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Orchid Not Growing (And How To Revive It)

Orchids produce beautiful flowers and have an unusual root structure. They are different from most other flowers because the roots are above and below the soil, however, they are very resilient to being replanted, or repotted.

Rotten roots, dry roots, pests, direct sunlight, and dense soil cause orchids not to grow. To revive the orchid replant it in a well-draining potting mix, water weekly in summer and spring, and monthly in autumn and winter, dab pests with isopropyl alcohol, and reposition it in a bright area without direct sunlight.

To solve each of the issues I’ll explain the symptoms that will tell you what’s causing them not to grow. As well as, what to do to get your orchids to grow based on the symptoms they are presenting.

Too much water

Orchids in general don’t need much water at all. They also have roots that stick out of the ground and collect moisture from the air. Too much water can cause the roots to become waterlogged and begin to rot. This has knock-on effects for the rest of the plant and can cause it to have stunted growth or die completely.

orchid not growing

Orchid not growing due to overwatering.

Symptoms:

  • Roots are brown and mushy looking
  • Mold on the surface of the soil
  • Leaves don’t hold their shape and droop
  • Leaves turning yellow

Solution:

  • Fully drench the soil once a week in spring and summer
  • Fully drench the soil once per month in winter to autumn
  • Remove the plant and trim away roots that are brown and mushy looking
  • Let water drain through, do not let orchids sit in water

Dehydration

As you may know, orchids like other plants convert energy from sunlight from the leaves. When they don’t get enough water the leaves can’t feed the plant energy and an orchid plant will have stunted growth. 

The signs of underwatering are very similar to overwatering but there are also some telltale signs that orchids show when they aren’t getting enough water. Orchids also like humid conditions and draw water from the air, so there are few unique ways to water them.

orchid not growing

Orchid not growing because of underwatering.

Symptoms

  • Roots are silver in color – green roots mean they have enough water
  • Buds fall off before opening
  • Leaves drooping and floppy
  • Leaves at the base of the plant turning yellow
  • Dead shriveled areas on the edges of the leaves

Solution:

  • In spring and summer completely wet the soil once per week
  • In autumn and winter completely we the soil once per month
  • Spray a fine mist of water over the plant 
  • Allow all of the water to drain out from the bottom of the pot
  • Add a layer of water and pebbles underneath the pot to evaporate around the plant

Sunburn

Orchids like humid conditions and direct sunlight are too hot and will dry them out. However, they like bright conditions where there is a lot of diffuse sunlight. This sunlight is not hot enough to damage orchids and make them struggle to grow. But, it also gives them UV light reflected from the surroundings that they can convert into energy to grow.

orchid not growing

Sunburn

Symptoms

  • Leaves are drooping
  • Roots are silver in color
  • Roots are crispy and dry looking
  • Leaves have a red to purple tinge around the edges

Solutions

  • Move indoor orchids to a bright area that isn’t in direct sunlight
  • Replant outdoor orchids in a lightly shaded area with no direct sunlight
  • Move outdoor potted orchids to an area in the shade
  • On a cloudy day with no sun move potted orchids where they will get the most light

Lack of light

During a period of particularly stormy or cloudy weather where not much sunlight shines through orchids won’t get energy from the sun to grow. It’s also possible by mistake you have kept them in a part of your home that isn’t bright enough. Or planted them where there is too much shade in the area surrounding them. 

Generally, you will get poor flower and bud production. But, this is not always caused by not enough sunlight and can be the way the orchids were pruned after flowering.

Symptoms

  • Grows very slowly compared to typical growth for the species
  • Very few buds and flowers
  • New leaves when fully grown are smaller than previous leaves
  • No buds or flowers at all

Soil medium too clayey and isn’t loose enough or is too sandy

Orchids grow best in coarse soil that is open and airy. Particularly good orchid soil has chunks of bark and is very loose, and free draining. Orchids can grow poorly when the soil is too thick and compacted as the soil holds a lot more moisture which orchids don’t like. Soil that is too sandy also generally doesn’t have a lot of nutrients which helps orchids to thrive.

Symptoms:

  • Roots are soft brown and mushy
  • Leaves are soft and not holding their shape
  • No bud production, or very few buds and flowers
  • Stems are not rigid and are bending over

Solutions:

  • Repot the orchids and use a specially formulated orchid potting mix
  • Replant orchids in the ground into pots with orchid potting mix
  • Prepare a bed with coarse very free-draining soil and replant orchids into it
  • Move orchids with roots that are crowded and tangled together into a bigger pot

Scale and mealybugs

Orchids generally don’t get pest infestations. But orchids not growing, and having stunted growth is a sign that there may be an infestation on the plant. On top of stunted growth, they can also cause the stems and leaves to droop, and the leaves to become soft and die. 

Scale insects hatch and make their way to an area of the orchids where they latch on, and stay permanently growing larger and larger. Luckily they are very easy to spot and treat.

How to Revive a Dying Orchid

Mealybugs

Symptoms 

  • Stunted growth
  • Colonies of insects on the stems, and underside of the leaves
  • Leaves aren’t firm green and healthy-looking
  • Stems bending
  • White waxy cocoons on the stems and leaves 
  • Very small white spots on the leaves
  • Black residue on the stems and base of the leaves
  • Black mold on the leaves

Solutions

  • Dab the insects with isopropyl alcohol
  • Spray the bugs with isopropyl alcohol
  • Where reasonable trim off and discard leaves with white cocoons on them
  • Spray them with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of baby oil to 1 quart (1 liter) of water.