Knowing the difference between a dormant orchid and a dying one can be tough if you don’t know what to look for. If your orchid is actually dying, it’s essential to understand the cause so it doesn’t happen again.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Dying Orchid?
When an orchid begins to die, its appearance changes dramatically. The plant leaves start to turn yellow and wilt, losing their firmness and becoming limp.
The most common symptoms of a dying orchid are:
Flower buds falling off
Wilting or drooping leaves and flowers.
Brown spots on leaves and stems or a foul odor emanating from the plant.
As the orchid continues to deteriorate, its stem may turn brown or black, indicating that the plant can no longer absorb nutrients from the soil. Eventually, the entire plant will wither away and die.
Orchids can have a long life span. In the wild, they can live up to 20 years. Kept potted and indoors, their life span can be over 10 years.
As beautiful as they are when blooming, those blooms can seem short-lived. Most orchids only bloom once a year, and those blooms die back after a month or two. Orchid flowers dying back isn’t necessarily a sign of death, however. In most cases, it’s just part of the normal life cycle, and if well cared for, your orchid will rebloom.
Is Your Orchid Dormant Or Dying?
It can be challenging to determine whether your orchid is dormant or dying. The first step in understanding what’s happening with your orchid is to observe the plant’s leaves, roots, and blooms.
If the orchid leaves are green and firm, then your orchid is likely just dormant. During dormancy, your plant conserves energy by slowing down its growth rate. However, if the leaves are yellow or brown and wilted or falling off, your orchid may die.
Similarly, healthy roots should be plump and white or greenish in color. If they appear brown or black and mushy to the touch, it indicates root rot which can lead to the death of the plant.
Blooming patterns can also indicate whether an orchid is dormant or dying.
If your orchid has stopped blooming for a few months but otherwise appears healthy with new leaf growths emerging from its base, it’s likely just dormant. But if there are no signs of new growth after several months without new flower buds, then it could mean that your orchid is dying.
Understanding these signs will help you identify whether your orchid is just taking a break or needs immediate attention before it’s too late.
What Causes An Orchid To Die?
Like anything, an orchid needs proper care and attention to thrive. But even with the most diligent orchid care, they can still die. Knowing the causes can help avoid them or intervene early to keep your orchid plant alive and happy.
The most common reasons for orchid death are:
Overwatering is the most common cause of orchid death. Orchids need a specific amount of water to survive, and if they receive too much water, root rot will occur.
Orchids do best when watered weekly. Keep a regular watering schedule. Adding an ice cube to your soil once a week can release the proper amount of water to maintain a healthy orchid.
If you’re seeing signs of root rot, take the following steps:
Allow your orchid to dry out
Check the root health. Healthy roots will look green or grey.
If there are healthy roots (even if it’s just a few), prune the dead roots and foliage using sterile shears or a blade.
New growers who hear the horror stories of overwatering can swing too far the other way and inadvertently underwater their plants. In this case, the leaves will droop and shrivel.
Keep a regular weekly watering schedule.
Wrong potting soil
The wrong potting soil can cause root rot. Certain soils hold excess water, which is a problem for orchids.
Most orchids grown in homes are Phalaenopsis orchids or Moth orchids. This type of orchid naturally grows in trees, developing aerial roots (air roots). In other words, they don’t naturally grow in soil. Often new growers aren’t aware of this and choose soils that are good for other indoor plants but hold too much moisture for orchids.
Repot in a pine bark potting medium or one made specifically for orchids. These specialized soils are easily found at most local nurseries or online retailers like Amazon.
Not enough humidity
Orchids are tropical plants and do best in environments with humidity levels up to 70%. Many homes don’t reach this level. While it’s not necessary to keep your home that humid, increasing the area directly around the plant will encourage healthy growth and blooming.
Certain areas of the home tend to be more humid than others, like the bathroom or kitchen. If you have low humidity in your home, consider relocating your orchid. A portable humidifier or pebble tray placed near your orchid plants can also help.
Some orchids grow leaves that create a funnel around the flower spike. This funnel can collect water, and if it doesn’t drain, it will cause crown rot. In their natural habitat, orchids typically grow at an angle, which helps the crown drain naturally.
Water your orchid at its base and not above the leaves. If you do notice water collecting, gently separate the leaves and tilt the pot enough for the water to drain.
All-purpose fertilizers used for houseplants are likely to burn your orchid, which can eventually kill it.
Use a fertilizer made specifically for orchids. This will have the correct formulation and concentration of nutrients.
Too much direct sunlight or not enough light
Orchids require a balance of light and shade to grow properly. If they are placed in an area with too much direct sunlight or not enough light, it can cause them to lose their leaves and eventually die. The wrong balance of light will also prevent them from flowering.
Being native to tropical areas, their natural habitat is in the dappled, indirect sunlight under the forest canopy.
Place your orchid in an area that gets filtered, indirect light. You may need to try different areas to find the right spot.
Common pests include spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. An infestation of these can cause brown spots on the leaves and orchid stem. Left untreated, these pests can sap the nutrients from your orchid and kill it.
Carefully prune the infected areas and apply an orchid-specific, organic insecticide.
Root rot or fungal diseases can also affect the health of an orchid. Mushy, dying roots and blemished leaves can all signify disease.
Using sterile tools, prune the damaged areas. Then depending upon the cause and severity, repot and adjust the lighting and watering schedule to prevent the roots from holding excess water.
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