Last Updated on August 22, 2022 by Gary Stephen
Your orchid has been doing amazing since you bought it. It smells divine, looks beautiful and gives you a bit of prestige amongst your fellow houseplant keepers. But now it’s winter, and it’s wilted. Suddenly, it’s looking a little peaky and you’re not too sure if you’ve been such a good plant-parent after all. ‘Is my orchid dead?’, you wonder.
Orchids are some of the most difficult plants to keep alive in an apartment or flat. As such, most will die within a year of coming into your home. But if you can keep it alive and have it bloom every spring right on schedule, there is probably no greater feeling of satisfaction and pride.
But how do you know if it’s alive or just ‘sleeping’? What signs do you need to look out for? Before answering this question, let’s first establish exactly what an orchid is and why they’re so difficult to keep alive.
What is an orchid?
Orchid’s or Orchidaceae are beautiful flowering plants with a delightful fragrance that make for excellent ( even if finicky), houseplants.
Finicky is a bit of an understatement. They can die for apparently no reason and are notoriously fussy about their surroundings. Like having a perpetual spoilt child in the home that you can’t reason with. But they sure are pretty, so we forgive them.
Although finicky, they are surprisingly hardy in their natural environment and can withstand quite a lot in the right circumstances. They live usually in tropical climates, but this can vary from orchid to orchid. They love being sprinkled with water, and prefer a potting mix that is 80% fir bark and 20% coarse sphagnum peat types to help them thrive.
To keep an Orchid alive is an achievement in itself, a testament to your ability as a plant-keeper. But keep in mind that an orchid will naturally go to ‘sleep’ during winter. It saves energy and builds up enough strength to bloom beautifully in the spring. So, when your orchid does begin to wilt, don’t fret just yet.
How to tell if your Orchid Is Dead or Alive
How to tell if your orchid is sleeping:
As stated above, orchids will ‘die’ during winter. It’s more of a hibernation really, giving it the chance to build up strength to bloom again. Even if it’s sleeping, it still needs some care. To tell if your orchid is dead or sleeping, take particular note of the following:
- Yellow leaves – if the bottom row leaves are yellow, but the rest are green, you’re good to go.
- Green stem – the stem is a quick indicator of how healthy your orchid is. If it’s green, your orchid is fine.
- Pale springy roots – roots are the most accurate place to check the health of your plant, if they begin to rot you have a problem.
- Skipped blooming – often orchid keepers might think a plant is dead when, in fact, it isn’t blooming. For an orchid, it simply means the environment isn’t ideal. Simply adjust the environment and you should see some blooms soon.
How to tell if your orchid is dead:
Orchids, as we know, are finicky, they can begin to wilt and sag for just about anything. If your orchid shows any of the following signs it is most likely dead and will need to be discarded.
- Brown stem – the quickest way to determine if the orchid is alive is its stem. If it has turned an ugly brown and is soft to the touch, it’s dead.
- Mushy roots – roots should be green and springy, if all the roots are brown and mushy the orchid is dead.
- Yellow or brown leaves – if all of the leaves on your orchid are either brown, yellow or have dropped off, your orchid is dead.
- Infested with mealybugs – a plant that is overrun with pests will most likely die if it isn’t dead already. If you believe your plant is infected, check the roots to see if it still has a chance to be saved.
If the orchid is dead, and you need to get a new one, you can read about sending this flower to Italy here.
Common problems with orchids and how to treat them
Numerous things can go wrong with an orchid. But here are a few common ailments you can expect when keeping one of these beauties:
1) Bud blast doesn’t mean your orchid is dead
Hands down one of the most frustrating parts of keeping an orchid is the difficulty of getting it to bloom. Sometimes an orchid will form a bud only for it to drop off a day or so later. To prevent this, go through a quick checklist:
- Make sure it gets enough sunlight. If an orchid is in a dark room it simply won’t bloom. But don’t leave it to burn to death in the sun either. A south-face window should do fine.
- Make sure it is not being drowned by water. Use ice cubes about twice to three times a week to water your orchid effectively and equally.
- If you have an air conditioner, rather put the orchid in a room where it will not be affected by it.
- If you have a bowl of fruits close by, rather move the orchid to another room. Fruit releases ethylene gas, which prevents orchids from blooming.
Picture source: The American Orchid Society
2) Leaves dropping
A very common issue is the sudden dropping of leaves. If you see your orchid suddenly begins to drop leaves at a rapid pace, try checking the following:
- Too much water. Because an orchid is considered a tropical plant, we often think it needs more water than other plants. This is not true. It needs water but in measured amounts. Try watering with ice cubes.
- Check the roots. If you’ve been overwatering, chances are good the plant’s roots have become rotted. Remove all dead roots and wash the rest clean. Wash the pot and roots with insecticide soap and replace the orchid in the pot with fresh soil. Don’t water for about a week and rather mist the plant to give the roots a chance to recuperate.
3) Spots on white flowers
These spots are a sign of weak air-flow, too cold air and too much moisture. It is best to remove the flowers with these spots to prevent them from spreading to the rest of the orchid.
4) Crown rot
This problem can quickly kill an orchid. It’s essentially a browning of the stem or crown. If the entire stem turns brown, your plant is dead. It happens when a plant is put in a room with little to no airflow or when you water it late in the day. The water won’t be able to dry out before the evening and the stem will begin to rot.
If there are only spots on the stem, you can do the following to try and save the plant:
- Cut out the rotten bits with a sharp knife.
- Sprinkle some cinnamon to help it dry out.
- Move the plant to an open window with enough sunlight.
5) Leaf-tip dieback also doesn’t mean your orchid is dead
Leaf-tip dieback is when the tip of an orchid’s leaves turns brown. There are numerous reasons why this can happen.
- Forgot to re-pot – on average, an orchid will need to be repotted at least once a year. Fresh soil and fertilizer help keep your orchid healthy.
- Over-fertilizing – although fertilizer is excellent for all plants, too much fertilizer can make them sick.
- Too much or too little water – some orchids have very specific watering needs. Confirm the type of species you have, and if you’ve been watering incorrectly, adjust accordingly.
All plants can become infested with pests. If caught early you can quickly handle the situation with some insecticide soap or even just some alcohol. Always remember that a sick plant is far more likely to get pests than a healthy plant. Here are a few types of pests they can pick up:
Probably one of the most common household pests, mealybugs form as white cotton patches on the base leaves and flowers of your plants. They are easily removed with some rubbing alcohol and cotton balls. Simply use the rubbing alcohol to gently remove the bugs, and then afterwards you can wipe the plant down with a wet clean cloth or a clean cotton ball. Keep an eye on the orchid and repeat the treatment as needed.
Scale is a type of pest that is carried by ants. It shows up in the form of greyish to white spots on the leaves and flowers and can look similar to mealybugs. But scale insects leave a sticky residue in their wake called honey-dew. Scale can kill your plant, so to get rid of them, get alcohol and a toothbrush and get scrubbing. Make sure to remove everything, even the dry bumps on the leaves, as some insects like to hide in there.
There are three types of scale; Boisduval scale, brown scale and soft scale. All three are equally destructive.
Wrapping up if you wonder ‘is my orchid dead?’
Overall, the orchid is a beautiful little diva. Its demands and needs are high and even when you have everything right, it will still find something to complain about. But when it’s happy with your care, it does reward you with a beautiful plant that has a wonderful fragrance and that can only be described as utterly worth it. We hope this article will take you one step closer to caring for a beautiful, blooming orchid.