My Orchid Is Dying-Help!

My orchid is dying, what can I do? There are many reasons why your orchid may be dying, so let's look at the most common causes and the remedies that we can take. Assuming that it is not a pest problem that is causing your orchid to die, here are the main areas to look at.

Overwatering and Root Rot

This is probably the number one reason why orchids are killed and the most common mistake that beginners make. In nature, orchid roots are typically exposed to air and in cultivation we use a growing medium to prop and support orchids upright in a pot as well as providing the convenience of allowing a source of moisture to be constantly present. This is good for the most part, but beginners can tend to overwater because it takes time to learn the difference between watering terrestrial plants which we are most used to and epiphytic or air plants such as orchids. If we overwater orchids and the medium stays wet for long periods of time, then the medium tends to decompose and the roots do not get the amount of air circulation and dryness that they need. This can be especially deadly if your orchid is growing in sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss can hold a lot of water and if it is soggy all the time, this will lead to root rot and possible loss of your plant. But this can also happen with bark over time if you are constantly overwatering. 

My Orchid Is Dying, How Do I Save It? 

The first step to take if you have determined that your orchid is dying due to overwatering is to take your orchid out of its current growing medium. Clean away as much of the medium from the roots that you can. Next remove all the dead and mushy roots with a sterilized cutting shears. After you have taken these steps, repot your orchid with some new fresh bark or sphagnum moss and visit our pages on watering to learn how to better take care of your orchid and give it the proper amount of water. 

Fertilizer Burn

Overfertilizing your orchid can burn the roots of your plant. Burned roots will have dark brown patches on the roots and this burning will eventually lead to the death of your orchid. In nature, orchids receive their nutrients in minute quantities from rainwater and the runoff from branches and leaves that contain minerals and animal droppings.  Overfertilization occurs when we add too much concentration of fertilizer to the water that we are feeding our plants with. It is beneficial to lightly feed our plants on a weekly basis, and it is not the frequency with which we fertilize that causes problems, it is over concentration of the fertilizer. An often overlooked factor is the type of water that you are using to water with and this can also play a factor the roots overall health. To learn more about water and how to give the proper amount of fertilizer to your plants, visit our pages on fertilization

How To Remedy Fertilizer Root Burn

To remedy fertilizer root burn we start by flushing the roots and the medium to get rid of excess fertilizer salts that may have accumulated on the roots and in the medium. We can do this by soaking our orchid roots in soft water, this can be plain soft tap water, but it would be much better to use rainwater, distilled or reverse osmosis water. Fill a sink or large container with enough water so that 3/4 of your orchid pot will be immersed in the water.  After 15 minutes of soaking, refresh with some new water and soak for another 15 minutes. This should be sufficient for a start, you can soak one more time for good measure if you like. Continue to flush your orchid in this manner once every two to three months and follow the Heavenly Orchids method of fertilizing and fertilize lightly from here on. 

My Orchid Is Dying-Crown Rot

Another common beginners mistake and why you might be here asking why my orchid is dying is crown rot. Crown rot occurs when water accumulates and sits in the crown or leaf axils of an orchid. In nature, orchids typically grow sideways and slightly downwards, so rainwater never accrues in the crown or leaf axils of the orchid.  Because we like to keep orchids upright in cultivation, careless watering can result in water accumulating in the crown which can lead to fungal infections and death. This can be particularly problematic in colder temperatures or seasons when water does not evaporate as quickly. Crown rot can be difficult to remedy, so it is best to avoid this problem altogether by being careful when we water to just water the base area under the crown and root areas of the plants. If any water lands accidentally or splashes into the crown area, simply soak it out with a paper towel and place a fan nearby for air circulation. 


Sunburn is another common reason for why your orchid is dying. Orchids should never be placed where they will be subject to direct hot sunlight. Orchids like bright light, but not direct hot sunlight. The reason being is that in their natural habitat many orchids are epiphytes that grow in the shade canopy of trees. It is best to avoid this issue by correctly choosing the location that your orchid will live in. If, however your orchid gets sunburned which will appear as brown and yellow spots on the leaves, the best remedy is to catch this problem early and move your plant to a better location.  The leaves should be left intact, don't cut or otherwise alter them as this could lead to more problems or even loss of the orchid. The damage is permanent, you may always have some discoloration from the sunburn, but you can save the orchid by placing it in a bright but indirect light location. 


Is my orchid dying due to dehydration? While overwatering is probably the number one reason for orchid growing failures, sometimes beginners go to the other extreme and under water their orchids instead.  Watering orchids is a little tricky to master because there are so many different species with different water needs and another factor is the location or environment that your orchids are kept in. Thirsty or dehydrated orchids will have very limp and very flexible leaves. If an orchid has been dehydrated for some time, it may also have some root loss. For this reason, it is a good idea to remove the orchid from its pot, then clean away the growing medium from the roots, and cut away any dead, papery roots. Next place the orchid roots into a container with water so that the roots are almost fully immersed in water. Keep the crown and the leaves and stems above the water. Leave the orchid in the water for 6 to 12 hours, then remove and let the roots dry out for 6 to 12 hours or overnight.  Repeat this process for 3 to 4 days before repotting the orchid and then maintain a regular watering schedule. 

Don't Cut The Healthy Roots!

While this may be an obvious thing for most people not to do, some inexperienced orchid growers get the crazy idea into their head to cut the roots. Why would someone do that?  Well, it is beyond me why some people do what they do, but maybe they don't like the way they look, or they want to cut a root so it fits into a pot, or any of a dozen other reasons.  The roots of an orchid play a very important role in its overall health and vitality. Cutting a healthy root could damage the health of the orchid by letting in disease, so please, just dont do this.  

Other Reasons For Why My Orchid Is Dying

The topics mentioned on this page are some of the major reasons and the easiest to diagnose as to why your orchid is dying. Other possible reasons include pests, plant diseases, and nutrient deficiencies. Please visit some of our other pages for help with diagnosing orchid problems.