How To Save A Dying Orchid

In this article, we would share detailed information on how to save a dying orchid.

Given the right conditions, anyone can grow gorgeous orchids just about anywhere.

Just pick your location, then provide the right combination of humidity, water, and light, and you are well on your way to getting cute flowers in the blooming season.

On the flip side though, orchids are notoriously picky. They tend to be unforgiving if one or a couple of the growth requirements dip below the required standards.

And they make their feelings clear with symptoms like wrinkling, drooping, leaf discoloration, etc.; most often, these are pointers that the orchid is dying.

If you grow orchids or intend to, you’d definitely want to know how to save a dying orchid.

Because, sooner or later, they’d show signs of failing. Knowing how the navigate this pitfall effortlessly is what this article is all about.

How To Save A Dying Orchid

Panicking over a dying orchid is a common newbie reaction.

That is perfectly understandable. After all, the plan, after getting the healthy orchid, didn’t include the flowers falling off in the blooming season.

The plan also didn’t envisage browning leaves, falling leaves, discoloration of stems, and signs of stem decay.

Many experts would tell you that to save your dying orchid, you’ve got to be intentional about the steps you take.

Fortunately, reviving a dying orchid isn’t complicated.

Sometimes, all it requires is simply moving the orchid to a different location. Most often, you’d have to repot it in a new growth medium.

In all cases though, patience is needed because it might take weeks to notice any reversal in fortunes.

When trying to save a dying orchid, correctly diagnosing the problem is the vital first step before applying the fix.

This is way better than a scattergun strategy of throwing everything at the problem hoping something works.

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Causes and Symptoms of Dying Orchids

Over-watering/ Root rot

Over-watering is considered the leading cause of indoor orchid deaths.

The most common orchids, Phalaenopsis orchids, are epiphytes.

That means, in their natural environment, they get the required moisture and nutrients from the air.

The roots are simply anchors keeping the plant upright and attached to the growth substrate.

The roots cannot survive in soil that is too moist due to over-watering. This leads to root rots where the by become mushy from decay.

Ultimately, the orchid would lose all its roots leading to plant dehydration and death.

As well as dehydration, other typical symptoms of root rot include wilting foliage, yellowing of the leaves, and subsequent dropping of leaves.

A definitive diagnosis of root rot involves unpotting and inspecting the orchid’s roots.

The rotted roots would appear brown or blackish and mushy to touch. You can’t fail to perceive the bad smell too when you sniff the roots.


While orchids don’t need much watering, allowing the soil to become bone dry for too long can lead to severe root dehydration.

Roots with this level of exposure also appear thin and whitish with dehydration while the leaves become wrinkled and droopy with yellowing leaves.

Crown rot

Generally, crown rot is caused by incorrectly watering the orchid from above instead of directly at the roots.

When watered from above, water pools in the funnel-shaped crowns of the orchid.

The water promotes fungal growth causing leaf decay. The leaves and stems eventually turn yellow and then blackish. The orchid would perish eventually.


Orchids get their nutrients from the air. They can thrive with very little or no fertilizer if other growth conditions are okay.

In some cases though, applying just a bit may be necessary to encourage growth.

Applying too much or improper application can lead to root burn, a condition that turns the roots an unhealthy black color without the tell-tale smell associated with root rot.

In the blooming season, this issue can disrupt flower production after the leaves turn yellow and droopy.

Exposure to direct sunlight

Orchids love bright areas away from direct sunshine. When exposed to direct sunlight, it suffers what is collectively referred to as sunburn.

The typical symptoms include yellow leaves or leaves that have brown burnt spots on their surface.

Given enough time, the orchid would lose all affected leaves.

Weather conditions

These are directly linked to the ideal orchid growing conditions such as temperature and humidity.

Temperatures outside the 50 – 75°F range, no matter the season, are considered too extreme for orchids.

The resulting ‘stress’ can cause leaves to become yellow, buds to drop, roots to die, wilting, and ultimately orchid death.

Orchids suffer when exposed for too long to humidity levels below 45%.

This mostly occurs in winter when heating appliances are working.

Wrinkled leaves and deformed buds are the typical symptoms of plunging humidity.

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How to Revive Your Dying Orchid Based on the Symptoms

After pinning down the reason(s) your orchid is dying, the next step is to apply the fix.

Keep in mind that you may need multiple solutions to revive the dying orchid in some cases.

The sections below are the ways to save a dying orchid using the observable symptoms or cause:

Root rot

Here, you’d have to unpot the plant and replant it in a new pot using fresh orchid potting media.

Before repotting though, carefully tease out the soil from the rootball using first your fingers and then a gentle stream of tepid water.

Then use a pair of sharp, sterilized pruners to cut out all infected roots leaving only healthy roots.

When you are done with that, spray the healthy roots with a good fungicide. You can now transplant it in orchid media.

Most importantly, you want to make sure this doesn’t occur again by watering only when the growing media is almost completely dry.

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In transparent plastic pots, the thin, dehydrated roots and parched growth indicating under-watering can be seen clearly. The leaves at this point would be wrinkly.

The steps below outline how to properly rehydrate and save your orchid:

  1. Unpot the orchid after removing the growth media
  2. Dip the roots in tepid water. Ensure you don’t get the leaves wet.
  3. Remove the roots from the water and prune unhealthy and dead roots using sterilized shears or pruners.
  4. Spray the remaining roots with a fungicide solution
  5. Replant the orchid in fresh orchid mix and water it if it’s dry

Place the pot in a bright area but away from direct sunlight.

To make sure this doesn’t happen again, never allow the soil to remain unwatered for more than a week after the soil is dry.

Crown rot

When you see the symptoms of crown rot, you need to act quickly to have any chance of saving the orchid.

Even at that, there is no guarantee of success. This makes prevention through careful watering very important.

So, if water is trapped in the crowns after watering, immediately stick a paper towel inside to soak the water.

But if the problem has set in, you can attempt to save the orchid using the steps below:

  1. Unpot the orchid
  2. Soak the roots in warm water to clean them
  3. Cut out all dead-looking roots and affected leaves using sterilized cutters
  4. Spray the remaining rots and foliage with a fungicide
  5. Allow the roots to dry for a moment before repotting in a fresh orchid mix.

When replanting, cover the roots only lightly with the orchid mix. It’s okay if some of the roots are exposed to the air.

Then wait for new growth to appear

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Root burn from excess fertilization

If you noticed the symptoms of over-fertilization after applying fertilizer recently, it’s recommended that you flush the fertilizer out of the soil.

This involves unpotting the orchid and soaking it in tepid water about three times.

But a better fix is to immediately repot the plant, especially in cases of extreme root burn. The steps below describe how:

  1. Unpot the orchid
  2. Cut out all sickly and dead roots with a pair of sterilized scissors
  3. Rinse the remaining roots in clean water and spray with fungicide
  4. Repot the plant in fresh orchid mix. As usual, plant the roots deeply just below the surface by placing them on the growth substrate and covering them lightly with the orchid mix.

Exposure to light

Saving your orchid simply entails moving it to a better location or more specifically, away from direct exposure to sunlight.

The new location must be bright though.

Humidity/Temperature issues

To save a dying orchid affected by temperature stress, simply move it to a location with a temperature that falls within the growth range of 65- 80°F in the daytime and 60 – 70°F at night.

Also, consider moving the plant away from heat sources or cooling units.

Raising the humidity to reverse the problems caused by low humidity, you could:

  • Install a humidifier
  • Mist the plants without leaving water droplets on the leaves
  • Set the pot on a saucer filled with water or drip tray containing water, Just make sure the bottom of the pot is above the water by resting it on pebbles.

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Orchid repotting tips

  • Always use a new potting medium because the old one might be infected with fungus.
  • You can use 3% hydrogen peroxide or 6 -10 drops of bleach mixed in 1 liter of water as your fungicide for spraying the roots
  • When choosing potting medium, make pine bark potting mix your first choice because of the excellent aeration and drainage
  • Consider using a clear plastic pot that allows light to get to the roots. This promotes energy production to speed up the revival of the orchid.
  • Use only pots with drainage holes
  • If all the roots are damaged, a thin wire can be a good substitute.

After cutting out the bad roots, simply wind the wire around the base of the plant and medium before putting the orchid back into the container.

Wrapping Up

While orchids are not hard to grow, they can be sensitive to persistent sub-par care and maintenance; throwing up various symptoms as a result.

These are usually the first indications the plant is failing and might soon die.

For orchid parents, knowing how to save a dying orchid is a necessary gardening skill they’d surely need because problems can appear unexpectedly.

Reviving dying orchids involves recreating the natural growing conditions, cutting out dying roots, and repotting in a fresh orchid medium. Fortunately, these are largely routine chores for gardeners.