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Common Mistakes Killing Your Orchid

By Jo Marshall
Share to PinterestCommon Mistakes Killing Your Orchid

Orchids are some of the most beautiful plants you could choose to grow. Unfortunately, their beauty comes at a cost, as many species are quite fussy. Because of this, new growers may not know if their plant is dying or just following its natural cycle.

The key to knowing if your orchid is in danger is keeping an eye out for a few notable symptoms. Thankfully, many of these issues are manageable and you can save your plant before it’s too late.


My orchid’s leaves are yellow

Share to Pinterestwithered green and yellow leaves of orchids in a red pot

Your orchid’s leaves can provide a lot of insight into its health. Healthy orchid leaves are usually thick and vibrant green. If your orchid’s leaves develop a yellow tint, it may be fighting a fungal infection like stem rot. Because the infection comes from standing water in the orchid’s soil, you can usually resolve it by pausing your watering routine.

Some forms of rot also occur due to overhead watering.


My orchid’s flower buds yellow and fall off before blooming

Share to PinterestDrying and falling of young buds in the Orchid.
Stanislav Sablin / Getty Images

The buds are the most sensitive part of the plant, so environmental changes affect them more prominently. If your orchid’s environment suddenly changes, it may experience a great shock that causes the buds to yellow, shrivel up, and eventually fall off. This condition, bud blast, can stem from rapid temperature shifts, changes in humidity, under- or overwatering, insect infestations, or herbicide fumes.

To solve bud blast, you must first isolate the trigger and resolve it. First, make sure the environment is definitely the cause: look for other symptoms, such as insect bites or damp soil, that would point to a different problem.


My orchid’s leaves have burnt, brown tips

While “more is better” applies to a wide range of topics, fertilizing orchids is not one of them. A plant won’t typically absorb more nutrients than it needs. Over time, excessive fertilizing will cause a buildup of nutrients in the soil, which then dehydrate the plant and damage the roots. This is known as fertilizer burn.

The most notable sign of over-fertilizing, burnt leaf tips, occurs in the later stages of fertilizer burn when the orchid is close to dying. Keep an eye out for salt buildup on the top of the soil or brown crusts around the pot to catch the issue early. To solve fertilizer burn, remove the orchid from the pot and toss out all the old soil. Wash the roots with water to remove salt accumulations and then report the orchid in fresh growing medium.


My orchid’s leaves are falling off

Share to Pinterestorchid leaves on dark green paper background
Maya23K / Getty Images

Though it seems like a dramatic symptom, leaves falling off of your orchid doesn't necessarily indicate that it is dying. Many orchid species drop their leaves when they enter dormancy. If your plant’s stem is green and firm and the roots seem healthy, the orchid is probably just dormant.


My orchid’s flower petals fall off of brown stems

Orchids naturally shed their flowers as part of their life cycle. In most cases, you won’t need to take any corrective action. However, if the orchid’s flowers are falling off of a browning stem, it’s time for pruning. When an orchid’s stem turns brown, it’s a sign that there aren’t enough nutrients to support that limb. Prune the stem to keep the rest of your plant happy and healthy.


My orchid’s leaves droop or look wrinkled

For most plants, drooping or wrinkled leaves are a classic sign of underwatering. However, in orchids, drooping leaves can indicate any kind of moisture imbalance — too much or too litter. Stick your finger into the soil near your orchid.

If it is bone dry, you likely need to add more water. Wet soil means you should cut back. In some cases, you may need to repot your orchid in fresh soil to prevent the moisture from causing even more damage.


My orchid has an unpleasant odor

Share to Pinterestorchid leaf with black and white burn spot
Serhii Ivashchuk / Getty Images

Many orchid species are loved the world over for their powerful scents and fragrances. However, if your orchid’s lovely perfume has transformed into something closer to dead fish, the plant probably has a bacterial infection. These diseases can quickly spread across plant populations and decimate your collection, so you need to act quickly.

Use a clean cutting tool to remove any infected surfaces on your orchids; look for black, brown, or yellow lesions. Your plant may survive, but it depends on how far the infection has spread.


My orchid’s leaves have burn marks

Share to PinterestSunburn on an orchid leaf.
Stanislav Sablin / Getty Images

White or brown areas may suddenly appear on your orchid’s leaves, eventually turning black and resembling a scorch mark. These blemishes stem from sudden exposure to bright light. While the lesions are unappealing, they are not fatal. The best thing you can do is check light levels and prevent further exposure. Many orchids shed old leaves and grow new ones once they're done flowering.


My orchid’s roots are dry and wrinkled

Share to Pinterestdry roots of phalaenopsis, a dead orchid plant
Olga Zhogina / Getty Images

When you’re repotting your orchids, you may notice that their roots are dry, wrinkled, or brittle. All of these symptoms are signs that your plant has gone without sufficient water for a long period and is dying. If you’re sure that you’ve been providing your orchid with enough water, there may be an environmental issue. Check for drafty areas or vents that may be drying out your plant. You may need to invest in a humidifier or humidity tray to keep your orchids moist.

Keep in mind that the aerial roots are often quite dry, naturally, and this description refers to the roots that are within the pot.


My orchid has webs or white fuzz all over it

Share to PinterestMealy bug on orchid leaf -
legna69 / Getty Images

Webs and white fuzz are signs of two of the worst orchid pests: mites and mealybugs. Both infestations are manageable, but their damage may not be recoverable. Start by removing your orchid from the soil and rinsing it under a stream of water to remove most of the bugs. Replant the plant in fresh soil.

You can then either use a specific insecticide or a mixture of dish soap and neem oil or rubbing alcohol. Spray your solution over the plant regularly over the next several days, keeping an eye out for any more pests. After the bulk of the infestation is gone, move to spraying once a week. After three weeks, if there are no more bugs, your plant should be safe, and you can stop spraying.



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