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How to Save a Dying Orchid: Common Problems & Remedies

Orchids are bright flowering plants from the family Orchidaceae. Orchids are more prone to fungal and bacterial diseases. Yellow, wrinkled leaves and mushy roots are signs of a dying orchid.

To save your orchids, water correctly, provide enough lighting, and ensure they get the required nutrients.

Common Orchid Problems

1. Overwatering

Water your orchids every 7-10 days to provide ample drainage intervals. You risk exposing your orchids to the effects of overwatering them if the soil often stays soggy. Healthy orchid leaves are green (or the foliage color of that species), firm, and plump. 

The roots are also firm, green after watering, and white between watering times. Overwatering affects air circulation in the roots, causing root rot, fungal and bacterial diseases, and mold.


Check for these signs to tell if you’re overwatering your orchids.

  • Brown or mushy roots: Roots become soggy and rot, with a bad smell. 
  • Yellow, pleated leaves. Brown spots on the leaves indicate a fungal disease. Leaves start to droop and wither, and some dry out. 
  • Wilted or wrinkled pseudobulbs: If your orchid has pseudobulbs, they become wrinkled or shriveled.
  • Crown rot: The part where roots and leaves meet rots when overwatered. The base of the leaves may appear dark and mushy.
  • Loss of blooms and buds: Overwatered orchids drop flowers prematurely, and new buds fail to develop or open properly.
  • Slow or stunted growth: Too much water inhibits nutrient uptake, slowing down the growth of the orchid.
  • Mold or fungal growth: Excessive moisture creates a favorable environment for mold and fungi to grow in the potting medium.  Look for white or green mold on the surface of the potting mix. 


You can save your dying orchid if most of the roots look healthy.  Give the roots a few days to dry out. Then, carefully remove the plant from the pot and check for root rot. Look for a mushy brown or black appearance on the roots and the extent of the damage.

Trim off the damaged roots using sterilized scissors. Leave the roots to air dry for several hours in a well-ventilated space. This removes the excess moisture from the root system. Repot it in a fresh, well-draining potting mix, and adjust your watering routine. 

Going forward, only water your orchid when the potting medium feels dry when you touch it after about 7-10 days.

2. Underwatering

Underwatering causes stress and dehydration in orchid plants. Orchids are more tolerant of slight drying out between waterings compared to overwatering. But consistently underwatering them can still cause problems.


  • Dry, brittle roots: Underwatered orchids have dry, brittle leaves that are not plump or firm. They turn gray and shrivel.
  • Drooping or wrinkled leaves: Dehydration causes leaves to lose their turgidity. They become wilted or wrinkled and appear dull. Eventually, they wilt and turn yellow.
  • Wrinkled or shriveled pseudobulbs: Some orchid varieties, like Cattleyas and Dendrobiums, have pseudobulbs that store water. Lack of enough water makes them wrinkle and shrivel.
  • Flowers and buds drop: Flowers and buds of underwatered orchids drop off prematurely because of drought.


To save an underwatered orchid, water it thoroughly. Run water over the potting medium and let it run out through the bottom of the container. Ensure the medium is thoroughly wetted and avoid wetting the foliage.

Mist the leaves, stem, and aerial roots. Wait until the top of the potting mix is dry to water. Empty the tray and never let the plants sit in water.

The potting mix should be well-draining to give the roots adequate water and avoid waterlogging. It’s better to water orchids less frequently but thoroughly rather than lightly and frequently.

3. Incorrect Lighting

Orchids thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight—especially during the hottest time of the day—can scorch their leaves. They require enough sunlight to bloom. The amount of light depends on the species you’re growing. They are categorized into three.

  • High-light orchids require bright, indirect sunlight for 6-8 hours daily. Examples include moth orchids, Vanda orchids, Cattleya orchids, and Dendrobium orchids.
  • Medium-light orchids, like Oncidium orchids, thrive in lower levels of bright, filtered, or indirect light.
  • Low-light orchids are shade tolerant and adapt to lower light conditions with indirect or very diffused light. They include Phalaenopsis (some hybrids) and some Epiphytic Dendrobiums.

Pay attention to the color of the leaves as an indicator of the light your orchids are getting. Healthy orchids have vibrant green leaves. 


Too much light

  • Leaf burn: Orchid leaves develop brown, scorched patches or edges due to excessive light.
  • Yellowing leaves: Yellow leaves can result from too much light when the plant tries to protect itself by reducing chlorophyll production.
  • Leaf wrinkling: Orchids exposed to excessive light may have wrinkled or withered leaves in an attempt to conserve water.

Too little light

  • Long, leggy growth: Orchids not receiving enough light may develop long, thin, and weak growth with elongated leaves and stems.
  • Dark green leaves: Some orchids naturally have dark green leaves. But if your orchid’s leaves are excessively dark green and it’s not blooming, it might indicate insufficient light.
  • Reduced to no blooms: Insufficient light can cause a lack of flowering or infrequent blooming. Orchids may focus on vegetative growth instead.
  • Foliage at the base: Orchids produce foliage primarily at the base of the plant, leaving the upper parts bare and unproductive.


If your orchids have symptoms of too much direct sunlight, relocate them to a spot with bright, indirect light. Provide shade using sheer curtains or blinds. Rotate the plant periodically to give all sides an even light exposure.

For insufficient light, move it to a location with more natural light. When natural light is inadequate, like in Winter, supplement with artificial lighting. Look for LED grow lights or fluorescent lights designed for plants.

4. Pests and Diseases

Orchids are prone to pests like aphids, scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites, and slugs. Common orchid diseases include root rot, bacterial and fungal rot, orchid viruses, and leaf spot.


Symptoms of pests

  • Visible Insects: Some pests, like aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites, may be visible on the orchid’s leaves, stems, or flower spikes.
  • Leaf Damage: Pests damage orchid leaves by yellowing, stippling, holes, or distorted growth
  • Honeydew: Some pests, like aphids and mealybugs, excrete a sticky substance called honeydew. This can cause the growth of black sooty mold on the orchid’s surfaces.
  • Webbing: Spider mites often create fine webbing on the plant, especially on the undersides of leaves.
  • Slimy, silvery trails on the stem, leaves, and flowers indicate snails or slugs.
  • Tiny, waxy bumps on leaves, stems, or pseudobulbs indicate scale insects
  • Soft, white, cottony insects in leaf crevices and sheaths—mealybugs

Symptoms of diseases

  • Leaf Spots: Fungal or bacterial infections can cause dark spots or lesions on the leaves. The spots may vary in color, including brown, black, or water-soaked.
  • Fungal rot: Black, mushy, foul-smelling tissues on roots, pseudobulbs, or leaves
  • Bacterial rot: Water-soaked, brown or black lesions on leaves, pseudobulbs, or flowers
  • Streaking or Mottling: Viral infections can cause streaking, mottling, or distortion of leaves and flowers.
  • Leaf Yellowing or Browning: Some diseases cause leaves to turn yellow, brown, or reddish as they deteriorate
  • Stunted Growth: Diseases can inhibit growth, causing orchids to produce fewer pseudobulbs or smaller leaves.


For pests, 

  • Use a soft brush dipped in rubbing alcohol and remove them gently
  • Spray the affected parts with insecticidal soap
  • Spray a mixture of neem oil, water, and dish soap
  • Use biological methods like ladybugs to control aphid population

For diseases,

  • Remove and destroy infected parts like leaves and pseudobulbs
  • Spray fungicides and bactericides appropriate for that specific disease
  • Ensure good ventilation around your orchids to reduce humidity and discourage fungal growth
  • Remove and dispose of plants with viral infections
  • Avoid overwatering

5. Nutrient Deficiency 

Orchids, like all plants, require specific nutrients to thrive. A deficiency in essential nutrients causes yellowing of leaves, scorched black leaf edges and tips, and leaf drop.

Essential nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, boron, magnesium, iron, manganese, and zinc.


  • Older leaves turn yellow or pale green, and reduced overall growth
  • Leaves turn dark green or purple, delayed flowering, or reduced flower production.
  • Older leaves develop brown or yellow spots, and leaf edges become brown or scorched.
  • New growth appears distorted or irregular, young leaves puckered or wrinkled, and rot on the flowers.
  • New growth is twisted, distorted, or has irregular growth patterns. Leaves develop brown spots and become brittle.
  • Older leaves develop yellow areas between the veins, while the veins remain green.
  • Stunted new growth


Apply a balanced orchid fertilizer with the essential nutrients. If your plants have a specific nutrient deficiency, use a fertilizer rich in that nutrient. Otherwise, consider adding nutrient supplements. Maintain proper watering practices to prevent nutrients from leaching.

Orchids have specific nutrient requirements. Conduct a soil test or leaf analysis to pinpoint specific deficiencies. Over-fertilization is as harmful as under-fertilization.