July 4, 2024 easy tips to save a dying orchid

9 Practical Tips to Save a Dying Orchid

Orchids can be tricky, even for seasoned gardeners. They have an annoying habit of dying on us!

But don’t worry, they can be revived. These practical, tried-and-tested tips will bring your orchid back from the brink.

Understanding Your Orchid

Before jumping into the rescue mission it’s good to understand your orchid. Different types of orchids have unique requirements. But the most commonly grown ones, like Phalaenopsis (moth orchids), share similar care needs.

Phalaenopsis are known for their beautiful, long-lasting flowers and can bloom multiple times a year if properly looked after. They are epiphytes, meaning they naturally grow on other plants or trees, rather than in soil. They absorb moisture and nutrients from the air and their surroundings.

Knowing this, we can better cater to their specific needs, giving them the right amount of light, water and nutrients. A few other popular types of orchids include Cattleya, Dendrobium and Oncidium, each with slightly different care requirements. However, the principles we’ll go through here generally apply to all varieties of orchids.

So with all that let’s get into the practical steps to save your struggling orchid.

tending to a dying orchid

1. Inspect the Roots

Healthy roots are firm and green. If your orchid’s roots are mushy or brown they need immediate attention. Roots play a really important role in an orchid’s health as they absorb water and nutrients while anchoring the plant.

What You’ll Need:

  • Sterilized scissors
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Orchid potting mix


  1. Gently remove the orchid from its pot. Be careful not to damage the roots.
  2. Rinse the roots to remove old potting mix. This helps to see the condition of the roots more clearly.
  3. Trim off any brown, mushy roots with sterilized scissors. Healthy roots are usually firm and white or green.
  4. Treat the remaining healthy roots with a bit of hydrogen peroxide to kill any bacteria. This should prevent infection and promotes healthy growth.
  5. Repot in fresh orchid potting mix. Use a mix specifically designed for orchids, which typically contains bark, perlite and sphagnum moss to provide proper drainage and aeration.

watering a struggling orchid

2. Adjust Watering Habits

Overwatering is a common mistake. Orchids need a balance — too much or too little can be harmful. Orchids have adapted to survive periods of drought so their roots need to dry out between waterings.

Tips for Proper Watering:

  • Water once a week, allowing the potting mix to dry out in between. Stick your finger about an inch into the potting mix; if it feels dry, it’s time to water.
  • Use room temperature, distilled water. Tap water can contain minerals and chemicals that harm orchids.
  • Water in the morning to give the plant time to dry before night. This helps prevent bacterial and fungal growth that can occur in damp conditions overnight.

3. Check Humidity Levels

Orchids do best in humid environments but too much moisture can lead to rot. In their natural habitats orchids often grow in tropical and subtropical climates with high humidity.

How to Maintain Optimal Humidity:

  • Aim for a humidity level of 50-70%.
  • Use a humidity tray or a room humidifier. A humidity tray can be made by placing a layer of pebbles in a shallow tray filled with water. Put the orchid pot on top of the pebbles and make sure the pot does not sit directly in the water.
  • Mist the orchid lightly if necessary but avoid soaking the leaves. Misting can help increase humidity but should be done sparingly to avoid water collecting on the leaves which can lead to rot.

woman caring for an orchid

4. Provide Adequate Light

Orchids love bright, indirect light. Direct sunlight can scorch the leaves, while too little light can affect blooming. Light is one of the most critical factors in orchid care.

Light Tips:

  • Place near an east or west-facing window. These windows provide bright light without the intense midday sun.
  • Use sheer curtains to diffuse direct sunlight. This protects the orchid from direct sun rays that can burn the leaves.
  • If natural light is insufficient then consider a grow light. Grow lights can supplement natural light and also provide the full spectrum of light that orchids need.

5. Temperature Control

Orchids are sensitive to temperature changes. They prefer a consistent environment. Temperature fluctuations can stress the plant and affect blooming.

Ideal Temperatures:

  • Daytime: 65-75°F (18-24°C)
  • Nighttime: 55-65°F (13-18°C)

6. Fertilize Sparingly

Over fertilizing can burn the roots and leaves. Orchids need a balanced, weak fertilizer. Fertilizing provides essential nutrients that support growth and flowering.

Fertilizer Schedule:

  • Use a balanced orchid fertilizer (20-20-20). This ratio indicates equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorus’s and potassium, essential for healthy growth.
  • Dilute the fertilizer to half strength. Orchids are sensitive to fertilizer so a weaker solution is safer.
  • Fertilize every two weeks during the growing season and once a month during winter.

woman looking after an orchid

7. Pruning Dead or Dying Blooms

Regular pruning helps the plant conserve energy and encourages new growth. Removing spent blooms allows the plant to focus its resources on healthy growth.

Pruning Tips:

  • Use sterilized scissors or pruners.
  • Cut the spike about 1 inch above a node (small bump on the stem). This can encourage the plant to produce a new flower spike from the node.
  • Remove any dead or yellow leaves to prevent disease. Leaves that are yellowing or dead can be a sign of underlying issues and should be removed.

8. Repot Regularly

Orchids need fresh potting mix every 1-2 years to prevent root rot and provide nutrients. Over time the potting mix breaks down and loses its effectiveness.

Repotting Steps:

  1. Choose a pot slightly larger than the current one. Orchids prefer to be slightly snug in their pots.
  2. Use a fresh orchid potting mix. The mix should be well draining and airy.
  3. Gently loosen the roots and place the orchid in the new pot. Spread the roots out to prevent compaction.
  4. Fill in with potting mix and make sure the plant is stable. Press the mix gently around the roots to provide support.

9. Keep an Eye on Pests

Orchids can attract pests like aphids, spider mites and scale. Regular checks can help keep these pests at bay. Pests can weaken the plant and cause significant damage if not controlled.

Pest Control Methods:

  • Inspect the plant regularly for signs of pests. Look under leaves and along stems where pests often hide.
  • Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to treat infestations. These treatments are safe for orchids and effective against most pests.
  • Isolate the affected plant to prevent spreading to other plants. Quarantine helps to manage and control infestations.

Common Orchid Issues and Solutions

Yellow Leaves

Cause: Overwatering or too much direct sunlight. Overwatering suffocates roots, leading to yellowing leaves, while direct sunlight can scorch them.
Solution: Adjust watering schedule and relocate to a spot with indirect light. Check the potting mix dries out between waterings and avoid placing the orchid in direct sun.

Dropping Buds

Cause: Sudden temperature changes or low humidity. Fluctuations in temperature can shock the plant and low humidity can cause buds to dry out and fall.
Solution: Maintain consistent temperature and increase humidity. Use a humidifier or humidity tray and keep the orchid in a stable environment.

Root Rot

Cause: Overwatering or poor drainage. Roots need air to survive and too much water can lead to rot.
Solution: Trim affected roots and repot in fresh mix with proper drainage. Use a well draining orchid mix and a pot with drainage holes.

Orchid Care Table

Yellow LeavesOverwatering or direct sunAdjust watering, indirect light
Dropping BudsTemperature change, low humidityConsistent temperature, increase humidity
Root RotOverwatering, poor drainageTrim roots, repot in fresh mix

Orchid Care Calendar

JanuaryReduce watering, minimal fertilizing
FebruaryCheck humidity, adjust as needed
MarchBegin regular fertilizing
AprilRepot if necessary
MayIncrease watering, check for pests
JuneMaintain regular care
JulyMonitor light exposure
AugustKeep humidity levels up
SeptemberPrepare for blooming season
OctoberRegular fertilizing
NovemberReduce watering slightly
DecemberMinimal care, monitor health


How often should I water my orchid?

Water your orchid once a week allowing the potting mix to dry out between waterings. Adjust frequency based on your home’s humidity and temperature.

Can I use regular potting soil for my orchid?

No, orchids need a special potting mix that provides proper aeration and drainage. Regular potting soil retains too much moisture which can lead to root rot.

Why are my orchid’s leaves turning yellow?

Yellow leaves can be caused by overwatering, direct sunlight or a nutrient deficiency. Adjust your care routine accordingly and give them proper watering, light and feeding.

How do I increase humidity for my orchid?

Use a humidity tray, a room humidifier, o mist the plant lightly. Aim for a humidity level of 50-70%. Grouping plants together can also help create a more humid microclimate.

When should I repot my orchid?

Repot your orchid every 1-2 years, or when you notice the potting mix breaking down and compacting.

Final Thoughts

Saving a dying orchid requires patience and attention to detail. But if you take the time to fully understand your plant’s needs and adjusting your care routine you can revive your orchid and enjoy its beautiful blooms once again.

easy tips to save a dying orchid

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