it difficult to figure out exactly what is wrong.

The good news is that moth orchids or Phalaenopsis are tough, and can bounce back if you give them consistent care (see also How To Revive A Moth Orchid With Wilting Leaves).

And while you might think it’s impossible to encourage a moth orchid to rebloom once its flowering season is over, it’s not as difficult as you might imagine.

Here are some of the most common problems that you will run into while growing moth orchids, what the plant is trying to tell you, and what you can do about it.

Let’s look at how to save your orchid from the brink of death.

Moth Orchid Leaves Wrinkling

Identify And Fix Watering Problems

If the leaves on your moth orchid are wrinkling up, this means one of two things: either your orchid is desperate for more water, or it needs a drastically drier potting mix.

Moth orchids will not do well with long dry periods. They haven’t adapted to these conditions, and they have no pseudobulbs or other parts to act as water storage when things get tough, unlike other orchid species.

The leaves will keep wrinkling as the orchid gets drier. Take a look at the roots to confirm: are the roots drying up and wrinkling? Is the potting media completely dry? Time to water your orchid thoroughly (but avoid using ice cubes. See also Why You Shouldn’t Water Orchids With Ice).

For an orchid that is desperate for a drink, submerge the whole pot in water (see also Three Ways To Water Orchids). Leave it for about half an hour, and take it out, letting all the water drain away.

Avoid letting the orchid sit in water, unless there are no soil particles at all on the roots, in which case an orchid can practically live in water.

It is the soil and the microorganisms that live in it that cause orchids to get root rot, so don’t let the plant sit in water for long.

If you’re noticing wrinkled leaves on your orchid, and the roots are getting soft and mushy, or they are brown and starting to stink, this is root rot.

Do not water a plant that has root rot. Any healthy material left will die.

Another way you can confirm if it is root rot is to pull on a root. If the outer portion gives way, and you’re left with what looks like a string, your poor orchid has got root rot.

Take the orchid out of the pot immediately, and throw away the potting mixture. Take a look at the roots. If all of them are brown and mushy, it’s too late to save the plant.

If, however, there are tiny stubs of new roots forming, or there are still some silvery or green roots, it’s worth a try to repot the orchid in fresh bark.

Orchid Leaves Yellowing

Let Nature Take Its Course

A single orchid leaf going yellow is not something you should worry about, as long as it is a lower leaf, the roots are in good condition, and the other leaves look fine.

At some point, your orchid will discard a lower leaf as it gets older, making way for a new one.

However, if more than one leaf starts turning yellow, this is a sign of a problem.

Check The Water Levels

If many leaves on your orchid are turning yellow, this suggests that the moisture levels are wrong, and your plant is suffering. 

Take a look at the leaves’ wrinkling section above, and determine which problem you have, then you can go ahead and solve it.

Orchid Roots Drying Or Shriveling

If you’re noticing that your orchid roots seem to be drying up or getting wrinkled, and they have gone a silvery color, this is the plant looking for more water.

If the roots above the potting media are dry, this means that you should water the air roots as well as those that sit in the ‘compost’. Without enough moisture, these roots will simply shrivel and die.

It’s worth mentioning that healthy roots should be round and thick, and silvery when dry. When the roots are wet, they should be much greener.

White Fuzz On Orchid Leaves

Most likely, if you’re noticing white fuzz or fluff on your orchid, this is the work of mealybugs. The good news is that mealybugs are easier to shift from orchids than from other plants.

Having said that, you don’t want any populations to get out of control. You don’t want them at all, in fact.

White fuzzy bits on the foliage of your orchid, as well as sticky patches that almost look like water are in fact mealybugs, and the honeydew they leave behind.

Use Rubbing Alcohol To Get Rid Of Mealybugs

The most effective way to get rid of mealybugs is to use rubbing alcohol, and this method also works for scale and aphids, too.

Before you put the rubbing alcohol to work, wipe the leaf surfaces (both topside and underside) with a damp paper towel to get rid of what you can see.

Using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, gently sweep over the leaves, paying attention to areas where you could see the little villains with your naked eye.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that isopropyl rubbing alcohol in a 70% concentration is your best bet. 

Not only is it the most widely available strength, but it means that it isn’t too strong to damage your plant.

Check the leaves every few days, and repeat the swabbing weekly or so until all signs of pests disappear.

Moth Orchid Keeps Producing Aerial Roots

Leave Them Be

This isn’t a problem! If your moth orchid keeps producing aerial roots, this is not something you should worry about. 

In the wild, these roots help the plant anchor itself to other plants, where it can extract moisture and even energy from the sun.

If all the orchid roots seem to be looking for a new home, it’s time to repot your orchid, but this should only really happen every couple of years or so.

Orchid Flowers Falling Off The Plant

This is a particularly disappointing problem to have, but there are a few things to consider.

No Flowers Last Forever

While we would all love it if flowers lasted forever, we would definitely appreciate them a lot less than we do when it’s the depths of winter, and we’re dreaming of bright summer blooms and the buzz of bees.

Orchid flowers do not last forever (see also Why Are My Orchid Flowers Dying?). Granted, they do last a lot longer than some, even stretching to three months after you’ve bought them in full flower. 

Orchid blooms dropping from your plant may just signal the end of that particular flower spike, rather than being a portent of death.

It’s a good idea to keep in mind that you don’t know exactly how long your orchid flowers have been in bloom for when you buy them. 

If they last a couple of weeks or months when you get the plant home, this is most likely just the flowering window coming to an end.

It’s a good tactic to buy orchids that have a few flower buds, as this means they will flower for longer. 

It’s even better if you buy orchids that only have one full bloom open, so you get a long flowering window, but you will know exactly what the flowers will look like.

Expect Some Falling Buds If The Temperatures Suddenly Drop

If you live somewhere that gets cold, and you buy an orchid from a store and there’s a huge difference between the inside temperature and outside, some flower buds will dry up instead of opening as they should.

Sudden temperature changes that are a bit like a rollercoaster will cause some flowers to fall from the plant before they open. This is called bud blasting.

Orchids may also drop unopened buds when the care regime changes suddenly, especially in terms of light levels or watering habits. 

This can be inevitable when you buy your plant, as the growing conditions in the store you bought it from will be drastically different to those at home.

Every plant you buy will go through a period of adjustment when you get them home, especially if they are grown in a greenhouse when you get them, as dramatically lower light levels take a while to adjust to.

It’s a shock, certainly, but the change in conditions are unlikely to kill your orchid. Give it more credit than that, these plants are actually fairly resilient.

It’s also a good idea to keep your orchids away from sources of heat, as this will not only dry out the air around your orchid, but it will mean that buds won’t open at all.

My Orchid Isn’t Flowering

Ah, the most worthwhile part of growing an orchid is admiring the flowers. So when your orchid fails to flower, this can be pretty frustrating.

Well, the most likely reason why your orchid is not flowering is because it doesn’t have enough light. 

The blooming process takes up a lot of energy, and the plant will simply not try if it doesn’t have enough to begin with.

A good trick to know if your plant is getting enough light is to look at the leaves. An orchid that isn’t getting enough light will have deep green leaves, while one that is getting plenty of light will have bright green leaves.

Darker green leaves contain more chlorophyll, so the plant can use as much light from the sun as possible to convert into energy. 

Move Your Orchid To A Brighter Place

Orchids should be placed as close to a window as possible, so they can get all the light they can, and this will help flowers appear. 

If you have a skylight, and plenty of light streaming through it, this will do, too. 

Aim to give your orchids bright and indirect light for nearly all day, preferably with an hour or two of morning sunlight to really give these plants a boost. 

Avoid any longer than this, as prolonged sunlight will damage your orchids.

When your orchid is in bloom (which it isn’t right now, if you’re reading this section), you can place it somewhere darker to enjoy the flowers, but once the flowers are finished, move them back into their normal position.

Let Temperatures Get Cooler At Night

If light is definitely not the problem and the leaves on your orchid are bright green, but the plant still refuses to flower even though it is the right time of year, there is a way to trigger the blooming process.

A good way of encouraging flowers on your orchids is to place them somewhere where the temperature drops more at night than it does in the day. 

This could be in a room that gets cold at night, or near a drafty window, but you can also achieve this by moving your orchids outdoors for the summer. 

Putting your orchids outside for the summer gives the plants a real boost, with the increased airflow and light, and it is worth a try to get your plant to rebloom.

Depending on when your moth orchid was blooming when you bought it, the majority tend to flower in fall or winter, though they can be forced to do so in other times of the year, as no one tends to buy an orchid without flowers!

If you do summer your orchids outdoors, make sure to bring them back inside before temperatures drop below 55°F, as this is too cold for orchids.

My Orchid Isn’t Producing New Leaves

Be Patient!

Moth orchids are notoriously slow when it comes to new growth. At the very most, you will see one or two brand-new leaves in a whole year. 

This is probably not what you’re used to with other plants that are capable of putting out new leaves every week or so, but when it comes to orchids, slower is always the way.

It may also be that your orchid has gone dormant, especially if the plant has just finished flowering. Be patient with your plant, and you will eventually see new growth.

Things To Consider When Caring For Orchids

Keep in mind that plant care is something of a balancing act: when one element of care becomes unbalanced, it can cause problems in other areas. 

Stress in your orchids may be caused by one issue or several, and some are even dependent on each other. 

For example, poor light can lead to too much moisture near the roots, causing root rot, especially if there isn’t enough warmth to evaporate the water quickly.

Orchids can be fussy plants at the best of times, but one thing you have to remember is that they aren’t like other houseplants, and you shouldn’t treat them as such. 

Orchids do require some specialist care, but the hard part is recognizing problems with your orchid quick enough to fix them.

And as you near the end of the article, you already know the majority of what you need to, in order to get your orchid to thrive for years to come.

It’s always worth taking a look at your orchid every week or so, just to check in and see how it is doing. 

This way you can spot problems before they get out of hand, and the quicker you notice, the easier they are to deal with.

While some people absolutely swear by feeding their orchids all the time, it’s important to note that provided their growing requirements are met, these plants can go for a long time without fertilizer.

It is a good idea to give your orchid plant a boost during the growing season, but avoid feeds that are formulated to be higher in nitrogen than anything else, and give any fertilizer that contains urea a wide berth.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to fertilizer is to provide your plant with feed every week during the hot summer, and every couple of weeks in fall and winter.

Make sure that the dosage is always weak, preferably half the recommended strength on the bottle, and always moisten the potting mix so that the roots don’t burn with the fertilizer. 

This will cause a lot of damage if you fertilize dry roots, so avoid this at all costs.

Final Thoughts

Moth orchids can be somewhat difficult to care for when you are starting out, but give it enough time, and brush up on the signs of orchid stress, and you will soon see your orchid thrive under your care.

It can be quite nerve-wracking at first when it comes to caring for an orchid, letting the blooms die down, wondering if any will come back. 

But there is nothing quite so satisfying as watching the plant come back with a vengeance with fantastic flowers the following year, with a couple of new leaves and lots of healthy roots, absolutely thriving under your care.

Some people find different plants harder to care for than others, and it takes some mistakes and time to understand what a plant really needs. 

Once you have this down, caring for them becomes second nature, and you will wonder how you ever killed your plants in the first place!

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