If you’ve ever owned an orchid, you’ve been there: orchids are dramatic, and part of being so extra is showing their distaste for poor health. While not all drooping orchid leaves are a sign of neglect or illness, excessive loss of leaves is a problem, which means it can be solved!
Leaves can droop for a number of reasons, but most commonly, it’s associated with the turn of the season. It’s normal for orchids to drop old leaves to make way for new ones, but it shouldn’t be happening at a faster rate than new leaves growing in. In fact, that puts an orchid in a position that may hinder it from receiving enough light, which ultimately will kill the plant.
Not to worry, though, because we’re here to teach you how to find the root cause of your orchid’s droopy leaves and save it from its demise. Let’s first discuss what to look for when your orchid starts to look a little down.
Why Do Orchid Leaves Droop?
It’s safe to say that most of the time, droopy orchid leaves is a sign of a moisture imbalance. Whether that’s an issue with over or underwatering, humidity, or even poor water retention in the soil, orchids are incredibly sensitive to moisture levels and will take every measure to make sure you’re aware of it.
Even so, there are other reasons an orchid might throw a tantrum. Here are a few of the most common reasons and how to fix them.
Adjusting Humidity Balance
To figure out if humidity is the problem, start in the pot. Check the aerial roots of the orchid, which are the greyish green roots that protrude from the base of the plant above the soil line. If they’re slim, incredibly wrinkled, and more silver than green, chances are the humidity around the orchid is too low.
Orchids need fairly high humidity to thrive, being aerial plants that are typically native to hot, humid rainforests. You can simulate this environment without turning your house into a jungle (though we’re not stopping you) by using a humidifier or a pebble tray full of water near the orchid. Be sure to move it away from breezy doorways, windows, and fans.
Overwatering and Underwatering
This is the biggest culprit when orchids lay down their leaves. Over and underwatering are both equally terrible for your orchid, because both can cause root rot, and ultimately, root loss. If you’re guilty of forgetting about your orchid for long periods at a time and overwatering to make up for it, you’ve managed to check both boxes!
You wouldn’t be the only one to make this easy mistake with an orchid; it’s very common, and can even go unnoticed by experienced orchid hobbyists from time to time. Being such slow-growing plants, they require a degree of supervision to really catch issues before they show.
It can help to set a schedule for watering based on the weather outside or the season. For example, watering once a week in the summer and once every two weeks in the winter works for most milder climates, and can help reduce stress on the orchid between waterings.
Make sure that you wait to water until the soil is nearly dry, but not completely; this way, the roots won’t be suffocated by tepid water, and they won’t go so long without it that they dry out. Use a moisture meter to determine when to water if you can’t tell.
Pots and Potting Mix
Unfortunately, orchids that come from a big box store are often planted in tiny, flimsy plastic pots with few drainage holes and then stuffed into a non-draining decorative pot, only to be overwatered by the store employees who don’t know any better.
When this happens, the roots are left to soak in water that can become acidic over time. As the water at the bottom of the pot loses its oxygen, it becomes a suffocation hazard; the roots won’t be able to absorb fresh oxygen from the air, and they’ll slowly shrink away and decompose.
Chunky soil can help alleviate this issue in conjunction with a well-draining orchid pot. Most orchids can be planted using a pre-mixed orchid mix, but we find that it’s best to use a DIY orchid soil to ensure the quality of the components and the right amounts of each.
Plant your orchid in a pot that’s not much bigger than the root ball is wide. Make sure the pot has plenty of drainage, as well as holes in the sides for species that have aerial roots. Different orchids can have different potting preferences, though. If you’re not sure which type of orchid you have, check out our guide on common indoor orchid species.
Pests and Diseases
Though fairly uncommon, orchids can also get sick, which causes their leaves to droop. These illnesses aren’t as easy to spot as a simple watering issue, though, and may take some practice to differentiate from other causes.
A very frequent flyer on housekept orchids, spider mites are often found in orchids that are grown in close proximity to other plants or outdoors. These little bugs can kill an orchid on their own in no time, so be sure to treat them immediately and quarantine them away from other plants until they’re completely gone.
Root rot, which can be caused by nearly any moisture issue with an orchid, is the leading cause of death in orchids kept as houseplants. Affected roots will appear dark brown or black, and feel mushy or stringy, while healthy roots are bright green or white and solid to the touch. Cut away rotted roots and treat the rest with a diluted hydrogen peroxide spray to save your orchid.
Light issues aren’t as common an issue for orchids, but if they aren’t getting enough light, they may droop or shed some leaves. It’s an attempt to spare the light and use it to save the strongest leaves, but orchids simply can’t keep this up for long.
A general rule of thumb for orchids is to provide bright, indirect light. It sounds pretty vague, but the best way to accomplish this is either near a bright window behind a sheer curtain or using a full-spectrum LED light at least a foot away from the top of the plant for six hours a day.
Too much light can make an orchid’s leaves droop, as well, but it’s usually accompanied by discoloration of the leaves. Yellowing leaves that are drooping have been in the light too long, and those with brown spots are likely unsalvageable. Orchid leaves should be a rich, uniform green color without bright or dark areas.
Just like light and water, too much or too little fertilizer can send your orchid into a downward spiral. Most common orchid species can be fertilized once per week during the active growing season and half as often during the dormant months, but these preferences can vary slightly between different species.
Avoid using full-strength fertilizers or mixing your fertilizer too strong. Typically, orchids can’t absorb many nutrients at once, and any excess is left in the soil to eventually break down and burn the roots. Use a weak fertilizer or one that’s specifically formulated for orchids to prevent this issue.
Similarly, it’s very easy to forget to fertilize an orchid. After all, they’re rather picky about watering and feeding. However, it’s easy to set a routine using a reminder or choosing a day of the week to fertilize and water. Keeping a journal or chart can help you keep track of your orchid feeding schedule, which will keep your orchid happy and droop-free.