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Why are Orchid Leaves Dropping?

At some point, you may notice your orchid’s leaves becoming limp, wrinkled, wilting, after which they may simply drop.

Any time you see orchid leaves drooping, you should know that you’re dealing with a watering issue. And while limp leaves may lead you to think your orchid is dehydrated, the contrary can also be true — your orchid may be getting too much water.

In what follows, I’m going to cover the causes behind droopy orchid leaves and offer solutions to overcome and prevent such issues from happening again.

Overwatering

In all likeliness, overwatering is the chief reason why the leaves of your orchid are going limp. You may also notice wrinkling of the leaves and wilting.

The reason why overwatering is more of a concern with orchid plants is because they’re considered succulent plants that do have a better tolerance to lack of water.

That said, their tolerance does not compete with that of cacti, but they can withstand longer periods without water as opposed to other houseplants.

Therefore, if you’ve been too generous with the watering can, the excess water at the roots can cause fungal overgrowth, which in turn can cause rotting issues.

When roots start to rot, nutrient supply is cut off to the plant, and leaves will go without nutrient just as they would if they wouldn’t get enough water.

This is why drooping leaves can be a sign of both overwatering and underwatering. It befalls on you to determine whether you’ve been watering your orchid too often or not enough.

Dehydration

An otherwise healthy orchid can go without water for a little over a month. But just because it may survive this ‘ordeal’, it doesn’t mean it will come out of it unscathed.

As I already mentioned, signs of dehydration are very much the same as the signs of overwatering. If that’s so, how can you tell which one is causing the leaves on your orchid to wither away?

If you know for a fact that you’ve been neglecting to water your orchid, you may already have your answer.

If you can’t tell for sure, you need to check the soil. If it’s moist, potentially smelly, and you may see fungal growth, the cause is most likely too much water. Roots may also become mushy and brown.

If the soil is dry, roots are light grey, and there’s otherwise no signs of disease, the cause is underwatering.

Dead Roots

If an overwatering issue is not addressed in time, the rotting that occurs at the root level can be so extensive that the roots simply die, and the orchid becomes unsalvageable.

This is why it’s important to change your watering routine as soon as you notice the symptoms I discussed so far.

When you’ve been overwatering an orchid, the wisest route is to transfer your orchid to new pot. If you’ve been underwatering, don’t try to overcompensate, simply stick to a normal watering routine.

Overfertilizing can burn the roots of an orchid and subsequently cause problems that may be mistaken with dehydration. Therefore, another cause of dead roots may be the use of excess fertilizer.

Will Droopy Orchid Leaves Recover?

Depending on what the cause of droopy orchid leaves is and how soon can you spot the problem and fix it, droopy orchid leaves can recover.

Let’s take the scenario when an orchid is dehydrated. Can you nurse it back to its former healthy self?

In my experience, it’s easier to recover a droopy orchid that has been underwatered than a droopy orchid that has been overwatered.

Simply start your orchid on a normal watering routine (water deeply when the top of the potting mix feels dry) and only water when you assess the dryness of the soil.

Another signal you can use as a guide when watering is the color of exposed roots. When the roots are starting to turn greyish, it’s time to water your orchid.

For an overwatered orchid, you should move the plant to a new pot, clean the roots and cut away any diseased, mushy, brown roots. Replace the potting medium and resume a normal watering routine.

If the roots are too far damaged, it may be too late for your orchid. Even if the roots are still healthy, if the leaves of the orchid have wilted, they won’t recover, but other growths can and will survive.

Wilting leaves aren’t a good look on an orchid plant, in fact they interfere a lot with the aesthetics of the whole plant. This brings us to the next point:

Should You Cut Off Wilting Orchid Leaves?

Yes, since a withered, yellow leaf will no longer recover, there’s no good reason to still keep it around. Simply give it a firm, but gentle tug — it may detach on its own if it’s dry enough.

If not, take sterilized blades or pruning shears and cut the wilting leaf closely at the base to remove it. You can also remove other diseased leaves this way.

Ideally, if there isn’t a pressing reason to remove a leaf, you should wait until after the blooming period to prune your orchid.

Because orchids are susceptible to fungal diseases and bacteria, use clean, disinfected tools to remove leaves.

Should You Fertilize Orchid with Droopy Leaves?

Ideally, you should fertilize your orchid when it’s actively growing. Use a weak solution to avoid build-up and fertilizer burn.

During the resting cycle, you should reduce both the frequency of fertilizing and the strength of the feed. A dilute solution is safer and will still aid plant development.

If despite regular fertilizing, your orchid is doing poorly, you should refrain from fertilizing it, especially if leaves are becoming dark green, droopy, or if browning appears on leaf tips.

This can signal a fertilizing issue, namely that you’ve been using a fertilizer that’s too strong or you’ve been using it too often.

Mineral salts from the fertilizer can build up in the soil and cause all these issues, including droopy leaves.

An overfertilized orchid will also have dead root tips and brown roots. You may also notice a salt crust on the surface of the potting medium.

The fix to this issue is to decant the orchid, discarding the old potting medium and thoroughly flushing the roots with water. Replace the old potting medium with a fresh mix and change the pot too if your orchid needs a bigger pot or disinfect the old pot if you can reuse it.

Wrapping Up

It can be tricky to determine the exact cause of droopy leaves on your orchid. Still, if you know what to look for, you can quickly assess the situation and fix the problem.

Most commonly, too much water is usually the problem when leaves on your orchid go limp. If you can exclude this cause with a great degree of certainty, you’re left with two other possible causes — dehydration or dead roots caused by fertilizer burn.

Because the symptoms are different, you can easily assess which one is the culprit and apply the correct remedy.

It’s important to prevent watering issues and fertilizer burn, because it’s more difficult to nurse a problematic orchid back to health than preventing the disease in the first place.

Updated: October 23, 2020

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