Orchid Stem Turning Yellow? (3 Reasons)


Orchid stem turning yellow

Have you ever wondered why your orchid stem is turning yellow even if the rest of the plant looks healthy? I know that it can look concerning at first, but I can assure you the explanation is usually innocuous, and a yellowing stem does not indicate a dying orchid…

Orchid stems turn yellow and die because the stem (or flower spike) naturally turns yellow and brown and dies back after it has displayed flowers. A yellowing stem does not necessarily indicate the orchid is unwell, as it is a natural part of the orchid’s life cycle.

It should be noted that what is commonly called an ‘orchid stem’ is actually called the flower spike. I am referring to it as the stem throughout the article.

There are some other reasons why your orchid stem may be turning yellow, which I have summarized in this table…



Symptoms of Yellowing Orchid Stem:
Reason for Yellow Orchid Stem:
The orchid stem turns yellow from the top. Eventually, the orchid stem dries out and turns yellow/brown.Orchid stems turn yellow and die back after they have displayed flowers. Once the flowers have dropped off, the stem turns yellow and dies back.
The orchid stem appears yellow and scorched. The yellowing of the stem may not occur from just the top of the stem.Orchids grow naturally in the shade and do not tolerate direct sunlight, which scorches the leaves and stems yellow.
Orchid stems and leaves turn yellow, and then roots die back.Orchid roots die back due to overwatering, slow-draining soils, and compacted soils. This prevents the roots from drawing up moisture and roots from transporting it to the leaves and stems, which causes them to turn yellow.

Keep reading for what you should do to save your orchid with yellow stems…

Orchid Stems Naturally Turn Yellow and Brown After Flowering

Orchid stems turn yellow and dry out once the orchid has finished flowering. Orchid stems always turn yellow and die back after the flowers have dropped off, as this is a natural part of the plant’s cycle, and it does not mean the orchid is dying.

Orchid stems typically only support one set of blooms per year (there can be exceptions to this) and then turn yellow and dry out.

Typically, once the flowers have dropped off, the orchid turns yellow from the top and dries out. I usually find my stems turning yellow two or three weeks after flowering…

How to Save it…

As long as the leaves are green and the roots look healthy (green and plump after watering, with a slightly gray appearance indicating healthy roots), then I advise not doing anything as the orchid is healthy.

Some orchid experts I have spoken to believe that you should let the stem turn yellow and dry out as the orchid is reclaiming the nutrients it invested from the stem. This can take a long time, which means that your orchid may not display flowers for a long period.

However, others (myself included) think it is best practice to cut the yellowing orchid stem back to the base with a sharp pair of pruners after it has begun to turn yellow, as this stimulates the growth of a new stem (or flower spike). I have seen much better results doing this.

Pruning helps promote the growth of a new healthy stem that can display more flowers therefore you do not have to wait as long for new blooms, particularly if you take good care of the orchid by placing it in bright indirect light and using a specific orchid fertilizer.

My orchids flower much more readily when I do this.

This is the fertilizer that I recommend for orchids.

I also cut the yellowing flower stem just above a node that hasn’t produced flowers if part of the stem is still green. A new stem can actually grow from the node, which then, of course, displays flowers in the following weeks if the conditions are favorable.

Cutting an inch above the node of a phalaenopsis orchid can grow a new flower spike to display more blooms.
Cutting an inch above the node on my phalaenopsis orchid can grow a new flower spike to display more blooms.

It should be noted that any flowers that grow from a node tend to be smaller than the initial bloom that is produced from a new flower spike, which is why I usually recommend trimming the stem back to the base, as this stimulates the growth a much stronger stem with a greater display of flowers.

(To learn more tips and solutions for flowering orchids, read my article why is my orchid not blooming?)

Sun Burn Results in Yellowing Stems

Orchid stems turn yellow if they are in too much sunlight. Orchid stems, and leaves are adapted to growing in the shade of a forest canopy and need either indirect light or filtered light. If they are in direct sunlight, the leaves and stems scorch yellow.

Most houseplant orchids are phalaenopsis orchids (moth orchids), which grow in tropical forests as epiphytes (grow on other trees) in their natural environment, where they receive either bright, indirect light or some scattered light among the leaves.

Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids are the most common orchid houseplants. Their stems and leaves are sensitive to sunlight which scorches them yellow.
Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids are the most common orchid houseplants. Their stems and leaves are sensitive to sunlight, which scorches them yellow.

Therefore the orchid leaves and stems are very sensitive to blazing sunshine and quickly turn a scorched yellow as a result.

How to Save it…

I recommend you move your orchid to an area of bright indirect light to prevent the plant from being scorched.

If the stem has been badly scorched from green to yellow, then I’m afraid it does not recover its appearance and becomes too damaged to support flowers.

I personally recommend just cutting the stem right back to the base with a sharp pair of pruners if it has been damaged by sunlight. Cutting the damaged stem back to the base allows the orchid to concentrate its energy and resources on growing a new, healthy stem that can support a stronger bloom when the conditions are favorable.

It is worth noting that orchids can grow a new stem and flower at any time of year, but they tend to bloom in the Spring and Summer due to the brighter light and longer day lengths.

To ensure the orchid has the necessary nutrients to grow, I recommend using a specific orchid fertilizer, which provides the orchid with the right nutrients and the optimal concentration to invest its energy in growing a new flower stem and displaying flowers.

Overwatering (Root Rot and Crown Rot)

Yellow orchid stems and leaves can indicate the orchid roots are dying because of root rot. Your orchids need a porous potting medium that dries slightly between each bout of watering. If your potting medium stays too damp or the soil is too compacted, the roots die back, which causes the stem and leaves to turn yellow.

Orchid with yellow leaves, dying roots and a stem that is turning yellow/brown.
This is my friend’s orchid that suffered from overwatering, which resulted in root rot. The leaves and stems turned yellow and died back. Orchid with yellow leaves, dying roots, and a stem that is turning yellow/brown.

To understand why our orchids are unhappy, I find it helps to understand how orchids grow in their natural environment so we can replicate these conditions in our homes…

Orchids are epiphytes that grow in trees (as opposed to terrestrial plants, which grow in soil) in their native tropical environment.

Therefore, orchid orchids need to grow in a potting medium that replicates their natural conditions, allowing for good drainage and for air to circulate around the roots, with, ideally, humid conditions.

(Read my article, How to Care for Orchids Indoors).

My orchids always grow best in pine bark based potting mediums as opposed to moss.

If the orchid is in normal potting soil or compact moss, then I find these potting mediums retain too much moisture around the roots and are too compacted for the orchid to tolerate, which results in rotting, dying roots.

If too many roots die back, then the remaining roots cannot draw up enough moisture or nutrients to support the leaves and stems, which causes the flowers to drop and the stem and leaves to turn yellow.

How I Save it…

To save the orchid, the first thing that you need to do is reduce how often you water so that the potting medium dries out slightly between each bout of watering. (Read my article on how often to water orchids).

I would also Mist the leaves to increase the humidity, reducing stress on the orchid.

You are going to need to take the orchid out of the potting medium and inspect the roots. Healthy roots should appear green straight after watering and turn slightly gray in between each watering, with a firm, plump texture when you pinch it with your fingers.

Unhealthy roots turn gray, shrivel up, and turn papery if they die back due to overwatering and soil compaction like the ones in my photo above. (If you are unsure what an overwatered orchid looks like, read my article, is my orchid over or underwatered?)

I strongly advise that you snip off the unhealthy dying roots with a sharp pair of pruners, either back to healthy growth or back to the base.

I then replace the potting soil with pine bark-based orchid potting soil, which emulates the orchid’s native conditions, allowing for good drainage and for air to circulate around the roots.

Pine bark based potting medium for orchid
This is my pine bark based potting medium I use for my orchids (on the left).

Important tip: I then repot the orchid in a pot with drainage holes in the base, ideally a transparent plastic pot, so that you can see the conditions of the roots and more easily tell when your orchid needs watering.

Orchid roots can also photosynthesize, which helps the orchid regenerate, so a clear pot also allows for the sunlight to reach the roots. (Read my article, Best Pots for Orchids).

Transparent orchid pots help the orchids roots to photosynthesize.
I love transparent orchid pots as they help the orchid’s roots to photosynthesize. In my experience, this step is key to saving orchids.

I advise that you wait for any yellow leaves to drop off of their own accord, as pulling or cutting them off can cause unnecessary wounds that can become infected.

I would cut back the orchid’s yellow stem (flower spike) if it has turned yellow and completely died back, as this can help stimulate new growth.

I would then keep the orchid watered once a week, mist the leaves and roots to increase humidity and locate the orchid in bright indirect sunlight so your orchid can recover.

(To learn more, read my article on how to save an orchid with yellow leaves).

Key Takeaways:

  • Orchid stems turn yellow after the orchid flowers have dropped off because this is a natural part of the orchid’s life cycle. After the orchid flowers, the stem that supports them turns yellow from the top and dries out before a new stem, which can support more flowers, grows.
  • Orchid stems and leaves can turn yellow if they are in too much direct sunlight. Orchids are adapted to growing in the shade, and their sensitive leaves and stems can scorch yellow due to sunburn.
  • Yellowing orchid stems and leaves can indicate the orchid has root rot. Overwatering and compacted soil can cause the roots to rot, which prevents them from transporting nutrients and moisture to the leaves, causing the stems and leaves to turn yellow and die back.
  • Cut back the yellowing orchid stem back to the base with a sharp pair of pruners, as it can no longer display flowers. Cutting back the yellow stem can stimulate the growth of a new flower spike which can display more blooms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts