Help! My orchid is dying | Orchid problems & solutions

Given their gorgeous foliage and stunning flowers, orchids like the popular Phalaenopsis and Dendrobium can be found in many households all over the world. Although most of the most common orchids are not too difficult to grow, green thumbs and seasoned pros alike struggle at times when it seems like their orchid is dying.

There are many factors to keeping houseplants alive! Here’s a look at what you might find yourself battling in order to save your orchid.

Orchid is dying from leaf problems

You may notice once a year or so that the bottom leaves of your orchid may turn yellow and fall off. This can be a bit alarming to see, but it’s completely natural. Just the plant going through its life cycle and rejuvenating itself.

As long as it’s only one or two leaves at a time, there’s no need to worry. However, there are also some more serious leaf issues to watch out for.

Light purple Phalaenopsis orchid flowers with light background. | Guide to common problems with orchids: "Help, my orchid is dying!"

Yellow leaves on your orchid?

Problem: Foliage is yellowing
Causes: Underwatering, overwatering,

Yellowing of leaves further up the plant or yellow discoloration with brown edges can be caused by prolonged dehydration, which is not too much of an issue. The leaves in question will be lost, but if you adjust your watering schedule it should hopefully not happen again.

Unfortunately, yellowing leaves on orchids might also be indicative of stem rot, which is somewhat more concerning. Stem rot is often caused by a fungal infection reaching the stem from the leaves after water is left sitting between them. It’s often fatal if you don’t act quickly enough.

You’ll likely see black or brown patches if you’re really dealing with rot, and you might notice an unpleasant smell if you put your nose up to the plant.

Fortunately, you can cut into the green, healthy leaf before the infection and completely snip the infected area off. This will hopefully aid in stopping the infection. If the infection is allowed to spread to the stem, you may lose the entire plant, so be sure to act quickly.

Houseplant nursery setting featuring many different blooming orchids. | Guide to common problems with orchids: "Help, my orchid is dying!"
There are many different species of orchids out there and many of them have slightly varying care requirements. Read up on your particular orchid species to make sure you’re providing what it needs.

Orchid leaves are drooping

Problem: Leaves are wilting and wrinkling
Causes: Underwatering, overwatering,

Droopy, wrinkly leaves be caused by dehydration as well. It’s generally caused by not giving your orchid enough water, although it can indicate an issue with the roots, too, such as root rot.

You should try increasing the amount of water you give your orchid for a few days and if it’s still not hydrating, you’re likely dealing with a root problem. Try digging around in the soil a bit or even de-potting the plant entirely to see if you can find black, mushy or smelly roots. If you do, remove the affected roots entirely or your entire orchid can succumb to rot.

Spots on orchid leaves

Problem: Blemishes on leaves
Causes: Infestation, sunburn, infection

Spots and blemishes on the leaves have various causes. For instance, depending on the type of orchid you have, some dark spotting is completely normal. However, other spots can be a sign of sunburn, fungal/bacterial infection, or a pest infestation.

Once the damage is already done, the individual leaf often can’t be saved. Fortunately, if preventative measures are taken, new leaves should usually grow just fine. You might have to move the orchid to a spot with indirect light rather than bright sun, and you should thoroughly check out the whole plant to see if you can pinpoint the exact issue.

Differences in orchid leaf sizes

Problem: New leaves are larger or smaller
Causes: Stress/shock, normal

Finally, you may notice that there’s a noticeable size difference between new and older leaves. For example, the new leaves may grow larger than older leaves. Don’t worry because this is normal! It simply means your plants are thriving. However, if new leaves grow smaller, it may be a sign of stress.

You may get a small leaf after first purchasing an orchid or repotting it, since houseplants in general just don’t like being disturbed. Nothing to worry about! If you provide adequate care, you should see the next leaf grow larger.

Tip: It can really help to look up where your orchid species naturally grows. Imitating a houseplant’s natural habitat a little is very helpful in preventing issues before they pop up.

Close-up of leaves of Phalaenopsis orchid.
Some blemishes and difference in leaf sizes are not too worrisome in orchids like Phalaenopsis.

Orchid is dying from root issues

Problem: Roots look off
Causes: Root rot, overwatering, lack of ventilation, incorrect soil, nutrient imbalance

First off, you may notice roots growing out of the pot and expanding outwards. This is normal and it’s not recommended to cut them, as they’re good backups for if the roots within the pot are struggling. It can be a bit of a pain once it’s time to repot, but try not to damage these roots.

If the roots are green, white, silver, or light yellow, these are signs of healthy roots, so there’s no need to worry. However, here are some more serious root issues you might run into.

  • Brown and mushy roots often point to root rot, which is usually a bacterial infestion. It can be caused by overwatering but can also be caused by poor substrate (decomposing or too dense for the species) or pests. To save the dying orchid, remove it from its pot and cut away all the dead and dying roots, then repot it in fresh orchid substrate. With some luck, you’ll be able to halt the infection.

    Root rot can also be caused by poor ventilation, so consider changing your pots or adding more holes using a drill to allow plenty of air to flow through.
  • Black or dried patches on the roots above the substrate can indicate issues with the water, such as hard water. In this case, flushing out the plant and then using rainwater or distilled water can help it bounce back.

    These patches can also be caused by fertilizer burn, so be sure to dilute your mixture further or change your feeding schedule. Try using a fertilizer specifically made for orchids. Most plants should not be fed in winter when they’re not actively growing.
  • If you salvaged an orchid from the trash or had a previous issue with yours, it might have no roots at all. No worries, it can grow new ones. Make sure the plant is potted in a suitable medium and gets bright indirect light. Increasing humidity by placing it in a clear plastic bag can really help.

Tip: Keep in mind that your orchid will need different care in summer versus during wintertime. Most plants need less water and no fertilizer during the cold months. Remember that being near a chilly and drafty single-pane window might be a bit too cold for your orchid!

Vanda orchid
Many orchid species need lots of humidity but also require excellent ventilation and air around the roots to prevent rot.

Problems with orchid flowers

Problem: Buds or flowers are wilting
Causes: Shock/stress, watering issues, cold, lack of light

An orchid’s beautiful flowers will eventually fall, which is part of its normal life cycle. Immediately after buying or repotting an orchid, it’s unfortunately relatively common for blooms to drop. New ones will grow in time, so don’t toss the plant!

It’s natural for the flowers to die off. However, if the flowers fall off faster than normal depending on your variety, be sure to check if there’s anything bothering your plant. Check out some care guides for your specific orchid species to make sure you’re doing everything right and consider if any of the following may be affecting your plant:

  • Buds falling off before they have a chance to bloom is known as bud blast, which is a sign of a stressed plant. You’re very likely to experience this after bringing a new orchid home as it acclimates to the new environment.
  • Dehydration can make an orchid drop its flowers to save the rest of the plant.
  • Low humidity is problematic for many species, as they naturally grow in tropical rainforests.
  • Changes in temperature are not appreciated and can result in flower drop. This is especially likely if it suddenly gets very cold.
  • Too much or little sunlight can both mess with flower development and blooming, so make sure you provide bright but indirect light.

Review the care and environment you’re providing and correct any errors you might spot. The current round of blooms is likely lost, but next time should hopefully be more successful. It’s important to remember that orchids can flower from two weeks to three months. Phalaenopsis especially are known for their crazy blooming times!

Purple mottled Phalaenopsis orchid flower.

Problems with pests on orchids

Problem: Infestation
Causes: Spider mites, mealybugs, thrips & more

Pests can infect various parts of the plants, making a quick meal out of your favorite orchid. If you want to keep your orchid from dying, keep an eye out for the following signs of pest infestations.

  • Spider mites: Brown dotting on the leaves can be a sign of these pests being present. Thin webbing is also a dead giveaway. Whip out your magnifying glass because they’re are seriously tiny. Water will be your best weapon, since they hate moisture and love dry (winter) air.
  • Mealybugs: fluffy patches on the plant may indicate a mealybug problem. These critters like to hide in tight places, such as the crown and joints of leaves. They’re very persistent and will also hide in potting medium.
  • Aphids: They tend to scuttle to wherever there’s fresh growth, such as leaves and buds, but aren’t picky and will go after older foliage as well. They’re generally easy to spot, although they can have different colors such as green, grey and black.
  • Scale: These insects prefer all parts of the plant and are detectable as bumps that don’t easily rub off when touched.
  • Fungus gnats: Unfortunately pretty common with orchids. They present as small annoying flies, but the main problem are their larvae, which love munching on plant roots. Battle them with sticky traps (or carnivorous plants!), neem oil or an insecticide.
  • Snails and slugs: Luckily, they may not be that common depending on where you live. However, if you grow your orchids outdoors and notice substantial damage done in a matter of hours, you may want to dig around.
Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) with white flowers.
Even a healthy-looking plant can have bugs, so check new additions thoroughly!

Depending on exactly what you’re dealing with, there are various home and commercial options available. Mixing neem oil, alcohol or dish soap with water and spraying the orchid in question can be a good start. For things like aphids or spider mites, even just blasting them with water a few times a week can really help.

Unfortunately, you may have to try several different treatments to find what works best for your individual situation. Just be aware that treatment alone may not be enough. You’ll want to separate any affected orchids to keep other plants from being infested as well. And remember, a healthy plant is much less likely to succumb: bugs like houseplants that are already struggling.

Tip: Make sure you thoroughly check your orchid after buying it. It’s not uncommon for plants to get infected in stores and nurseries! Keep new additions away from rare and expensive specimens until you’re sure they’re pest free.

As you can see, although there are a lot of reasons why your orchid may be dying, with swift action and care, you can bring it back to life!

If you have any more questions about how to save a dying orchid or if you want to share your own experiences with orchid problems, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below! 🌿