How to Revive a Wilting Orchid


How to revive wilting orchids

Is your orchid wilting despite your best efforts to keep it alive? Orchids are my favorite houseplants, and I have a lot of experience growing them in my job working at a garden nursery supplying garden centers.

I have also been lucky enough to speak at length with some of the specialist orchid growers about this problem because I find it comes up often for houseplant lovers…

In this article, I share with you everything I have learned from first-hand experience and from the experts to help you pinpoint the reason why your orchid is wilting and give you a step-by-step guide on how to solve it…

Most often, the reason I see for orchids wilting is because of overwatering or because the potting medium is too compacted and retains too much moisture.

Orchids require good drainage and need air to circulate around the roots. If the potting soil is saturated, this causes roots to die and results in orchid leaves and flowers wilting.

We need to consider that orchids are sensitive to environmental change, and wilting is a sign of stress. There are several reasons for orchids to wilt.

To revive our wilting orchids, we need to create the conditions of their optimal environment with higher levels of humidity, indirect sunlight, watering around once per week, and planting orchids with a pine-based potting medium to allow for good drainage and air to circulate around the roots.

I know it can be quite confusing as there are quite a few reasons for orchids wilting, so I made a table summarizing the most common reasons that I encounter…

Environmental Conditions:Reasons for Orchids Wilting:
Low Humidity:Moth orchids are adapted to living in tropical forests with at least 65% humidity. Low humidity causes stress and wilting leaves and flowers.
Temperature:Orchids preferred temperature range is 55°F (12°C) and 75°F (23°C) and if the temperature is too hot or cold the orchid wilts.
Drought Stress:Orchids usually need watering once per week with a good soak. Watering too lightly causes drought and results in wilting leaves and flowers.
Air Currents:Air conditioning and convection currents from sources of heat, sap moisture from the leaves and cause the orchid to wilt.
Overwatering:Too much moisture around the roots from overwatering causes the roots to rot and die, which means there are fewer roots to transport water and nutrients to the leaves causing them to turn yellow and wilt.
Wrong Potting Medium:Moss and potting soil can retain too much moisture around the orchid’s roots, causing root rot and resulting in wilting leaves. Pine bark is the best potting medium for orchids.
Orchid Planted in the Same Potting Medium for Too Long:All potting mediums can decompose which means the potting medium’s structure becomes less aerated over time and can retain too much moisture, depriving the roots of oxygen and causing the orchid to wilt as a sign of stress.
Orchid Planted in Pots Without Drainage Holes in the Base:Pots without drainage holes and saucers or trays underneath pots cause excess water to pool around the roots of the orchid, which promotes the conditions for root rot and results in a wilting orchid.
Transplant Shock After Repotting:Orchids are sensitive to environmental change and often wilt as a sign of stress due to a sudden contrast in conditions if they are moved or repotted.
Orchid Repotting at the Wrong Time of Year:The best time to repot orchids is in the Spring or just after the orchid has flowered. Repotting during flowering or during the Winter dormancy can cause the orchid leaves and flowers to wilt as a sign of stress.

Keep reading for why your orchid is wilting and how to implement the solutions to these problems to revive your wilting orchid…

Orchid Leaves and Flowers Wilting

The reasons for orchid leaves wilting are because of low humidity, excessively hot or cold temperatures, drought stress, or overwatering. However, if your orchid is wilting and turning yellow, then from my experience, this indicates it is overwatered or the potting medium retains too much moisture.

From my research, orchids grow best in a temperature range of 55°F (12°C) and 75°F (23°C).

Whilst my own orchids have tolerated occasional temperatures that fall outside of this range, a prolonged period of hot or cold temperatures results in the leaves and flowers wilting due to stress.

According to the experts, the most common reason for orchid flowers wilting is because of temperature fluctuations and low humidity. Orchid flowers are very sensitive to sudden changes in temperature, particularly cold snaps, and the flowers can wilt and drop off as a result.

This has happened to me before!

I discovered the reason it happened to my orchid is because my orchid was on a window sill, and some of the leaves were even in contact with the window.

The window sill and window pane are much colder than the ambient temperature of the room, and I learned that it was this difference in temperature that caused both the leaves and the flowers to wilt.

The most common types of houseplant orchids (moth orchids ‘phalaenopsis‘) are native to tropical climates where they grow in climates with humidity of 65% or more.

Moth orchids ('phalaenopsis') are the most common type of house plant orchid with flowers in a variety of colors.
Moth orchids (‘phalaenopsis’) are the most common type of house plant orchid with flowers in a variety of colors.

(Read my article, how to care for phalaenopsis orchids indoors).

It is often the case that the air houses are much lower than 65% humidity and air currents such as air conditioning, draughty areas or convection currents from sources of heat can all create an environment that is too low in humidity for orchids that can cause the leaves and flowers to wilt.

I had this problem when I lived in my apartment. My indoor heating would dry out the air in winter, and the air conditioner would sap moisture from the orchids’ leaves, flowers, and soil in the summer!

Low humidity, as well as cold temperatures, is also often the cause of flowers and buds wilting and dropping off.

We need to remember that orchids also require a generous soak every time you water them or the leaves can wilt and shrivel. Typically, my orchids are watered once per week which is enough to meet the watering requirements of the orchid and not risk root rot.

If you water your orchids too lightly, then only the top inch of the potting medium becomes moist and the water does not reach the roots where it is required and causes the leaves and flowers to wilt.

I think this is because of some dubious advice out there that orchids should be watered with icecubes whereas I can tell you from experience that watering the potting medium with a really good soak is a much better method of watering that prevents the orchid’s leaves wilting

Orchids Wilting Due to Overwatering

To understand why our orchids may be wilting due to overwatering, we need to understand how orchids grow in their native environment…

Moth orchids (the most common type of houseplant orchid) are epiphytes, which means they grow on other trees or in loose, gravelly soil in their native forest environment.

This means that orchid roots grow in conditions in which air can circulate around the roots, and water drains away very quickly, rather than the roots sitting in consistently damp, compacted soil.

This is why I love pine bark-based potting mediums and I think are best for growing orchids as they replicate the aerated, well-draining conditions to which the orchid’s roots are adapted.

Trust me, I have experimented with peat moss and even investigated a charcoal-based potting medium that was commercially available, and in my tests, pine bark-based potting mediums are always the best for my orchids.

Orchids are very sensitive to overwatering, and their roots are in soil that retains too much moisture and restricts the flow of oxygen around the roots, which results in the roots rotting and dying, and they can no longer transport water and nutrients to the leaves, which causes them to wilt and turn yellow.

Orchid wilting and turning yellow due to overwatering.
This is a photo of an orchid I saw in a garden center that was wilting and turning yellow due to overwatering.

If you are watering orchids more than twice per week, then I’m afraid you are likely over-watering orchids.

Orchids can also wilt and suffer the symptoms of overwatering if they are planted in pots without drainage holes in the base or because the saucers or trays underneath the pot are retaining water, which causes the potting medium to stay consistently damp and causes root rot.

(Read my article, why is my orchid dying for how to save orchids with root rot).

Orchids Wilting Due to Being in the Same Potting Medium for Too Long

Orchid leaves can wilt if they have been in the same potting medium for too long. Orchids require a loose, open structure to the potting medium to allow air to circulate around the roots and for good drainage.

We need to remember that potting mixes decompose over time, causing them to retain too much moisture and exclude oxygen.

Even if the orchid is planted in the ideal wood bark-based potting medium that I recommend, this can become a problem.

Organic matter breaks down over time (just like a compost heap) even if it is protected indoors. Therefore the pine bark, moss or any other orchid potting medium that exists, breaks down to the point it no longer has the same open, well draining structure that orchids require.

Once the potting medium has decomposed, it can retain much more water and suffocate the roots, which need more air and even light than most plants.

Suppose the roots are deprived of oxygen because the potting medium has decomposed or they are surrounded by material that retains too much water. In that case, the orchid roots can die back which results in the leaves and flowers wilting.

Therefore it is best practice to repot your orchid in new potting pine bark based mix every 2 years to ensure the orchid roots stay healthy and prevent the leaves from wilting.

How I Revive Orchids with Wilting Leaves and Flowers

To revive a wilting orchid, we need to recreate the conditions of their natural environment with high humidity, warm temperatures, and bright indirect sunlight. Ensure the orchid is planted in a pine bark potted medium and water orchids with a good soak once every 7-10 days.

Wilting leaves and flowers are a sign of stress due to the environment not being to the orchid’s liking, so saving your wilting orchid is usually about determining what environmental stress is causing the wilting and correcting any conditions to create the optimal environment in your home for your orchid.

  • Locate orchids in a room that stays between 55°F (12°C) and 75°F (23°C) and ensure that temperature does not fluctuate too drastically. Keep orchids away from cold windows, which can be much cooler than the rest of the room, particularly at night.
  • Orchids prefer bright indirect light or filtered light, so keep your orchid out of direct sunlight and out of a dark corner of the room. I place mine in my bathroom, where it enjoys filtered light through the frosted glass.
  • Spray your orchids with a mist sprayer at least once every few days. In particularly arid climates, spray orchid leaves and flowers every other day to help maintain the optimal level of humidity and to prevent the orchid from losing too much moisture from the leaves and roots (which can result in wilting wrinkled leaves and flowers dropping off).
  • Keep orchids out of the way of draughts, sources of heat, and air conditioning. Air currents dry out orchids leaves and flowers. Think about whether your orchid is too close to a radiator or in the path of air conditioning and locate it in a less draughty place.
  • Typically orchids prefer to be watered once every 7 days in Spring and Summer and once every 10-14 days in Fall and Winter. This is how often I water my orchids to meet their watering requirements (so that their leaves do not wilt) yet a lot do not risk root rot from overwatering. Scale back the watering and if the leaves are wilting and turning yellow read my article on how to save an orchid with yellow leaves.
  • Replant the orchid in a pine bark-based potting medium. Moth orchids (the most common type of orchid houseplant) require an aerated potting medium and wilt and die if they are in potting soil and sometimes even moss as it retains too much moisture. Pine bark has a large particle size which allows the roots to access the oxygen and moisture that they require and mimics the sort of growing medium of orchids in their native environment.
Pine bark based potting medium
This is the pine bark potting medium that I use for my orchids. I like it because the species of pine bark are the right size to provide structure for the roots to grow yet also allow excess water to drain away. I thoroughly recommend it!
  • Ensure your orchid is planted in a pot with drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to drain away from the roots and empty any saucers and trays of water regularly, so the potting medium can dry out between bouts of watering.
  • Replace the potting medium every 2 years as decomposed organic matter has a structure that can suffocate orchid roots and retain too much moisture. I always proactively replace my potting medium every 2 years before it significantly decomposes and causes problems. This keeps the orchid’s roots healthy, so they can transport water and nutrients to the leaves which prevents them from wilting.
  • Always water orchids with a generous soak rather than a light watering. To revive a wilting orchid due to drought stress, what I have found that works is to place the orchid in a basin of water for 5 minutes to ensure the potting medium is evenly moist and for the roots to draw up the water they require. Keep misting the leaves often and place the orchid in a cool room out of direct sunlight to help it revive.

Pro tip: When I lived in the arid, low-humidity climate of Southern California, I found I had a hard time preventing my orchid from wilting despite misting it often. What I found worked was using a special plant humidifier, which was able to keep the humidity high around my orchid. I also grouped my other humid loving houseplants together to create a humid microclimate which really helped keep the orchid leaves and flowers looking great.

Once the orchid flowers have wilted or dropped off, it can take some time before they come back. (To help with this I recommend that you read my article about how to rebloom orchids as the process is nuanced and requires some know how.

However, your orchid’s leaves tend to revive more quickly once you have amended the conditions to be more favorable for the orchid.

If you are unsure about watering orchids read my article, how to water orchids to learn about watering at different times of year and if your orchid appears to be dying read my article, how to revive a dying orchid.

Orchid Wilting After Repotting

As there are quite a few reasons for orchid’s wilting after repotting, I create a table which you can use as a checklist to pinpoint the reason your orchid is wilting…

Reasons:Orchids Wilting After Repotting:
Orchids Repotted in Wrong Potting Medium:Most orchids should be planted in a pine-based potting mix as it has an aerated structure and drains easily. Moss and soil-based potting mediums retain too much moisture and do not have the open soil structure orchids require.
Pots Without Drainage Holes in the Base:Pots without drainage holes cause water to pool around the roots of your orchid and deprive the roots of oxygen which causes root rot resulting in wilting leaves.
Transplant Shock:Orchid leaves and flowers wilt as a sign of stress due to a sudden contrast in growing conditions (such as light, airflow, or temperature) when they are moved.
Roots System Shocked:Being repotted disturbs the established root system which can be a significant trauma and prevent the orchid roots from uptaking moisture temporarily causing the leaves and flowers to wilt.
Repotted Orchid at the Wrong Time of Year:Orchids should be repotted either in the Spring or after they have flowered. If you re-pot them in Winter dormancy or whilst blooming, this can cause the leaves and flowers to wilt.

Most often I find that orchids wilting after repotting is because of transplant shock, planting the orchid in the wrong potting medium, or overwatering. Orchids are sensitive to environmental changes and require time to adjust to a new set of conditions, often wilting temporarily as a sign of stress.

The most common reason orchids wilt after repotting is that they are replanted in the wrong type of potting medium that is too compacted, retains too much moisture, and excludes air from around the roots.

Orchids are epiphytes, which means they grow on other trees in a forest canopy.

Therefore, as we discussed, they are adapted to a growing medium that drains quickly and allows air to circulate around the roots.

Regular potting soil retains too much moisture and does not have an areaeted structure, that allows oxygen to reach the roots as easily which can prevent effective root respiration (and causes wilting orchid leaves).

Moss is also often used as a potting medium for orchids, however, I personally don’t like it as it can retain too much moisture for the orchid roots to tolerate, particularly when it decomposes, causing the roots to die back which results in orchid leaves wilting and turning yellow.

Whilst the exact set up of a forest canopy is too difficult and impractical to replicate indoors, planting orchids in pine bark is the best way to mimic the orchids natural conditions as size of each pine bark piece is large enough to create enough space throughout the potting medium, so that air can freely circulate around the roots and water can drain efficiently to prevent root rot.

Also, consider that when repotting your orchid, ensure your new pot has drainage holes in the base and that any saucers or trays underneath the pot are emptied of excess water regularly.

Orchids Leaves and Flower Wilting Due to Transplant Shock After Repotting

Often when people re-pot their orchids they may move the orchid to a different location, which is a common reason why they wilt.

Orchids become adapted to their current surroundings and if their growing conditions suddenly change they often react by wilting temporarily depending on the contrast in conditions.

Orchids prefer a consistent watering schedule (which should be adjusted according to the time of year) and sunlight and like to be kept away from any draughts or significant temperature fluctuations.

Suppose you have repotted your orchid and moved it. We need to consider that in this case, the orchid has to contend with different environmental conditions and suffer an interference with the root system, which can cause the roots to not uptake water as efficiently temporarily whilst the plant adjusts to the conditions in its new pot and potting medium.

If the roots cannot uptake moisture as efficiently and you have moved the orchid to a room with a higher average temperature or a location with more sun then the orchid wilts due to dehydration.

How to Revive Orchids Wilting After Repotting

To revive wilting orchids after repotting, we need to grow orchids in the optimal conditions and water with a good soak after repotting to help the roots draw up water and adjust to the new potting medium. Locate the orchid in partial shade and in cool conditions to help it recover from wilting.

One mistake I see people make is compacting the potting medium too firmly around the root. Remeber, we need the potting medium to be loose and aereated!

  • Ensure that your orchid is planted in a pine bark-based potting medium rather than moss or soil. Moth orchids require an aerated potting medium to allow oxygen to circulate around the roots and to ensure good drainage to prevent root rot, so always use a pine bark-based potting medium to create the optimal aerated soil structure for your orchid’s roots.
  • Plant orchids in pots with drainage holes in the base, clear plastic pots are often best. Orchid roots are capable of photosynthesis (which is unusual for plants), so a clear plastic pot can allow light to the roots and help revive the orchid whilst the leaves are wilting.
  • Empty saucers and trays regularly to ensure that excess water is not pooling underneath the orchid pot and to ensure good drainage.
  • Ensure that the orchid is in a location of bright, indirect light, within a temperature range of 55°F (12°C) and 75°F (23°C), in a room that does not have any significant air currents, mist the leaves and flowers once every 2 days to increase the level of humidity to prevent water loss from the leaves and water with a really good soak once per week, so that the potting medium is consistently moist. A wilting orchid should eventually revive if it is placed in these optimal conditions.
  • A disturbance to the roots of your orchid is a significant trauma, and they can often wilt temporarily. After repotting place your orchid in a basin of water for 5 minutes to ensure the potting medium gets a really good soak and spray the leaves with mist, perhaps as often as every day to reduce further water loss from the leaves. Roots often struggle to uptake moisture after repotting, so the orchid must get a good soak so that the roots can stay hydrated and prevent the leaves from wilting.
  • The mist spray helps to create a humid micro-climate that mimics the humid conditions of the orchid’s native tropical forest environment and prevents the orchid from losing too much moisture from the leaves to revive the orchid’s leaves from a shriveling and wilting appearance.

Pro tip: I really love transparent plastic pots when I repot my orchids and we discussed, orchid roots can photosynthesize which can help the orchid to cope with the stress of repotting. I find that the orchid’s roots appreciate the added light and airflow.

By creating the orchid’s optimal conditions and essentially emulating the orchid’s native environment, your orchid should be able to revive after repotting.

If you have any questions or need any more gardening advice please leave a comment below and I will help you out and if you found this article helpful I’d appreciate a share on social media!

(Read my article choosing the best pots for orchids).

Key Takeaways:

  • A wilting orchid is because the plant is stressed due to low humidity, excessively high or low temperatures, too much or insufficient water, or because the potting medium retains too much moisture around the roots. Orchid leaves wilt and turn yellow due to root rot.
  • To revive a wilting orchid, recreate the conditions of its native environment by misting leaves and flowers often to increase humidity, ensure it is in the correct temperature range, plant the orchid in a pine-based potting medium, and water the orchid once per week with a thorough watering.
  • Orchid flowers wilt due to a sudden change in temperature and humidity because of root rot due to overwatering or a potting medium that retains too much moisture. Orchids require a temperature range of 55°F and 75°F and a high humidity to prevent flower wilting.
  • Orchids wilting after repotting transplant shock due to a contrast in conditions or drought stress. Orchids wilt due to a sudden change in humidity, temperature, or airflow. Orchid roots need time to adjust to new potting soil to be able to draw up moisture to prevent wilting leaves.

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