Orchids are a favorite flower of many women and men alike. They’re beyond beautiful when they bloom and come in a variety of colorful spreads, too.
The one downside with orchids is that as a beginner you can’t quite tell when the plant is alive or dead. That’s because when orchids go dormant, it may look as if they’ve died – though, usually, that’s not the case.
We dig into this matter a little deeper in my post today. Here, I’ll explain to you the 7 telltale signs of whether your orchid is alive or dead. Ready?
How to Tell If Your Orchid Is Alive or Dead: 7 Common Signs
Orchids go dormant between blooming periods to replenish nutrients lost during blooming. Think of it as resting for the next bloom spike.
During this phase, their blooms fall off and only their bare stalks remain, leading many owners to believe that their plants may have died. So, how to tell? Look out for the following 7 signs:
1 – Look at the Roots and Crown
If the crown connecting the leaves and roots is brown and mushy, the orchid is more than likely dead. A healthy orchid has roots that are green or white and firm to the touch. The crown will be as well.
This problem is otherwise known as root rot – and it’s an issue for many owners. They overwater their plants out of zeal for the new, beautiful addition to their home or garden.
To prevent root rot, water only when the soil is dry. If the root rot has progressed to the crown, then it has more than likely spread throughout all of your orchid’s roots.
Is it too late to revive a plant with brown, mushy roots? Yes, the plant was most likely overwatered and died as a result of root rot. Consider this a lesson learned.
Please note: your plant can be only partially in a root rot condition. Cut off the dead part of the roots and you may be able to salvage the entire plant.
This pruning should become a regular part of checking your orchid to confirm that it is healthy.
2 – Look for Yellow Leaves
If only the leaves at the bottom of the plant are turning yellow, you should not worry. The plant is discarding the older leaves and producing new leaves.
However, if leaves turn yellow all over the plant at the same time, this is a sign that your plant is in distress.
Can you save the plant still? Yes, you can help your orchid get more light and nutrients. After which, it’ll more than likely flourish.
However, remember that orchids do best in indirect sunlight. Some problems are caused by placing orchids in too much sun.
3 – Look for Wrinkled Leaves
Wrinkled leaves could be a sign of a humidity problem or that your plant is dehydrated. Orchids are tropical and thrive when the humidity is 40% to 75% and temperatures are warm.
Plants tend to be overwatered easily but some owners may avoid that condition and go too far in the other direction, withholding needed water.
It’s not too late to revive a plant with wrinkled leaves, either. Just adjust humidity with a humidifier if necessary and water following the instructions I give below.
4 – Look for Skipped Blooming
Orchids show their blooms only if you set up the environment to their liking. Sometimes this means that an orchid skips a blooming season because the conditions aren’t to its liking.
With unseasonably warm temperatures, this may become more common.
Is it possible to revive an orchid that has skipped a blooming season?
Given that you check all the adjustments noted so far in this article, that should help set the stage for it to bloom next season!
5 – Look for Leaves Falling Off
As I mentioned before, orchids do shed leaves and replace them. This is a phenomenon that you can observe. It should help you discern a natural pattern throughout the annual cycle of your orchid.
There are also varieties of orchids that shed their leaves when they go dormant and revive in the spring.
Again, if all of the leaves turn yellow and then start to fall off, your plant is in trouble. Take quick action to remedy the situation based on other action steps presented in the article.
With orchids whose leaves have turned yellow and fallen off, your plant is more than likely dead at that point.
To tell for sure: check its roots as well to be sure that your plant is indeed dead. It is crucial to take action when you first notice that your orchid is in distress.
6 – Look for Dark Spots and Bleaching on the Leaves
If your plant has dark spots or bleaching on the leaves, it is in serious trouble. There is likely an underlying problem such as fungal disease, pest infestations, or exposure to too much sun.
In case you are having trouble with pests, you can apply rubbing alcohol to the impacted areas. Follow up with a product, like neem oil, to prevent a recurrence.
Can you revive an orchid whose leaves have dark spots or bleaching? Yes, but it will need to be nurtured carefully.
Move your plant to a less sunny location, for starters, spray with an appropriate pest control solution, and prune any roots that have died.
You might also start watering your plant with ice cubes instead of water to help control the rate of water reaching your plant’s soil.
7 – Look for Changes in the Plant’s Natural Cycle
Remember: there are some changes to the natural life cycle that are okay. For example, your plant may skip a year of dormancy if the seasons don’t change as they naturally do.
Or your plant may lie dormant a week longer one year than the year before. However, when something changes that impacts the look of the plant’s leaves or stems in one of the ways discussed above, it is time to take action.
The Best Ways to Revive Your Orchid: 6 Simple Solutions
Orchids are unusual in that they do survive in some of the world’s harshest conditions: deserts, beaches, and swamps. In the end, all it takes is the right balance of water, light, and humidity.
So, when you see that your orchid has turned brown or has edges that crinkle, stems that refuse to bloom, or leaves that drop, you can easily intervene and change its course. Here’s how:
- Water Properly
Water the orchid with lukewarm water. Fill the pot to the top. You will want time to allow the water to drain through. Try this daily for three days. Then continue watering weekly or when the pot is light when lifted.
- Provide Enough Sunlight
Move your plant where indirect sunlight is available. Keep daytime temps around 70℉ and never colder than 60℉. At night, keep temperatures above 50℉.
- Prune the Plant Regularly
Remove spikes if flowers have not grown within eight weeks. Cut carefully from the base.
- Provide the Orchid with Nutrients
Place the plant under a faucet and water. Dilute orchid food with 50% water or follow the directions on the package and saturate the roots.
- Repot Plant if Necessary
Repot your orchid if these steps do not work. When roots are damaged, you can use wire as a replacement. Cut the bad roots off and then wind the wire around the plant’s base into the soil. Place the plant back into the container.
- Create a Tea Bath for Your Orchid
Here’s what I mean by tea bath:
You want to put your plant in a plastic pot temporarily, filled with distilled, clean water. Avoid tap water which might, and will, hurt your plant further.
Add a black tea bag to that pot. Make sure it’s plain and unflavored beforehand. Orchids love black tea because it contains nitrogen. This element helps provide a simple nutritional boost to your semi-dead plant.
With no soil, there’s nothing to support your plant. So, you will need to use elastics or a bloom stake to create a gentle support system to keep the orchid up.
7 Pro Tips for Healthier Orchids
Owning healthy orchids around your space is a delight. Taking care of these wonderful plants shouldn’t be hard too – all it takes is the right know-how.
- Sunlight: Don’t let your orchid sit in direct sunlight. Don’t cut a stem that’s all green either since it delivers nutrients and moisture back up the spike.
- Fertilizer: Regular fertilizing helps your plant remain strong and healthy. Be sure to use an approved orchid fertilizer. Fertilize regularly with a product designed for orchids.
Typically, these are 20-20-20 formulas (equal parts potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus) that provide the vital nutrients for your plant. Note also that overfeeding can destroy an orchid’s roots.
- Location: Orchids tend to bloom seasonally. Place your orchid near a window in colder seasons and it may be the boost your orchid needs to start growing a flower spike.
- Humidity and water: Use only room temperature water and make sure the soil drains well before you water the plant again. Orchids prefer high humidity levels too. Mist them occasionally or place a tray of water nearby.
- Air circulation: Orchids are susceptible to fungal and bacterial issues. An easy trick to prevent those problems from arising is to provide the plant with good air circulation; avoid direct drafts, though!
- Potting Mix: Always opt for loose, well-draining mediums for your orchids, such as bark or sphagnum moss. Replace your orchid mix every 1-2 years when you repot your orchids so they get the nutrients they need.
- Pests and diseases: Monitor your orchids regularly as keeping a constant eye on them will help you intervene as soon as possible before it gets worse – or irreversible.
With that, you should know how to tell if an orchid is dead or just dormant. It’s simpler than you think, really, just look out for the 7 signs I covered in this post – that’s it!
Looking after your orchid plant shouldn’t be as difficult either. This plant is hardy and can survive in straining environments with no problem, provided that you balance its requirements well.
And in the end, it’ll still bloom pretty flowers after its dormancy phase is over, so be prepared!
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.