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Does your moth orchid, or Phalaenopsis, have droopy (and maybe even wrinkled leaves) and you’re not sure what’s causing it? And you don’t know how to fix it?
Keep reading because I will tell you the various causes of of this issue and the 1 thing that you can do to fix the situation!
Droopy and wrinkled orchid leaves are cause by 1 critical fault in culture. And that is watering!
Causes of Droopy Orchid Leaves
In plain and simple terms, the cause of the majority of all droopy and wrinkly orchid leaves is improper moisture levels for your plant.
To complicate matters, this can happen if your Phalaenopsis orchid is kept too dry AND also when it is kept too wet!
So, how do you know the difference? The solution is below.
Keeping Your Orchid Too Dry – Underwatering
The answer is quite simple. If your orchid’s bark mix or sphagnum moss is kept too dry for long periods of time, it will become dehydrated and the lower leaves will be the first ones to suffer.
Keep this up even longer, and the whole plant will eventually droop.
Phalaenopsis orchids do not like to go completely dry, especially for extended periods of time.
Keeping Your Orchid Too Wet – Overwatering
On the other hand, if you keep your orchid’s potting medium wet for too long, it will suffer root rot.
Once the orchid roots start rotting out, it can’t take up water through its roots anymore, and thus you are also dehydrating your plant and it will result in droopy, wrinkled leaves!
It makes senses if you think about it this way, right?
Too Dry or Too Wet?
I’ll tell you exactly what I’d like you to do when you notice that your orchid leaves are limp and wrinkled.
I’d like you to feel your potting medium. Whether it is bark or sphagnum moss. Stick your finger in the pot.
Is it bone dry? Or is it wet? Remember, keeping your orchid too dry for too long OR too wet for too long will cause the same issue.
If you already know what you did as far as keeping it too dry or too wet, great! If not, I’d like you to look at the roots. If you can, take the plant out of its pot and inspect the roots.
OR, if you use clear plastic pots (which I LOVE for orchids), look through the pot and inspect the roots. I buy mine on Amazon.
I love them because you can clearly see the root health of your orchid and also help you determine if anything unusual is going on.
If your roots inside the pot are a bit wrinkled, shriveled and dry themselves, this means that you have kept your orchid way too dry.
I’m not talking about the aerial roots…I’m talking about the roots inside the pot. Aerial roots will need special attention because these can easily dehydrate if you don’t water those too.
You can still have an orchid whose roots are rotting inside the pot, but has dehydrated aerial roots if you never water those aerial roots. So don’t get the two confused! There is a difference!
I will tell you how to properly water an orchid later.
If, on the other hand, your roots are brown and mushy, and pull away easily from the plant, then your plant has stayed too wet for too long.
Next, let me talk about what you can do to revive your droopy, wilted orchid and then I’ll get into causes of why your plant stayed either too dry or too wet for too long.
Reviving Your Orchid
How to Properly Water an Orchid
If you’ve determined that your orchid has stayed too dry, the “treatment” is simple! You’re going to have to UP your watering game!
You can water in one of two ways:
- Take your plant to the sink. Using tepid water, thoroughly soak ALL of the potting medium for a good 15-30 seconds. Don’t forget to wet the aerial roots too. Make sure dislodge any water that is stuck between leaves in order to avoid root rot.
- The second method is to let your plant soak. Set your potted orchid inside another pot, or even a bucket, with no drainage hole. Add water until water reaches the rim of the pot. Allow your plant to soak for 15-30 minutes. Discard the excess water.
If your orchid is extremely dehydrated, you will want to choose the second method to water, but leave the plant soaking for a few hours or even overnight.
And don’t worry, this will not rot your plant out! If you do this, discard all the excess water.
You may need to do this every time you water until your orchid is healthy again.
For the orchid below, that I rehabilitated for a friend, it only had two full sized leaves when I received it and they were droopy and leathery.
This plant was extremely dehydrated and I used method 2 for watering.
After some intensive care and time, it grew new leaves, which are nice and firm and upright and is even flowering now!
The lower leaves, although they still stayed in a lower position, are not wrinkly anymore and the plant is healthy.
What about if your orchid has been kept too wet and most of its root system has rotten out?
Reviving an Overwatered Orchid
If your plant’s root system is mostly rotted out, you will need to clean up your orchid’s roots and repot your orchid.
It will likely need to be placed in a smaller pot. If it is in a smaller pot already (such as a 3.5″ or 4″ pot), you can keep it in the same sized pot.
Instead of regurgitating all the repotting steps here, check out my Illustrated Guide on How to Repot an Orchid blog post where I show you step by step!
Lastly, I’d like to finish off with some common causes of why your orchid stayed either too wet or too dry.
Causes for Dry Orchids
- Perhaps you’re not watering thoroughly enough. Or worse yet, you are watering with ice cubes! I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a blog post on why you should not use ice cubes to water orchids.
- You repotted your orchid but didn’t pre-soak the bark mix in water to condition the bark mix.
- You may have used bark chunks that are way too big for your plant. Or perhaps didn’t pack the mix in properly and left numerous gaps in the potting mix.
- Your bark mix may have disintegrated and washed away and your pot is mostly just roots. It is hard to keep an orchid in this condition hydrated.
- Lastly, you might just have kept your potting medium dry for much too long in between watering sessions.
And many times, it is a combination of the above factors!
Causes for Overwatered Orchids
If your orchid stayed too wet and rotted out, the causes can be many:
- You perhaps let your plant sit in water for extended periods of time (days or weeks). Orchids can NOT tolerate this.
- Your bark mix may have broken down and the medium is staying wet for longer. Orchids need to be repotted every so often!
- If your plant is growing in sphagnum moss and you are on a “once a week” watering schedule, your plant can potentially stay too wet. Use your finger to tell you when to water, not the calendar!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can wrinkled orchid leaves recover?
Up to a certain point, yes they can recover! Assuming your leaves are still green, with proper attention to watering (and patiences and time) your leaves can recover.
But it will take a while. Orchids respond more slowly compared to other plants, but with a watchful eye, you can get there.
If you’re starting to lose leaves, check out my blog post on orchid leaves falling off so you can determine what is happening and how to prevent it.
Should I cut off wrinkled orchid leaves?
Only cut them off if they have fully yellowed. Moth orchids typically only grow one or two new leaves per year, so leave the leaves on if they’re green (even if they’re still droopy).
This will benefit the plant.
Hopefully this has helped you diagnose your droopy orchid leaves! For more information on other orchid problems, be sure not to miss Help My Orchid is Dying! How to Bring an Orchid Back to Life for all sorts of orchid issues!
Confused on whether your new growth is a root or flower spike? Be sure not to miss my root or flower spike post where I visually show the difference so that you can easily distinguish between them!
If you’d like a concise, down-to-earth, quick-read guide on growing moth orchids, check out my best selling eBook, Moth Orchid Mastery.
In less than an hour, you will have all the information that you need to grow orchids successfully!
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