Rescue Orchids - Bringing Stressed Plants Back to Life

Phalaenopsis Orchid

Orchids are among nature’s most beautiful flowers, and growing them provides great joy and satisfaction when they thrive and do well. But what happens when a plant becomes stressed and unkempt, when it appears to be clinging to the last shred of hope for its very life? Is there any hope for an orchid that shows little willingness to spring back to life? Is it possible to successfully rescue orchids and revive them?

In nature, orchids are a hardy family of “air plants” that thrive in a wide variety of conditions, from deserts to jungles, and beaches to swamps. Some grow on the barks of trees; some thrive among rock formations; and others grow among the organic matter littering the top layer of soil in some areas. Yet growing them at home can be a tricky hit-or-miss undertaking until we at last discover the perfect balance of light and humidity, as well as growth medium and fertilizer, that each orchid species needs to thrive and bloom repeatedly. Once you master proper care of your orchid, it will provide you with exotic blooms that may last for several months and repeat blooms throughout the year.

Reviving stressed or sick orchids

If you’re trying to rescue an orchid whose leaves have turned brown, or have become dry and crinkled, or a plant with leaves that drop off, start with these basic steps to revive the plant.

  1. Isolate the plant from others in your collection until the plant is once again healthy. This is to prevent any contagious diseases or parasites the rescue orchid may have from spreading to other healthy plants.
  2. Cut off the spikes if they have not bloomed within the past two months. Use a pair of Fiskars Micro-Tip Pruning Snips or a Scalpel, and make a swift cut at the base of the stem between the fleshy leaves. Be sure to properly clean and disinfect your instruments.
  3. Water the orchid liberally by placing it under the faucet and flushing it with tap water until the water drains through the holes in the bottom of the pot. It is best to use tepid water when watering a weak or sick orchid, so as not to shock the delicate root system.
  4. Mix a solution of water and orchid fertilizer according to instructions, and pour the mixture over the roots. Our FEED ME! Fertilizer comes from the legendary MSU formula, known as the gold standard in the field.
  5. Because stressed plants are more susceptible to parasites, you may notice an infection of mealy bugs. To treat this, spray the plant with a good natural pesticide such as GET OFF ME! Indoor Natural Pest Control Spray as a preventative measure to make the plant is free of parasites. We recommend putting a cinnamon stick in the sprayer to make the solution even more effective
  6. In order to treat a possible fungus/bacterial infection we recommend spraying with Physan (1 Tablespoon/gallon) and sprinkling natural cinnamon powder on any cut that you make in the orchid, because cinnamon is an effective bactericide/fungicide and very safe for your plants. Continue to spray the plant monthly with Physan mixed at 1 Teaspoon/gallon as a preventative measure.
  7. Some orchids are a lot tougher than others. Some genera, like Phalaenopsis, will sunburn easily. Others, like Cymbidium, tolerate very high light levels with no problem.
  8. If none of these remedies inspires the rescue orchid to show signs of improvement, repotting may be the only way to save the orchid’s life. When changing the potting medium, you may find an infestation of fungus gnats, which are tiny bugs that resemble fruit flies. These pests may be easily eradicated using Natural Fungus Gnat Control.

Repotting Your Orchid

Repotting an orchid is simple and our Orchid Repotting page provides all the information you need in FAQ format. We also provide a pictorial walk-thru to make the whole process easier.

Keeping Your Orchid Healthy

Orchids do not grow in dirt, as it will smother their roots. Choosing a good orchid mix is essential to promote healthy drainage and good airflow to make sure the roots get oxygen. Because there are different types of orchids with varying needs, choose the potting mix that best matches the type of orchid you have and the conditions you are growing it in. Our convenient Orchid Finder provides pictures of orchids to help you identify your orchid, and our Find the Right Orchid Mix page helps you select the perfect potting mix for your plant. Our Orchid Care Calendar, Orchid Repotting Times, and Orchid Bloom charts will help you know what to look for and when. Our Orchid Growth Patterns page also illustrates the differences between sympodial and monopodial orchids.

Light and Temperature

Set your orchid in a spot where it will get indirect sunlight for 10 to 15 hours a day. Ideal room temperature should be about 70F but not lower than 60F Fahrenheit during the day, and about 50F at night. Keep your orchid away from direct sunlight.

Watering and Humidity

Most orchids do best when watered weekly. Over watering may lead to root rot, which will destroy the entire plant. While Orchids do not like 'wet feet' they do require a lot of humidity. A humidity tray placed underneath the pot will allow water to collect in the base to provide a humid environment for the plant as the water evaporates. Orchids also do very well when positioned in clusters as this also helps to increase the humidity among all the plants, although you must always allow enough room for proper air circulation around the plants, and especially, around their roots. A good balance of humidity and air circulation is one of the tricks to growing orchids successfully.


Since balancing light and humidity is so critical to successful orchid care, and it is believed that orchid roots undergo photosynthesis, many growers prefer to use clear plastic pots that allow them to see when the plant’s roots are thriving, as well as catching problems such as fungus gnats early on, before they debilitate the plant.

Pick the smallest orchid pot that the roots will fit in, and stake the plant to help it establish itself. You will be able to tell when the potting mix becomes dry, because it gradually lightens in color as it dries. Clear plastic pots are easy to disinfect and reuse, and provide visible clues as to the plant’s condition without the need to disturb the plant.

Want More Orchid Care Information?

To learn more about caring specifically for your particular orchid, please see our informative pages on Phalaenopsis Orchid Care and Orchid Care Directory, depending on what type of orchid you have. These pages provide all the basic information you need to keep your beautiful orchids healthy, happy, and blooming!

You May Also Be Interested In