Orchids are beautiful, vibrant flowering plants that can be grown indoors or outdoors. While primarily grown for their iconic flowers, orchids also have gorgeous green leaves. However, various factors can affect your orchid plant’s health. In this article, I’ll share ten common reasons why your orchid plant is dropping its leaves and how to fix the issue.
10 Common Reasons Your Orchid Plant is Dropping Leaves
1) Natural or Seasonal Reasons
Some types of orchids may drop their leaves due to natural or seasonal factors. Deciduous orchids, like some types of Dendrobium orchids, naturally drop their leaves before winter. This allows them to conserve energy and resources before they regrow in the spring.
However, if your evergreen orchid starts to drop its leaves, it’s usually cause for concern. Check your orchid over to determine the exact cause before trying to fix it.
For more, see our in-depth guide on how to care for orchids after they finish flowering.
Overwatering is one of the most common reasons why orchids drop their leaves. Most types of orchids should be watered every five to ten days during the summer. You can even water some orchids using ice cubes.
However, orchids hate sitting in waterlogged mediums, which can lead to root rot. Drooping or yellowing leaves are the main symptoms of overwatering. Provide a well-draining growing medium, and let your orchid dry out more before watering.
Orchids may also lose their leaves if they aren’t getting enough water. Without sufficient hydration, orchids will struggle to produce healthy leaves and flowers. Underwatering is a common problem during hot, dry summers or in dry indoor conditions.
Symptoms of underwatering include dry, shriveled roots, stunted growth, and wilting leaves that look yellow and wrinkled. Rehydrate your orchid by placing it in a tray and allowing it to soak up water from the bottom.
4) Incorrect Temperatures
Different types of orchids prefer different temperatures. However, all orchids can suffer if exposed to the wrong temperatures. Most orchids prefer ambient temperatures between 75 and 85ºF during the day.
If tropical orchids are left exposed to cold temperatures, they will start to suffer temperature shock. Even cold-hardy orchids can suffer temperature stress, especially if it’s too hot. Symptoms of temperature stress include yellowing or browning leaves and drooping or wilting foliage.
5) Incorrect Humidity
Many orchids require moderate to high humidity levels, especially tropical orchids. Most orchids need humidity levels ranging from 40 to 70%. If orchids are exposed to too much dry air, it can cause problems.
Keep orchids away from cold or dry drafts caused by air vents, open windows, or radiators. Use humidifiers or pebble trays to keep humidity levels high. Symptoms of incorrect humidity include yellow leaves with brown tips and drooping foliage.
6) Too Much Light
Orchid leaves may also drop off if exposed to too much bright, direct sunlight. Most orchids prefer bright, indirect light from east or southeast-facing windows. However, most orchids cannot tolerate harsh, direct afternoon sunlight.
If your orchid is exposed to too much direct sunlight, it may develop brown or yellow leaves with dry tips. Position your orchid approximately three feet away from a window to minimize its exposure to direct sun.
7) Not Enough Light
Orchids that don’t get enough sunlight can also develop yellow leaves. Although many orchids can tolerate partial shade, they struggle when left in full shade for long periods. Orchids not getting enough light will have drooping yellow leaves and weak, stunted, or leggy growth.
North-facing windows don’t provide orchids with enough light. Position orchids near east or southeast-facing windows so they receive some bright, indirect light during the morning.
8) Nutrient Deficiency
If your orchid has yellow leaves, it may indicate insufficient nutrients in the growing medium. Some epiphytic orchids don’t need lots of nutrients, but many terrestrial orchids can be heavy feeders. Adding some fertilizer provides your orchid with extra nutrients.
Orchids with nutrient deficiency may have yellow leaves and leggy or weak growth. Fertilize orchids every two to four weeks with diluted fertilizers specifically designed for orchids.
If you need to switch out the soil base, see our in-depth guide to repotting orchid plants.
9) Too Much Fertilizer
While orchids do benefit from fertilizer, applying too much can be damaging. Most fertilizers contain strong chemicals and salts that need to be heavily diluted. Orchids that are given too much fertilizer can suffer from burnt yellow leaves with brown tips.
Only fertilize your orchid every two to four weeks and dilute the fertilizer according to the packet instructions. Don’t fertilize orchids during the winter, as many of them require a dormant period.
10) Diseases and Pests
Diseases and pest infestations can cause orchids to develop yellow leaves. Common orchid pests include aphids, scale insects, and spider mites. Common orchid diseases include fungal infections like root rot and Southern blight.
Eliminate pests using insecticidal soap or horticultural oils. Fungal diseases can be kept at bay by caring for your orchid correctly. This includes providing a well-draining growing medium with good airflow around the roots.
Orchid Plants Dropping Leaves FAQs:
What Do You Do When Orchids Lose Their Leaves?
If an orchid loses all its leaves, it’s often a lost cause and needs to be disposed of. However, some deciduous orchids naturally drop their leaves during the winter, so leave them be.
Can an Orchid Survive if All the Leaves Fall Off?
If an evergreen orchid loses all its leaves, it won’t survive. However, deciduous orchids intentionally lose their leaves before winter. These orchids will then grow new leaves in the spring.
What Does It Mean When Orchid Leaves Turn Yellow and Fall Off?
Orchid leaves may turn yellow and fall off due to overwatering, underwatering, temperature stress, or because of pests or diseases. Try and identify the cause and take the appropriate steps to prevent more leaf loss. Remove the yellow leave, as they won’t turn green again.
Orchids Dropping Leaves – Wrapping Up
Orchids may drop their leaves due to overwatering, underwatering, incorrect temperatures, or incorrect light levels. However, some deciduous orchids naturally drop their leaves. If your evergreen orchids lose their leaves, identify the problem and try to correct it. With due care and attention, orchid plants can live for years.
For more, see our in-depth guide to whether orchids are pet-friendly, the best potting vessels for orchids, the amazing uses and benefits of orchids, and how to care for orchids while you’re on vacation.
Edd is a budding content writer and gardener living in the United Kingdom. He has a bachelor's degree in Creative and Professional Writing and has written for several gardening publications online. He is passionate about nature and sustainability with a focus on gardening and wildlife.