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Is my Orchid Dead or Dormant?

Did you know Orchids are one of the oldest and largest flowering plant species on Earth?

Most Orchids bloom once or twice a year and can last up to 120 days; however, seeing a withering Orchid is uncommon.

Dead or dormant Orchids often display shriveled stems, yellow leaves, stunted growth, and other problems.

Check whether the Orchid is dead or dormant by assessing the crown area; anything brownish may indicate a dead plant due to root rot. Orchids with dropping blossoms and shriveled and brownish stems indicate dormancy due to winter.

A woman holding Orchid in hand
Orchid goes dormant for 6 to 9 months.

While dormant Orchids can be revived with optimal care and maintenance, saving a dying plant may become an overwhelming task.

Read on to find out what kills your Orchid plant and how you can revive them before it is too late.

What Kills Orchid or Pushback the Growth?

Orchids declare dormancy between blooming seasons when the plant prepares its soft tissue for cold temperatures or water and nutrient shortages.

Therefore, you will likely see drooping blossoms, wilted stems, thin and brown structures, and stunted growth.

However, know that your Orchid is in problem if it fails to bloom, displays brownish lower stems with yellowed or brownish foliage, or has a brittle stem.

Your Orchid is possibly suffering from one or more adverse conditions caused by several factors.

1. Cold Location

Orchids are a warmth-loving plant that thrives in a temperate environment with temperatures ranging up to 75°F or more.

They will suffer when the temperature begins dropping significantly or they are kept in an area with excessive cold drafts.

Frost damage to Orchids affects foliage and flower and may lead to bacterial root rot.

Orchid blooming in winter
Cold frosty weather can damage Orchid leaves and lead to root rot.

Remember, dormant Orchids may look stunted, but they will still display juicy stalks when you scratch the stem surface.

Orchids suffering from cold may not exhibit any signs of a healthy plant.

Note: Most Orchid species can survive a significant drop in temperature, 30°F, as long as no frost forms on the leaves.

However, you should immediately move it to a warm location to avoid the risk of cold damage.

2. Too Bright Location

Orchids are flowering species that demand over 10 hours of sunlight daily but ensure that it is indirect sunlight.

The plant exposed to a too sunny location will begin drying and change foliage color due to transpiration (loss of water from leaves).

Orchid leaves turning pale
Orchid leaves can change color due to excessive sunlight resulting in transpiration.

The sunburnt area exhibits tiny brown spots, with the yellowed leaf eventually turning white and later dark brown.

Too much light affects Orchids’ chlorophyll to deteriorate, often leading to premature loss of leaves.

Remember, your plant is not yet dead but requires immediate attention.

3. Inadequate Watering

Inadequate watering of the houseplant is a common culprit of root rot.

Orchids staying in too much water will develop fungal growth, leading to a decayed root system.

Root Rot in Calathea
Root rot is one of the prime causes of death in houseplants. Overwatering is responsible for causing root rot.

You would know this by the yellowing leaves, decayed lower stems, mushy roots, and smelly soil. On the other hand, too little watering will cause wilting leaves due to loss in turgor (the rigidity in cells and tissues).

Moreover, the flowers will look wrinkly and wilt pretty soon, affecting the entire batch of blossoms.

Note: Compact soil condition is often invited by inadequate watering, leading to a dry Orchid plant.

4. Untimely Pruning

Orchid plants will enjoy regular pruning once the blossoms die out. Anything before that will severely affect the plant.

Pruning the Orchid while it is still blooming, during spring or summer, or while healthy flowers remain intact to the stem will cause irreversible damage.

Therefore, untimely plant pruning not only depletes the flower but may cause significant harm, even leading to death.

Pruning Plants
Untimely pruning of Orchids will send it into stress, including inviting the risk of fungal infection. 

The same applies to pruning Orchids in fall and winter when it is dormant. You need not worry about pruning old stems unless it is Phalaenopsis (the moth Orchid) that blossoms on old wood.

Some Orchid species require removing the peduncles immediately after flowering to prevent them from pulling juices and nutrients from the flower.

5. Differing USDA Zones

Some Orchids are hardy, while others require a warm temperature around the year.

Growing hardy Orchids in USDA zone 11 or above will quickly wilt the plant, while half-hardy Orchids will suffer in cold temperatures.

Hardy Orchids are best grown in USDA zones 6 to 9 with a minimum temperature of 30°F. Chinese ground Orchid (Bletilla striata) is hardy to USDA zone 6.

Half-hardy Orchids thrive in USDA zone 11 with an average minimum temperature of 55-60°F. When growing Orchids, you should be wary about choosing the species appropriate to your region.

Otherwise, you will often witness the problems of cold stress from frost or cold drafts, low sunlight and temperature, and diseases.

How Do I Know if my Orchids are Dead?

Unfortunately, it is pretty easy to damage your Orchids.

The uneven care and inaccurate growing condition, such as overwatering, root rot, and too much light, will quickly kill the plant.

Look closely at a dying Orchid because it gives out signals that resemble a dormant plant. The table shows the tell-tale differences between a dead and dormant Orchid.

Dormant OrchidDead Orchid
Shrivled and grey stem
Mushy crown turn slighter yellow
Black smudges in stem of Orchids
Crown connecting the leaves and root is brown
Bottom leaves turnig yellow
Wrinkled leaves
Completely yellowed leaves
Dropping leaves
Flowers falling off after bloomingSkipped blooming and lesser luster

Let’s dive deeper to find out whether your Orchids are dead.

1. Brown and Mushy Crown

The brown and mushy crown connecting the leaves and root indicates a dying Orchid plant. It indicates the onset of fungal root rot, which has increased to a severe level.

Your only option is to salvage the healthy stems and dispose of the plant. You would know the crown is healthy and resting due to dormancy if it appears green underneath when you scratch the surface.

Brown and Mushy Orchid roots
Brown and mushy Orchid roots indicate that the plant is dying.

2. Significant Yellowed Leaves

The Orchids with a few yellowed leaves indicate that it is discarding the older leaves. However, the significant number of leaves turning yellow is a clear sign of distress.

The excessive yellowing of foliage usually occurs when the roots are decayed or severely stressed from excessive fertilization.

Bottom leaf of Orchid getting yellow
The bottom leaves of the Orchid turning yellow indicates that the plant is in the dormant stage.

Some yellowing of bottom leaves is common even in dormancy, primarily caused by environmental factors.

3. Withered and Dropping Foliage

One of the indications of a dying Orchid plant is wrinkled or withered-looking leaves that later drop off.

It primarily occurs when the plant is deprived of moisture due to root rot or excessive sunlight.

If excessive yellowing is followed by dropping foliage, know that the death of the Orchid is imminent.

Similarly, the flower spikes begin wilting and dying as it comes under immense stress to stay looking healthy.

4. Skipped Blooming

An Orchid under immense stress will skip blooming to conserve its energy.

Remember, Orchids will only produce flowers when they get an environment of their liking.

Therefore, it is rare to see Orchids skipping the blooming season entirely. Too much light, excess fertilization, and bacterial growth must be blamed.

Expect the plant not to blossom in fall and winter when the Orchid goes into dormancy.

However, it is not too late to revive it. Move it to the correct potting soil and the proper growing environment.

Withered Orchid plant
Withered and skipped blossom indicates that the Orchid is dead.

How do I Know if my Orchid is Dormant?

Due to dormancy, Orchids may take some time to rebloom after a cold winter. Generally, they should give out young leaves in spring and blossoms by mid-spring.

You could tell by its appearance. A dormant Orchid will drop blossoms and exhibit stunted growth with wrinkled leaves.

Please know that your Orchid suffers from cold stress if it fails to exhibit new growth even in the growing season.

Find out whether it has survived the cold by scratching the stem to locate the green and fleshy underneath in spring.

You can further diagnose the problem by uprooting the plant to check the roots.

Remember, the healthy root system has firm green or white roots with a dark green hue crown which indicates that the plant is simply resting.

Orchid in a dormant stage
Orchids experience a long dormant stage i.e., 6 to 9 months.

Unlike other houseplants, Orchid experiences a long dormancy period, six to nine months at a stretch.

Once the dormancy is over, the Orchid may rebloom on its own, usually in late spring or summer.

Continue watering your resting Orchid the same as you usually rejuvenate the root system and fertilize it early spring to provide a sufficient boost.

In addition, provide ample indirect sunlight to induce the photosynthesis process as soon as the winter passes, and your plant will regrow in no time.

Watch the video for more information,

How to Revive my Damaged or Dying Orchid?

Orchids are quite picky when it comes to watering, fertilization, humidity, temperature, and lighting.

Root rot from overwatering, salt buildup, frost and lighting damage, and pest infestation is common in indoor Orchids.

Unfortunately, you cannot revive a dead Orchid but may be able to give new life to a damaged Orchid with ample care.

Here are some common problems of the Orchid plant and their solutions.

1. Brown or Mushy Roots

Brown and mushy roots are the byproducts of root rot. Overwatering, excessive water retention, and fungal diseases are the primary causes of root rot in Orchid plants.

However, they are hard to identify by just looking at the plant.

Check for tell-tale signs, including;

  • Excessive yellow leaves at the bottom
  • Stunted growth with floppy foliage and stem
  • Failed blossoms
  • Soil smelling like rotten egg
  • Decayed lower stem and crown

Once you witness these signs, check for root rot. Roots with black or dark brown texture and mushy appearance indicate severe root rot.

Solutions

  • Throw away the Orchid before the problem spreads to surrounding plants.
  • Salvage any healthy-looking stem for propagation but treat with fungicide beforehand.
  • Consider pruning and treating them with fungicide for slightly decayed roots before repotting in a fresh potting mix.
  • Otherwise, pour certified fungicide mixed with water over the soil to kill the fungal infestation.

Note: Only a few Orchids may come back from severe root rot, where disposing of them will save you time.

2. Brown or Blackened Crown

If the crown connecting the leaves and roots is brown and mushy, consider your plant is likely dead or about to die.

The decayed crown is a byproduct of root rot, which will proliferate towards the stem causing wilting and dropping of foliage.

The healthy crown should look green or white but dark and mushy.

Healthy Orchid crown
A healthy Orchid crown looks green and white rather than dark and mushy.

However, the plant is still salvageable if you can revert the root rot and provide a healthy environment.

Solutions

  • Cut back on watering immediately and place it in a warm location with ample indirect sunlight.
  • If the issue persists, slide the plant to check for the extent of root rot.
  • Trim the heavily infected feeder roots without damaging the main root bulb, apply fungicide, and transplant them into a new pot.
  • If the main root bulb looks brown and mushy, you should better dispose it off.

3. Excessive Yellowed Leaves

Overwatering and too much lighting are the main culprits of root rot in Orchids that results in excessive yellowing foliage. The stressed roots fail to transport water or nutrients to the leaves.

You could tell it by seeing the bottom leaves, which are excessively yellow than the top.

Although yellowed leaves are unsalvageable, you can try saving the healthy leaves by treating stressed roots.

Yellowing foliage in Orchid
Excessive yellowing foliage in the Orchid indicates the plant is dying.

Solutions

  • Start with removing completely yellowed leaves to redirect the energy towards healthy growths.
  • Cut back on watering and only provide about 59 to 80ml or ¼ cup of water every seven days.
  • Lessen the watering frequency once every 25 to 30 days in fall and winter.
  • Move the plant a few feet away from direct sunlight, more prevalent in the south-facing windows.

4. Dark Spots and Bleaching on the Leaves

Orchid leaves with dark spots and bleaching indicate serious trouble of fungal disease or pest infestation.

Bleaching of green foliage is uncommon, owing to problems such as fungal disease, pest infestation, and overexposure to sunlight.

Bleached leaf
The bleached leaf is mainly caused by too much sunlight due to excess transpiration and loss of chlorophyll.

The lack of chlorophyll production leads to excessive bleaching of leaves, causing the untimely death of the plant.

On the other hand, dark spots may appear due to severe pest infestation and direct sunlight.

Check the root condition and number of green leaves to determine whether your plant is salvageable. You can save the plant if most leaves are intact and look healthy green.

Solutions

  • Start with moving the plant to a shady location. 
  • Apply Neem oil or horticultural oil all over the plant to neutralize pests immediately.
  • Alternatively, organic pesticides can kill all kinds of pests and eggs.
  • Slide the plant out and check for decayed roots if the problem does not subside.
  • Prune the infected roots and apply some fungicide before transplanting in a fresh potting mix.

5. Dropping Leaves

Orchids will naturally shed leaves and replace them. Once you resume watering and lighting in early spring, the plant will rebloom with new leaves.

However, seeing the plant exhibit yellowed and wilted foliage with excessive shedding is quite uncommon, which indicates one of many problems.

  • Inadequate watering
  • Substrate draining too quickly
  • Excess fertilization
  • Soil compaction

All the above-mentioned problems affect the root’s ability to retain oxygen and nutrients, leading to an unhealthy plant.

Drying and withered Orchid flowers
You can revive dry and withered Orchid leaves by continuing the proper care routine.

Solutions

  • Check soil condition by inserting your finger; it should feel slightly moist but crumbled or too wet.
  • Consider using a well-draining potting mix containing bark fines, perlite, and peat moss.
  • Following a strict water schedule would suffice once every 7-10 days in spring and summer.
  • Overfertilizing the plant deposits salt layers on the soil, especially with synthetic fertilizer. Consider running water through the pot 2-3 times to leach out excess chemicals.
  • Use only organic fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 20-20-20 and keep the frequency to every two months in spring and summer.
  • However, remember to dilute the solution to half strength by mixing it with water before applying.

Here are a few organic fertilizer recommendations for you.

ProductSpecificationImage
JR Peters All PurposeSuitable for indoor and outdoor flowering plants.
Feeds both through the roots and the leaves
Provides fast green-up and rapid leaf expansion
Scotts Company Miracle-Gro Acid-Loving Plant FoodAcid-loving plant food that instantly feeds Hydrangeas.
It also provides double feeding action through roots and the leaves
BIOADVANCED All in 1 Rose CareAll-purpose plant food appropriate for flowering plants.
It also offers protection against insects and diseases.

Note: Orchids nearing their life cycle will shed excessive leaves which are irreversible.

6. Transplant Shock

Sometimes, moving the Orchid plant from one pot to another may cause transplant shock.

It is common with recently repotted Orchids that will fail to grasp the new potting medium.

Sometimes, heavy pruning of the root system or improper handling may also cause transplant shock, leading to stunted growth.

Solutions

  • Always repot the Orchid when it is actively growing roots, such as in spring or summer.
  • Soak or wet the roots before repotting and be careful not to damage the existing roots.
  • Do not excessively prune the roots as it may lead to instant shock.
  • Keep the substrate moist for the feeder roots to adapt to the soil and avoid fertilizing immediately after repotting.

How to Take Care of Dormant Orchids?

When an Orchid goes into dormancy, you need not do much but provide basic winter care to keep it safe from adverse cold conditions.

1. Provide ample light: Dormant Orchid craves warmth and light even in winter; therefore, try keeping them near a light source such as an LED grow light or sunlit window.

2. Provide Cold Protection: Orchids that are not cold-hardy will suffer in low temperatures; therefore, cover them with a frost blanket and use a heat mat when the temperature drops significantly.

3. Halt Fertilization: Stop fertilizing the plant once it hits dormancy but ensure to add plant food in late winter to boost blossom growth as soon as it gets into spring.

4. Remove Spent Growth: Remove all the Orchid flowers, spent or healthy, in dormancy, including yellowed and brown leaves to conserve the energy inside the plant.

5. Water Sparingly: Water your Orchid sparingly in dormancy as it fails to retain too much moisture. Lay a few ice cubes over the soil every 2-3 weeks.

Note: Only consider repotting the plant in a larger pot if the roots have grown significantly.

To induce the dormancy period in Orchid, lower the temperature, reduce watering and fertilization and continue the care routine as you would in their dormant period.

Preparing an Orchid Bush for Winter

All Orchid plants go into dormancy in winter, which is indicated by low water retention, no root growth, and zero blossoms. However, not all Orchids hibernate the same way during winter.

Depending on the Orchid species, cold hardy ones (Miltoniopsis and Dendrobium Nobile hybrids) will be better suited to keep outside.

On the other hand, warm growing Orchids (Vandas and Catasetums) will go inside with proper insulation throughout the winter.

Here are a few proven ways to prepare your orchids for winter.

  • Shed down the plant significantly before dormancy, including pruning away decayed flowers, stems, and unhealthy roots.
  • Before the plant goes dormant, deadhead brown or dry blooms to stop the plant from focusing energy on producing unsuccessful blooms.
  • Cold-hardy Orchids enjoy night temperatures of around 50°F, while warmth-loving Orchids prefer night temperatures of about 65°F.
  • Prepare a rack made with wood stakes or plastic to place the Orchids outside.
  • For indoor kept Orchids, create a grow tent with wood sticks and wrapped chicken wire for support.
  • Fill the wire with mulch, pine, and leaves to prepare natural insulation.
  • If you live in a colder region, consider moving your warmth-loving orchid inside and use an insulation blanket or heating mat to prevent the risk of cold drafts.
  • Remove the insulation once the last frost passes away in early spring and reintroduce it to its original location.

Related Article: What Pots to Use for Orchid Plant?

Conclusion

Orchid makes a favorite flowering houseplant that produces showy and fragrant blossoms for up to four months yearly.

However, the lack of care and maintenance can quickly push back the plant growth, even leading to root rot problems.

Therefore, you would need to identify problems with your Orchid to be able to treat them on time.

Remember to prune the deadhead flowers in fall and prepare it for winter to witness healthy blossoms again next year.

Follow the above guide to best care for your Orchid plant.

If you are willing to buy Orchids for your home, consider reading; 10 best places to buy Orchids online

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