One of the most common problems people face with the Phalaenopsis orchid is dehydration. Being a tropical plant its need for moisture must be met correctly.
Sometimes orchids can be dehydrated already at purchase – you might experience this if you’re a bargain hunter like me, or have a need to “rescue” orchids from the clearance table. 😉
Or maybe you forgot your orchid during a holiday season or busy period. And sometimes it simply boils down to lack of better knowledge. As with all new things we need to learn all the dos-and-don’ts, and sometimes this happens by trial-and-error.
Regardless of what caused your orchid to become dehydrated, luckily in most cases, it can still be saved! Let’s explore this in more detail below.
So how to save a dehydrated orchid? Your orchid needs immediate hydration! Leave the pot to stand in water, so the potting mix can soak up enough moisture. Or remove the old potting mix and put the plant’s roots directly in water. Build a humidity box for your orchid, or put it inside a plastic bag. Place a humidity tray by your dehydrated orchid. Keep the plant out of the direct sun.
Method 1: You need to water the orchid immediately. I’d recommend you to do this with the soaking method; place the pot in the sink (or a container of any kind) with water in it. Leave it to stand there for 20-30 minutes, giving the potting mix enough time to soak up enough water.
When ready, lift up the pot and shake it gently, so any excess water can drip out. Place the pot back in its place. From here on it’s crucial you keep an eye on the potting medium; as soon as it’s dry, it’s time to water again. (This is why clear plastic pots are great – you can keep an eye on the potting medium and know exactly when to water again)
Method 2: Take the orchid out of its pot and remove all the potting medium. Rinse the roots with lukewarm water. Trim off all bad (dry or soggy) roots. (I prefer thin blade pruners) Place the remaining good roots directly in a container of water – any glass jar or vase will do. This gives the roots immediate hydration.
You can keep the orchid standing in water for a few weeks or so. Bring the water level about halfway up the roots, and maintain it there. Don’t let the plant’s stem stand in water, or it can start to rot. Change the water if it starts to smell or becomes cloudy or moldy. When you think the orchid has become stronger, you can repot it using a normal orchid potting mix.
The “Box trick” & The “Bag trick”
As the Phalaenopsis orchid comes from a tropical climate, it thrives in a humid environment. In the jungle, the air humidity is 77-88%, which of course we’re incapable of mimicking in a home environment. That said, your indoor air humidity should remain above 40% for your orchid to do well.
You can aid a dehydrated orchid by giving it more humid air. One way to do this is by building a humidity box. All you need is one of those see-through plastic boxes with a lid. Place the orchid inside of it, and close the lid. Humidity will quickly start to rise inside the box. You can even put a small container of water inside the box.
If you don’t have a see-through plastic box, you can also use a clear plastic bag – it works the same. I normally use these humidity boxes/bags for orchids that are struggling, and especially for those that are dehydrated!
Make sure the temperature doesn’t rise too high inside the box/bag (this can happen during a hotter season). Allow some fresh air inside the box/bag once a day, or every few days.
Humidity tray & Humidifier
If you don’t want to make a humidity box or use the plastic bag, there are other ways you can raise the air humidity too. One is a humidity tray. It’s a tray or a shallow container of some sort with water in it. You place it below or next to the dehydrated orchid. I’ve written a whole article about humidity trays, which you can read HERE.
The other option is a humidifier. Keep it close to your dehydrated orchid, and run it a few times a day, for about 15 minutes at a time. You can buy these machines online on Amazon, or find them locally at Walmart, etc.
Swap the potting medium
The last thing to consider with your dehydrated orchid is the type of potting medium you use. Some orchid potting mediums are fast-drying, and others hold moisture for longer. Very fine potting mediums (like coconut choir or Sphagnum moss) take longer to dry. So if your orchid is dehydrated, you could consider keeping it in a potting medium that isn’t too fast-drying. You can learn about different types of orchid potting mediums HERE.
If you don’t want to switch the orchid potting medium you’re currently using, that’s okay! Then simply remember to water your orchid more often. The rule of thumb is; as soon as the potting medium has dried, it’s time to water again. Here’s a whole article about watering; “How to water an orchid” 💦
Signs of Dehydration
You can detect dehydration from the condition of your orchid’s leaves. All the leaves starting to turn wrinkly and lose their firmness indicates dehydration.
Note: If only one or two of the bottom leaves are starting to wrinkle, don’t panic. It’s normal for orchids to shed older leaves every now and then. But all the leaves starting to dry up at the same time is an immediate red flag. 🚩
Roots show dehydration too. When the roots haven’t received enough moisture, they will start to dry up and die.
Sometimes the roots can be dry but the leaves are still firm and perky. What does this mean? In these cases the roots might be simply adapting to the new environment after repotting – the old roots die, and new ones will grow out. So as long as the leaves are still firm to touch the plant is OK, it’s still getting enough hydration.
But dry roots can be the first indication of under-watering, so make sure your watering is sufficient before the leaves start to suffer too! Wrinkled leaves won’t smooth out anymore, even if you save the orchid. They’ll remain wrinkly, but all the new leaves will grow out smooth again.
Causes of Dehydration
So what has caused the dehydration? The answer is simple; the orchid hasn’t received enough water.
During warmer seasons the potting mix dries up faster, so you need to water the orchid more often then. Depending on the weather, this might be once a week, or even every 5 days, etc. During cooler periods you might have to water only once every 3 weeks.
In addition to weather, the type of potting media you’re using affects the drying time too. Bigger bark pieces dry up faster than very fine potting medium. Also, the pot size; the smaller the pot, the quicker the potting medium dries out, and vice versa. So always keep an eye on the potting mix through the pot – as soon as it’s dry all the way to the bottom, it’s time to water again!
Luckily in most cases, it is possible to still save your dehydrated orchid! If the plant is totally brown and dried up, with no signs of life, then it’s most likely a lost call. But in most cases you can still save the orchid, so don’t be discouraged – just take immediate action!
And from hereon, make sure to water your orchid properly – not too little, not too much. And keep an eye on the air humidity in your orchid room! It all affects the overall well-being of your precious orchid. 😊
Good luck with saving your dehydrated orchid. And thanks for reading! Feel free to leave questions and comments below in the comment section.
Have a good day, orchid friends! 💚