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I was planning on writing this mostly with the help of Google, but as I was making a list of all the ailments that can befall orchids, I realised that my one, solitary orchid has been through, er, almost all of these things.
For years, I just left him be, until he got some kind of issue, then nursed him back to health and continued the cycle.
Recently though, I’ve really become an Orchid Person.
I think I was afraid of them, because we judge orchids by their blooms, and to get them to bloom you have to take care for them well, and that was too much pressure.
But then my Hoya bella bloomed and I was like ‘I CAN DO THIS’ so here we are. We’re officially into orchids.
How to revive an orchid with root rot
Orchid roots are slightly different to regular roots in that they’re not designed to go in the ground. Most aroids could be described as epiphytes, as they use other trees as climbing frames, but they still have roots under the ground.
Orchid roots are meant to be in sunlight, and they actually photosynthesise.
If your orchid is in soil, it’s way more likely to get root rot, so repot it in a more suitable medium. Orchids potting mix is usally just bark, but I’ve recently repotted mine in a chunky terrarium mix (to be fair, it’s like 85% bark) and my orchid having a wild time regrowing roots.
Aren’t they gross?
if you look closely at the stem, just above the new roots *something* is emerging from the stem. We’re on the edge of seats at Planet House Plant HQ.
As always when dealing with root rot, cut off any soft, mushy, brown roots. Root rot is caused by bacteria, and if you don’t get rid of the bacteria, the rot will continue.
I used diluted 3% hydrogen peroxide to wash off any roots that have had root rot. I let it soak for about 15 minutes and then rinse them off.
There is such as thing as over watering by proxy – for example having the plant in a pot that’s too big, or in soil that’s too dense, or in a pot with no drainage hole. The amount of water isn’t the issue, it’s the fact that it collects around the roots without being able to drain away.
How to revive an orchid that’s dehydrated
Orchids come from tropical regions (actually, they come from freaking EVERYWHERE but the ones commonly sold as house plants come from the tropics), so they don’t like to dry out.
Their roots are designed to absorb moisture from the air, so good humidity is really helpful to orchids.
If you have an orchid that you suspect is suffering from dehydration, putting it in the bathroom whilst you’re having a shower can be really helpful.
In my experience, orchids aren’t that fussed about consistent humidity (though that is important if you’re after blooms) but the steam from the shower can really help boost hydration to the roots.
Sorry to all of you that don’t have a window in your bathroom, but I’m gonna have to recommend that you don’t try this trick. Orchids like light, and the lack of light in an unlit bathroom will probably negate any good effects from the shower steam.
The thing about helping an orchid recover from dehydration is consistency (I’m not good at this, so having mine in the bathroom where I can easily water it is key – mine doesn’t seem to mind tap water).
Commit to checking to see if the soil is dry every four days.
How to revive an orchid that’s stopped growing
A simple repot and some fresh soil may be enough to spur your orchid into action. I used a soil mix designed for terriums and my orchid LOVES it. New roots were shooting out in a week or so.
The first port of call with an orchid that isn’t growing is checking for root rot, and then checking that it has enough light. Ideally, orchids like dappled light, as that’s what they’d get in the wild – bright light filtered by the canopy above.
Obvs it’s not so easy to come by a rainforest canopy in rural North Yorkshire, so I fake using a textured glass window in a sheltered, south-facing spot.
How to revive an orchid with transplant shock
Many plants HATE being repotted (even if they don’t seem to) because it’s just not something that they’re equipped to deal with.
Orchids aren’t that fussy if they’re in an appropriate potting mix because they can be easily removed from orchid bark without their roots being damaged.
Some orchids are even grown with no potting medium at all. They look really cool suspended from the ceiling, but you have to take them down and soak the root which is WAY too much hassle for me.
Transport shock can usually be alleviated by…leaving your orchid alone. I mean, don’t let it dry out badly, but refrain from fertilising it, moving it, or watering it more than strictly necessary.
If you want to move your plant and repot it, I’d recommend moving it to the spot you want it, and then waiting a couple of weeks (or preferably until there’s a bit of new growth, indicating that it’s happy) before repotting.
How to revive an orchid that’s not had enough light
Orchids can survive fairly well in lower light conditions, but they won’t grow or bloom.
Orchids that have been kept without sufficient light develop darker green foliage to enable them to create enough energy to stay alive. If you notice the leaves going darker, consider moving your orchid.
Any change, even a positive one, can be stressful for orchids, so if you increase the light, you may notice a bit of a decline in the plant at first. The new growth that comes through should be healthy and happy, though.
You may also notice that the leaves get a bit bleached or burned – if it’s excessive it could be a sign of too much light. Move the plant a couple of feet further away from the light and move it gradually closer every week to acclimate the orchid.
I don’t do this, because I’m lazy. Instead, I accept that the old foliage is going to look like crap, but the trade off is that the new foliage will look better and *should* (there are no guarantees with plants) grow much faster.
Once a plant is burned, there’s no coming back from that. I leave any damaged leaves on the plant, because the gree parts can still photosynthesis, but you can cut them off if you prefer.
This is 100% a matter of personal preference. If you like an unblemished plant, by all means cut off all the crispy bits – the only downside is that it may take a little longer for the new growth to come in.
How to revive an orchid with crown rot
I like to bottom water my orchid, because crown rot can occur if you water them from the top. Crown rot is when water gets into the leaves and can’t get out, so it sits and rots.
Some plants, like bromeliads, prefer to be watered into the crown but orchids would prefer not to be.
The issue with bottom watering orchids is that because they’re in a chunky medium, it can take an age for the water to wick up to the roots, especially if you’re using a shallow saucer to water.
Instead, I like to put the orchid pot in a larger pot that I can fill all the way up with water, so the orchid potting mix gets a thorough soaking. Net pots are a great option for watering this way, because the holes in pots go up the sides too.
If you have a big orchid and you can’t find big enough net pots, search for pond plant pots, which are also pretty, er, netty.
How to revive an orchid that’s had [insert pest here]
Orchids have quite thick, waxy leaves, so they’re not as prone to thrips and spider mites as other plants. That being said, they can still get them.
The big issue I’ve seen with orchids is mealybugs, because not only do they love the blooms, but there are deep crevices in the leaves that the mealybugs can creep into and hunker down.
I hate to say this, but my advice to people that have a blooming orchid with pests is to chop the bloom off. The flowers takes up a lot of energy that would better off going to help fend of the pests.
Could I make the chop if my orchid was blooming and got bugs? Aaaaargh I don’t know. But I know that it’d probably benefit the plant. We all have to make the choice that’s best for us!
Why do people use tea to revive dying orchids?
When I was doing a bit of preliminary research for this article, I came across the tea thing.
So apparently tea is good for orchids because of the nitrogen, and it can really perk them up. it’s one of those old wives tales that KIND of true, but also not a magic cure all for plants.
You’re best off buying an orchid feed. I like a foliage spray type PURELY BECAUSE IT’S FUN AND CONVENIENT.
I honestly don’t think they’re any better than regular house plant fertiliser, so feel free to just use whatever you have. Bear in mind that phosphorus will help encourage healthy blooms, so you may want a balanced NPK rather than one that’s, for example, 3-2-1. If you have no idea what I’m on about, and NPK is a mystery to you, I have an article all about fertiliser here.
Does watering orchids with ice cubes help revive them?
I don’t recommend using ice cubes to water orchids. Ice cubes are cold (just in case anyone was unaware) and er, orchids don’t like the cold. Who does?
So if your orchid looks sad and you’ve been watering it with ice cubes, stop.
If you’re an avid ice cube waterer and your orchid looks fine, leave it. Perhaps you live in a hot country. Perhaps your orchid is used to it.
I get that from a convenience perspective, it’s good. If you’re unsure about watering and someone says ‘whack two ice cubes every fortnight on it and you’re golden’ I can see how that would really take the guesswork out of watering a plant.
But plants and ice rarely mix, so I wouldn’t advise starting this especially if your orchid is, you know, dying.