Orchids can tolerate some level of dehydration stemming from getting too little water, but their water reserves do become depleted after a while of neglect, and the plant starts to wither away.
A dehydrated orchid can be saved from dying, but you must first recognize the signs of dehydration, and make immediate adjustments in the plant’s watering routine and environment.
Phalaenopsis orchids are not difficult to grow, but adequate watering can be an issue. Very often orchids are overwatered but underwatering is also a problem that I see coming up nearly as often.
I’m going to walk you through the signs of underwatering, orchid revival tips, and mastering proper orchid watering to prevent watering related issues in the future.
Signs Your Orchid is Dehydrated
When your orchid doesn’t get enough water, the signs of dehydration will show up in the leaves and roots, exhibiting the following symptoms:
- Pale and yellowing leaves
- Droopy or shriveled leaves
- White-grey roots (it’s the first sign that your orchid needs water, and it can be used as a signal to determine whether your orchid needs watering)
- Wrinkled roots
- No roots
Now you may think that all these are signs of underwatering but sometimes, root rot caused by overwatering is what produces these symptoms.
With the roots being damaged, nutrient delivery to the leaves gets cut off and the plant will produce the same symptoms it would produce if it were dehydrated.
How to Save a Dehydrated Orchid?
Dehydration is not always a death sentence for your orchid. If you recognize the signs early on, you can successfully revive a dying orchid.
Stepping Up Your Watering Routine
If you suspect dehydration and not overwatering is causing your orchid to exhibit signs of drying out, try to get back to a normal watering routine.
Always use the soil and exposed roots as guidelines for watering. If the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry, you can water your orchid. Exposed roots will turn silvery if your orchid needs water.
Water thoroughly, let excess water drain, then empty the saucer. If the orchid is potted in well-draining soil, aeration and drainage of excess water should not be an issue.
You may be inclined to drown your orchid with water right away to make up for lost water. But don’t. Simply getting back to a proper watering routine will yield results, unless there are no roots anymore or roots are damaged.
Saving the Roots or Re-Establishing Roots
If getting back to a normal watering routine does not help, it’s time to inspect the roots. The problem may be that your orchid does not have any roots, or the roots are damaged by rotting.
The only way to know for sure is to take the plant out of the pot and inspect the roots. If there are roots, make sure to wash them down and inspect them.
Remove any soft, mushy roots and keep only those that are firm and healthy. Sterilize with hydrogen peroxide 3% to eliminate any fungus or bacteria. Repot your orchid and resume a normal watering routine.
If there are no roots left, or the ones that are left are very few, you’re going to need to re-establish roots.
Clean off any dead matter from the plant and sterilize, then use fresh media and repot in a see-through container that’s fitted with a lid. This will create extra humidity that will then be absorbed through the leaves.
Aerate the plant every day or at least every other day and continue watering normally. After a while, your orchid will start to create new roots.
Dehydration of your orchids can occur because of a bad watering routine, but also because of environmental factors that increase evaporation and dry out the soil too quickly.
Here are the other things in the environment of your orchid you should be careful with to avoid dehydration:
Warm weather will logically increase evaporation, which in turn means that you’ll need to water your orchid more frequently.
Seasonal changes will bring variations in temperature and you’ll need to adjust your watering routine to the new environmental conditions.
In a hot and dry summer, you’ll obviously need to keep a better eye on the watering needs of your orchids.
Even in winter, you’ll need to avoid placing your orchid close to heating vents and other heat sources.
Phalaenopsis orchids are tropical plants that need some humidity to thrive and don’t tolerate dry, arid conditions.
Therefore, if summers are hot and dry in your area, you’ll need to increase humidity around the plant.
You can place the plant on a tray of water with pebbles or use a humidifier to easily and conveniently increase the humidity to the desired level.
Exposure to direct sunlight is another major reason why your orchid can dry out. Phalaenopsis orchids should not be kept under direct sunlight.
In nature they get filtered light, under the canopy of trees. In your home, bright, indirect light will be best for your orchid. Avoid keeping your orchid in a dark place.
Not an environmental issue per se, but overfertilizing or bad quality fertilizer can also cause your orchid to dry out. Nutrients can build-up in the soil and cause toxicity, which looks a lot like dehydration.
Flushing the soil so that excess fertilizer gets washed away or repotting the plant in case of a severe over-fertilization are the quickest and best way to deal with root burn caused by overfertilizing your plant.
Dehydration of an orchid can be brought about by many factors, chief among them, however, is an inadequate watering routine.
Sometimes, the problem is overwatering itself that causes the roots of the orchid to saturate with water and promotes fungal diseases that will cause rotting.
With rotting underway, the roots get destroyed and they become unable to deliver nutrients to the plant, causing it to wither away and die.
To prevent drying out or root rot, make sure you understand your orchid’s watering needs and you water your orchid correctly.