Orchid Leaves Turning Yellow? Why And How To Solve It!

Are your orchid leaves turning yellow? There’s a few reasons for this, but the good news is, there’s still a chance for you to bring your plant back to full health.

Plant lovers – you and us both – become attached to gorgeous plants such as orchids, so it can be worrying to see their leaves turn yellow. If you take action quickly, it’s possible to rescue a plant and even restore it to its former glory! Let’s take a look at some specific reasons why orchid leaves turn yellow and how to treat the plant – and how you can avoid this problem from occurring in future.

My orchid’s leaves are turning yellow – do I need to worry?

It’s not a good sign – but there are numerous reasons for the leaves of your orchid plants to turn yellow. It’s not a sign that you need to get rid of your plant just yet!

Do remember that yellow leaves can indicate your plant is suffering, but this may not be fatal. If you catch and address the problem. it is entirely possible to save your plant.

You will need to be patient to see evidence of recovery, too – experienced orchid owners will know that things happen more slowly with orchids than some other indoor plants.

Why do orchid leaves turn yellow?

It’s normally due to the fact that you are overwatering your plant. It may also mean that your soil is simply too wet. Crucially, it’s a sign of root rot. However, it might also mean that you’re watering it too little! If your orchid’s roots are rotting or dying, the leaves are likely to turn yellow.

However, there is some correlation between overwatering, humidity and temperature turning the leaves yellow. Certainly If your orchids are not in pots which drain well, the roots may sit in a bath of water for some time. Oversaturating orchid plants is not simply overindulging them – it can kill them!

white orchid plant sitting by windows with closed white shutters

Do also try and keep them in a room that’s no more than 12 degrees Celsius. Most orchids are also extremely sensitive to sunlight – these are highly picky but beautiful plants!

Ultimately, orchids just don’t like extremes. When they are unhappy, their leaves will begin to turn yellow.

How to save an orchid with yellow leaves

Like most living things, it’s good to have a health check from time to time – and with orchids, you’ll need to do the occasional visual scan. When leaves begin to turn yellow, the change is very subtle to begin with.

From a usually healthy, shiny dark green leaf, you may notice that leaves are beginning to fade. You may also see that roots are changing colour at the same time. A useful tip for part of your wellness check for your orchids is to check roots when you see leaves discoloured. 

If your plant is flowering, you may first see the flowers begin to wilt or fall off prematurely, too – many plant owners may first be alerted to a potential problem when flowers fall off. Whilst orchid flowers are generally more tender than orchid leaves, it is possible that the plant retains its leaves and drops flowers first!

Healthy orchid leaves are usually sturdy and stand well alone. They are slim, but can be tall and have a slight curve tapering to a rounded or pointed end. Healthy orchid leaves are rigid and can snap to reveal a clear liquid. Leaves can reach an inch and a half to just under two feet long.

What’s more, it’s advisable to check from tip to roots. Perhaps only one side of the plant is affected.

Watering to protect against yellowing leaves

Healthy orchid plants will require watering roughly every seven days in summer and every five days otherwise. However, as established, overwatering your plant can be just as harmful as not watering enough. Therefore, it pays to water carefully to begin with – get to know your plant!

In very hot climates, you may find it better to water twice weekly with a lesser amount. It is crucial that your orchids do not sit for long in too much water. This will cause roots to rot and, at worst, they will end up dying.

It is best you water sparingly at first and build up over time. You should also be careful with the water you use, too!

Rainwater is ideal for watering orchid plants. Tap water which has not been over chlorinated is good for orchids, too. They love fresh, clean water – and can you blame them?

Considered to be succulents, these plants store water in fleshy roots. As mentioned, it’s worth keeping an eye on roots and leaves to check the health of your orchid. If you have a see-through plant pot, you may be able to check the roots during your watering schedule to ensure it’s getting enough of the good stuff.

Do also keep in mind that orchids don’t tend to like standard plant fertiliser – be sure to invest in specific orchid food if you want to keep them well-fed.

It’s all in the roots

close up of persons hands checking the roots of an orchid plant

If you’re noticing orchid leaves turning yellow, it also makes sense to check for orchid roots turning yellow or suffering at the same time – and, as mentioned, if there’s yellowing in the leaves, there’s a good chance you need to check over those roots.

When roots are overwatered, they can turn yellow, brownish, black or grey. Ideally, roots will be white or light grey through to pale green. So, if you notice any of these latter tints, there’s normally nothing to worry about.

Smell the roots from time to time – no, really! If roots become rotten, they may begin to smell bad. They can look and feel slimy or squishy, too. The integrity of the outer membrane of roots can be seriously damaged by overwatering – in this case, it is best to chop off slimy roots that you can’t save. Your plant will take time to fully recover.

What do I do with yellow or rotting roots?

If you discover your orchid roots are becoming rotten, or worse, have become totally rotten, you will need to take drastic action in order to save your plant. Here’s what you’ll need to do.

  • Clean a space on a tray or table and gently tap away any soil or growth medium from roots. When plants have been packed in tightly for potting, the roots can become very intertwined.
  • Spread a few lengths of kitchen roll or paper towels on the table. Toilet tissue will do equally as well!
  • Gently lay out your orchid plant on the table, placing soggy roots on the tissue. The tissue will soak up any excess fluid. Gently separate the roots but do not break them away if you can help it.
  • Some rot may have rendered the roots into a mushy mess. Gently remove that matter. If it has become mushy, it will not firm up properly. It is better to help your plant form new roots.
  • It is extremely important to check the health of roots whilst on the table. You are especially looking for signs of fungus. This may be identified by a musty smell or subtleties of colour change.
  • Fungus must be removed before you repot your orchid. If you do not clear fungus away from the roots, you risk fungus surviving and expanding. It may eventually kill the plant – get rid of it!
  • You will notice that – even following the advice above – some fungus may have been left behind, if leaves continue to turn yellow.

Repotting your orchid after inspecting its roots

Once you’ve cleaned up your orchid’s roots, you’re going to need to move it to a new home. Do remember that in some cases, repotting shock can also cause orchid leave to turn yellow – so, you’re going to need to attend to it very carefully. Here’s the steps you’ll need to follow.

  • Use a specialist orchid growing medium or soil. Orchid plants prefer to have roots in a cramped area. Pots should not be too much larger than the root ball.
  • Having removed some roots, you may decide it is best to put your plant in a smaller pot. Up to half an inch of growth medium void of roots between the wall of the pot and roots tends to be ideal – and even less may be preferable. Do not be tempted to reuse the same growth medium your plant was in, as it may contain fungi or other pests. 
  • Do not water in your orchid immediately if overwatering has been a problem! Allow the roots to settle in their new home and give them opportunity to transfer the fluid already in their system before topping them up. This may take only a day or two.
  • If you are going to reuse the existing pot for your cleaned and treated plant, clean the pot thoroughly.
  • Empty the spent growth medium, but use caution and do not throw this onto your garden near other plants. It Is best to dispose of this material well away from other plants you’re growing – as again, it may be contaminated with fungi.

Extra support for your orchid

women with green gloves holding the pot of an orchid plant with a cane support and spraying the plant with water

Everyone needs a little support sometimes – and your orchid is no different! As your orchid plant is likely to be in a weakened condition, it may need a little support to stand and grow back into health.

Perhaps consider inserting a cane or wireframe before adding a growth medium. Plastic supports can be better for tender, fleshy roots, too, where root rot has been a problem. Wood or cane supports can become waterlogged and affect the quality of the growth medium – so avoid them if you can.

If you are left with only a crown of short, younger leaves, do not use too big a pot. You can kill them with kindness by overwatering them in a larger pot with too much space between roots and the wall – remember, these plants prefer to feel snug!

Other reasons for orchid leaves turning yellow

As mentioned, there are several reasons for orchid leaves to start yellowing – which is why it’s a good idea to check your plant very carefully.

If the leaves of your orchid are turning yellow from the central spine outwards, it’s likely due to irrigation – so, overwatering or excess humidity are likely to be the most likely causes.

If your orchid leaves are turning yellow from the outside inwards, however, the problem is likely to be temperature or disease or pests on the leaves. They prefer good levels of light but not strong direct sunlight – and in their natural tropical habitat, or in forest areas, they exist in dappled light or under the canopy of trees.

For this reason, they are ideal indoor houseplants. They can light up a shady space indoors with their vibrantly coloured, striking flowers!

Yellowing leaves can be a warning signal to plant parents that neighbouring plants may be susceptible to a problem, too – or, that a neighbouring plant has actually been the cause. Some of us decide to have mixed displays of plants – and, inadvertently, we may (indiscriminately) water a plant collection sharing the same trough or container.

Soaking the roots of some indoor plants may actually be desirable. Large plants may soak up copious amounts of water whilst smaller ones are less demanding – water distribution can be an issue with sensitive plants such as the orchid, however.

Can I grow orchids in a neighbourhood of plants?

Bearing the above in mind, yes – it’s possible to keep orchids in a plant neighbourhood or a shared container – but you need to be very careful when doing so.

As orchids are succulents, their root system is very sensitive to the build-up of excessive water – they should be in a well drained pot and not watered to excess. If you are creating a plant neighbourhood or shared container of plants, try to group species together who share the same needs. Watering weekly, and with similar requirements for sunlight and temperature, means your orchids will be at less risk from neighbouring variations.

It’s a good idea to consider the depths of roots when plants share a container. You may have two or more pots sharing a trough or other vessel to collect water. A common and often overlooked mistake is to house different root systems in the same container. Do you have a tall orchid with large roots packed close to the sides and bottom of a pot? Is it alongside another smaller plant with smaller roots in a pot, sharing the same container, basket or box?

That smaller plant may be packed in more growth medium and its shallow roots may be further away from the bottom of the container. This means that when you water the plants, your orchid is more likely to be sat in a pool of water than its neighbour with shallow roots at a higher level.

A solution for this is to place an upturned plant pot saucer under the orchid. This will raise your orchid just enough to not rest the base of its pot in water. A more water tolerant neighbour may then sit in the trough at water level. Of course, if underwatering turns out to be the problem for orchid leaves turning yellow, the reverse may be true – and you will need to consider acting accordingly!

Might it be the end of the line?

Sadly, yellow leaves may signal your plant has almost reached the end of the line – and it’s time to say goodbye to your orchid.

If you have tried all the above to no avail, it may simply be reaching its final few days. It should be noted that very old orchids can start to show yellowing of the leaves as a sign of old age. Despite your best attempts to rejuvenate your plant, it may just not be possible. Another sign of your plant wearing out is when roots turn yellow, grey, or white. Sad, but true!

If your plant is not responding to surgery and treatment, check for any small, perhaps new roots and shoots. These may be salvaged and start a new generation of the plant.

Remove them carefully and pot in a new, clean container. This tender youngster will be more sensitive to strong light, so protect it from direct sun and water in accordance with its small size. Go on, have a go – at this stage, you have nothing to lose!

But don’t give up hope!

Orchids do often bounce back – they just need a little bit of patience! Perseverance with sick orchids often pays off – they are usually robust and predictable popular houseplants. Yellowing leaves are like a cry for help. If you respond with some of our suggestions quickly enough, there’s a good chance they will make a full recovery – and you will have then officially become a successful plant doctor!