Caring for sick orchids

Once in a while orchids can become sick. Last year, I rescued some that were sick and have successfully nursed them back to health. However, last month my Miltoniopsis ‘World Cup’ orchid succumbed to root rot because it was not discovered in time to save the orchid.


Learning from this experience, and using my knowledge on caring for sick orchids will help in future. Let’s face it, it will happen to us all at some stage in this hobby. It can be upsetting, but it can also be an opportunity for us to learn.

Sometimes we take pity on sick orchids that are left looking neglected in the ‘reduced section’ of a garden store and we take them home (ahem!). But what care should we provide to help them become healthy again? Here are some tips to help you care for your sick orchid (or orchids if you couldn’t say no to saving just one –  never done that…ahem again!).

Warmth – By this I mean providing slightly warmer temperatures than normal; just a few degrees higher. The increased temperature helps your orchid to regenerate and recover quickly. Do not leave it above a radiator or other heat source. If the temperature increases too much this might cause more stress to your orchid – not what you want.

Moisture – Providing your orchids with increased moisture can be beneficial to their recovery. But (and it’s a big but) if you keep the potting media very moist or wet all the time, the media will start to break down very quickly, which could lead to root rot. If your orchid has very few roots, it is a good idea to keep the top portion of the potting media damp. You could use water from a small spray bottle to keep the roots hydrated by spraying them every day or so. If your orchid has a good amount of roots you may need to water the orchid as normal but more frequently. Place the orchid (and plastic pot) in a decorative ceramic pot to help retain moisture. Sometimes this trick can work well but it depends on your orchids’ needs and your environment.

Humidity – Slightly raising the humidity can help your orchid to recover. This can be achieved by using humidity trays. Alternatively, you could use a fine spray bottle and mist your orchids every couple of days. Humidity and moisture are linked, but increasing humidity around your orchid will help prevent it from losing too much water through transpiration. Ensure there is ventilation around the orchid otherwise moulds or rot can cause problems.

Light – Bright light is not essential but your orchid will still need light in order to photosynthesise and grow. Do not place a sick orchid in direct sunlight during the summer months – you’ll cook it in no time. Direct sunlight in winter should be ok because the sun’s strength is reduced, but it does depend on the species or hybrid that you have.

Attention – Without a doubt, one of the most important factors that will help your orchid recover. Spending 5 minutes each day checking your orchid over will help you identify any problems early so you can adjust the care given accordingly.

Patience – If you have orchids at home, you’ll know that they aren’t the fastest growing plants on the planet! However, growing orchids is a rewarding hobby, especially when you see the first signs of recovery. Have patience with your orchid…it’s worth it.

The list above does not include fertiliser. I do not provide fertiliser to sick orchids until it has become stronger. The emphasis until that point is just to provide the basic care mentioned above. Think of fertiliser as being a heavy meal to us – if you are recovering from the flu for example, would you want to be eating a heavy meal? I certainly wouldn’t. My point is your sick orchid is likely to be affected by small changes so not overwhelming it is going to help.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you.

Happy growing!



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