Houseplant expert shares ‘tricks’ to ‘bring your orchid back to life’

Alan Titchmarsh details method for keeping orchids flowering

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Orchids are beautiful houseplants native to tropical regions. Most often, when you buy them from a nursery they’ll be in full bloom. This will give you an idea of the colour and shape of their petals, which differ depending on the variety. All orchid species, however, have similar characteristics that make them easily identifiable. The most prominent one is the branches or stems that grow up from the centre of the leaves and are covered in blooms. Although these striking plants come in different colours and sizes, you’ll be able to recognise each species as an orchid thanks to these shared traits. But what happens when you bring that healthy orchid home and it starts to wilt? Experts have shared their top tips on how to revive dying orchids.

When an orchid starts to fade, you’ll probably find yourself wondering: can you bring an orchid plant back to life? Can a dying orchid be saved? Unfortunately, it isn’t a straight yes or no answer, according to Kiera Baron, houseplant expert at Happy Sprout.

She explained: “How to revive your orchid will depend largely on the symptoms and the root of the problem. Sometimes it’s as easy as considering the plant’s natural habitat and making adjustments to your home to fit its needs. Other times, you may have to do a bit of root maintenance to see results.

“Reviving a dying orchid isn’t an impossible task – you just have to know the plant, identify the problems, and act fast to find a solution. In most cases, when caught early enough, your plant will have a good chance of surviving and thriving with continued care and maintenance.”

Saving a dying orchid requires plant owners to first diagnose the problem. The expert said: “Before doing anything else, inspect the plant for signs of pests and infestations. 

“Orchids are prone to attracting aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, mites, scale, thrips, and whiteflies. So if you notice any signs of damage or sudden decline, give the leaves and stems a thorough inspection and try to spot any unwanted visitors. For some pests, like mites, you may want to look with a magnifying glass to identify them.”

If you notice a pest’s presence, there are a few different things you can try depending on the severity of the infestation.

  1. Spray the leaves gently with water to remove the pests. This can be done under a lightly running faucet.
  2. Wash the leaves with soapy water to remove and damage the pests.
  3. Mix rubbing alcohol with a few drops of liquid dish soap in a spray bottle and spray the leaves to damage the pests; this mixture is similar to insecticidal soap.
  4. Use neem oil to get rid of the infestation.

The plant pro advised: “If none of these more natural solutions help, you can always try an insecticidal soap that’s marked safe for houseplants and orchids specifically. Be sure to follow the directions carefully on the bottle because improper use can have adverse effects.

“If there are no pests on your plants, it’s time to diagnose the problem and try one of these tricks to bring your orchid back to life.”

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Water more regularly

If you notice the leaves of your orchid are starting to shrivel and wrinkle, you may need to water it more regularly. 

Kiera said: “Because orchids naturally don’t need a lot of water (their roots are designed to soak up water quickly and favour periods of drying between waterings), it can be very easy to underwater them.

“Before you go dousing your plant, you’ll want to remove it from the pot and check the roots. Sometimes, shrivelled or wrinkled leaves can be a sign of an unhealthy root system. If that’s the case, you should trim off the damaged roots with sterilised scissors or shears, then repot the orchid in fresh potting mix. 

“If the roots are entirely healthy, go ahead and repot in fresh soil (making sure not to pack it down so that the roots have room to breathe) and give the orchid a good drink of water.”

Remove contaminated roots

If the leaves of an orchid are starting to turn yellow, chances are it’s been overwatered and is experiencing some root rot. To fix this problem, the expert advised: “Take the orchid out of its pot and inspect the roots. If all the roots are rotting (usually mushy and brown), the orchid is unfortunately too far gone and can’t be saved. It happens to the best of us, and there’s no harm in getting another one and trying again.”

But what if you find some healthy, fleshy roots among the dead ones during your inspection? Kiera recommended: “Take some sterilised scissors or shears and trim off the decayed parts so that only the healthy roots remain. Discard the old soil, clean out the pot, and repot your orchid with its newly trimmed roots in fresh soil.”

Relocate your orchid 

According to the pro, bud dropping is perhaps the easiest problem to solve when it’s not paired with any of the above symptoms. 

Are the leaves wrinkling? Turning yellow? If the answer to both of those is no, chances are the orchid just needs to be relocated. Kiera said: “An orchid in an area that’s too low in humidity or is near chemical fumes (like paint) will exhibit bud dropping. This can be corrected either by relocating to an area with higher humidity, like a well-lit bathroom, or one that’s away from the harmful toxins.

“If there are no chemicals around the plant, you can also choose to increase humidity in the plant’s current location instead of trying to find a new spot for it. You can buy a small plant humidifier or fill a shallow tray with pebbles and water and place it near the plant.”

Once plant owners have got their orchid cleaned up, “the key to making sure it stays as healthy as possible is proper care”, says the expert. 

She explained: “Because the roots of the orchid are designed to soak up water fast and absorb oxygen, they need a lot of airflow to thrive. Make sure you don’t pack down the potting mix or cover the roots in anything like moss that would keep them from getting the air they need.

“You also want to keep the plant’s natural tropical habitat in mind. Orchids like consistent high humidity and prefer to be in a space above 50 degrees but below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 29 degrees Celsius). When the blooms are spent, you can either snip off the stem at the base or leave the stem in hopes of a rebloom.”

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