Orchid problems are issues that cast a shadow on the appeal and beauty of delicate blooms. Sadly every gardener has experienced one or two at one point while growing orchids, and it only gets easier if you know what you are dealing with.
Orchids can be sturdy and grow relatively easily indoors and outdoors but can be fussy and are still prone to attack by pests and diseases.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about if you detect the problem early and know the solution, and this is why we will explore the problems orchids could develop and how to solve them in this article.
- The Different Pests That Orchids Can Be Infested
- Leaf Problems That Harm Orchids
- Various Diseases That Attack and Spread
- Problems That Result From Unstable Culture
The Different Pests That Orchids Can Be Infested
Scales are small, flat, oval, or dome-shaped insects with a protective waxy shell, resembling fish scales or cottony masses, on their bodies. They are generally categorized into two; armored and soft scales, and knowing this, you should also be mindful of how the soft scales are easier to control than armored scales.
However, both destroy orchids by sucking on the nutrients in their foliage using their piercing mouths, and they would dry up the leaves.
After feeding, scales secrete honeydew, a sweet, sticky substance, as their by-product, attracting ants and preventing light from reaching the plants for photosynthesis. After that, you will see that this is how the leaves weaken and look dull.
In addition, their feeding also results in yellow patches on leaf surfaces. If you notice scales on your orchids early enough, you can spray them with a mixture of water and rubbing alcohol. Notice, that in this case, if they have significantly infested the plant, you must go ahead and spray them with insecticidal soaps, horticultural, or neem oil.
Mealybugs are a type of scale and are small, white, soft-bodied insects that look like cottony masses on orchids due to their wooly exterior covering. They are usually found at the base of plants or on flowers and feed on the nutrients in the plant’s tissues because this is where they will hide and develop.
They also discharge honeydew, leading to sooty mold fungus growth, leaving black discoloration on leaf surfaces.
In small numbers, mealybugs don’t cause severe damage, but large infestations can seriously threaten your orchid, which would occur when they lay eggs and hatch them. As they increase, these bugs would cause loss of foliage, wilting and yellowing of leaves, and prevent blooming.
You can use the control methods for scales on mealybugs. You can also introduce their predators, such as parasitic wasps and lacewings, to feed on them and the younger ones to stop their increase.
– Spider Mites
Spider mites are more arachnids than insects, hence their name. They are small, have four pairs of legs, and can produce delicate silk webs, to grow in their number and accelerate.
They use tiny, piercing mouth parts to suck the sap that is rich in nutrients from plant cells, resulting in tiny white or yellow dots on leaf surfaces. The leaves eventually turn brown and drop if they have infested; this is the sign that you must look through.
Spider mites also produce small, white silk webs on the underside of leaves, which can gather dust and give the plant a dirty appearance. You can spray a strong stream of water to dislodge these pests from the plant, making it difficult for them to climb back. They can also be controlled with miticides, horticultural oils, or insecticidal soaps, as it washes the spiders away.
Aphids are small, soft, pear-shaped, slow-moving insects that can be white, black, or green and appear in dense clusters on leaves and flowers of new growth. Like the other pests mentioned above, aphids also secrete honeydew and feed on the liquid nutrients from the plant’s tissues.
However, they are also vectors of viruses and can infect your orchids; in this matter, you must also remember that some species carry toxins they can inject into the plant and cause leaf curling and distorted growth.
To tackle them in a fast way, without any chemicals, you can introduce lady beetles and lacewing into your plants to feed on them, or you can also spray a strong stream of water on them. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps are also suitable for controlling these pests, but you might need to use insecticides if the infestation gets out of control.
Thrips are small, cigar-shaped insects with fringed wings and piercing-sucking mouthparts they use to feed on the sap from the tissues of their host plant. This results in flecking and silvering of the leaf surfaces, and you would see that the plant’s health is detering.
They also excrete black frass and cause flowers to shrivel or drop before blooming. Thrips are vectors for bacterial, viral, and fungal infection, so it is crucial to eliminate them immediately after they are detected.
Thrips love dry conditions, so increasing humidity or regularly misting your orchids can help send them pacing. If the infestation is significant, you can also use horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps, to get rid of them in a proper manner and a fast way also.
Leaf Problems That Harm Orchids
– Yellow Leaves
Yellowing of leaves is one of the most common orchid problems and can be caused by several factors. However, you should note that this problem should only sometimes be a cause for alarm as some orchid leaves, such as the phalaenopsis orchid, gradually turn yellow as they grow older.
On the same aspect, you must also be mindful of the excess light that can burn the leaves, gradually causing them to turn yellow.
In addition, an environmental change would be when a sudden temperature change that isn’t within the appropriate range for an orchid can also cause this problem, and the leaves would stress. On the other hand, overwatering your orchids can lead to root rot, which ceases the oxygen supply to the leaves, allowing them to turn yellow.
Finally, pests and diseases can turn your orchid’s leaves yellow with a foul smell, and this is when they absorb the sap of the plant.
– Drooping Leaves
When the leaves of your orchid begin drooping, the first thing to check for is grayish or shriveled roots and pseudobulbs as a sign of watering them less than the amount that they need. Once you’ve confirmed that the orchid is dehydrated, immediately remove the plant from its pot, then prune the affected parts, and repot in fresh mix.
Too much heat can also cause the leaves to droop due to rapid water loss, and it would weaken the structure. Calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, and magnesium are vital nutrients orchids require growing. A deficiency in these nutrients will cause the plant’s leaves to droop, and if you wish to recover the plant from such a hazard, frequent fertilization in the right proportions is the only way.
– Brown Leaf Tips and Die-back
Orchid leaf tips turning brown is often caused by dehydration, and increasing the watering frequency helps to give life to the orchid’s leaves. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight also causes leaf tips to turn brown. The tips will usually turn brown and crispy as they dry out. Once you notice this, you can save the plant by moving into a spot with partial shade.
For this, consider how the brown leaf tips on your orchids can also be caused by the accumulation of harmful salts in the soil. This is often due to excessive amounts of fertilizer being placed or improper flushing of the medium. To control this problem and prevent future occurrences, dilute the fertilizer to a quarter or half strength, flush the potting medium monthly with clean water that lacks harsh chemicals, and stick to a regular watering schedule.
– Black or Brown Spots on Leaves
When your orchid’s leaves have brown or black spots, that is usually the first sign of a fungal or bacterial infection called leaf spot, especially if the spots are water-sunken. The first thing to do is to isolate the plant and prune away the diseased parts. You may also tend to apply some fungicide or bactericide to kill any remaining infections in a swift way.
Nevertheless, cold drafts or sunburn can also cause these spots. If the spots are dry and brown, they are most likely caused by excess sunlight. In addition to this, if the spots have a white or yellow ring around them, they are diseased.
Various Diseases That Attack and Spread
Botrytis is a fungal disease that causes small, tan, or pinkish spots on the sepals and petals of orchids when the weather is cool and damp and without good airflow. The disease also leads to the failure of buds to open. Botrytis is usually present in the orchid long before it manifests. They stay dormant during winter and infect the orchid during long periods of wetness, especially in spring, hindering its development and blooming.
Botrytis has no cure, so the only way to control its spread and save the plant is by pruning away the infected flowers. Spray the plant with a fungicide and allow the orchid to dry before moving it into a conducive area with proper airflow.
– Root Rot
Root rot is a disease caused by water-borne fungi that affects the orchids’ roots, stems, and pseudobulbs. This disease is often due to excess water in the potting mix resulting from overwatering, improper drainage, and poor air circulation.
You must also keep in mind that root rot causes orchid roots to decay, become mushy, and have a foul smell that comes from the soil. As a result, the roots stop supplying oxygen to the plant, causing the leaves to turn yellow and wilt or drop, and the stems will become soft, brown, and soggy, as a result.
If you detect root rot early on, you can save the plant. You would need to remove the plant from its pot and rinse away excess soil left on the roots. Then use sterilizer tools to prune away affected roots, leaves, and stems. Spray the plant with a fungicide and dry out the roots before repotting it in a fresh potting mix in a new pot with rough drainage holes.
Remember to dispose of the affected parts to prevent reinfection properly; with this, you must also ensure that you allow the top inches of the soil to dry out every time you water them. However, if the entire plant is impacted, dispose of it properly alongside the potting medium and wash the pot with bleach. Then spray surrounding plants and environs with a fungicide.
– Brown Rot
Brown rot is a bacterial disease that causes soft, foul-smelling, water-soaked lesions on leaf surfaces that eventually turn brown and spread rapidly throughout the plant. The lesions then become a fuzzy gray-brown mold.
The disease is caused by the bacterium known as Erwinia and must not reach the crown or rhizome of the plant, or else it can lead to crown rot, and the plant will die. The disease often manifests in orchids exposed to warm, highly humid conditions without good airflow, as it attacks the problem caused is a hectic one.
The best way to treat brown rot is to immediately isolate the plant and remove infected parts using sterile tools. After that, you should spray the plant and surrounding ones with a bactericide containing copper compounds, following the instructions on the label.
If you don’t have access to a bactericide, you can use hydrogen peroxide or a bleach and water solution. Furthermore, avoid overhead watering, keep leaves dry, and provide enough air circulation with high humidity.
Problems That Result From Unstable Culture
– Imbalance When Fertilizing
Overfertilization and under-fertilization can cause nutritional problems for orchids. As a rule of thumb, gardeners are advised to fertilize orchids weekly using a suitable orchid fertilizer diluted to a quarter or half strength. This is best done after the plant has been watered thoroughly.
Any deviation from this schedule can cause inhibited growth and brown leaf tips, as with overfertilization, and wilting or yellowing leaves, weak stems, droopy foliage, or red spots on orchid leaves, as with under-fertilization. You can only remedy these situations by resuming the approved feeding regimen and adhering to it strictly, especially during their active growth period, and make sure that you apply the right type of fertilizer to see it thrive.
– Bud Blast
Bud blast causes orchid flower buds to shrivel, soften, and eventually fall off; this is why you must know how pests and diseases may be the most common causes of this problem. On the other hand, if you inspect your orchid, and there are no signs of pests or disease, then, in that case, the bud blast might be caused by environmental factors such as sudden temperature changes, low humidity, air pollution, harmful pesticides, or improper watering.
Once you figure out the cause of your orchid’s bud blast, take the proper steps to help your plant become healthy. Also, you must not move or repot your orchid while it is in the bud. It is best to wait till it has bloomed, and make sure to check the season you are in and the type of orchid you have as well as when it’s blooming season is.
– Potting Problems
The proper pot and potting medium are significant and crucial to the plant’s health. Orchids grow in various places, including on trees, in between rocks, and on land. The potting medium must therefore imitate the properties of their growing location; otherwise, the plant will suffer.
Most orchids are epiphytic, and their recommended potting mix includes sphagnum moss, perlite, and bark to balance good drainage and moisture retention.
Orchids also tend to outgrow their pots and require repotting after some time, and for this, they can have stunted growth and die if they aren’t divided or repotted. Generally, repotting is recommended every, two to three years, depending on the species.
As a solution, many gardeners tend to leave their orchids in their pot for a long time and this would be leading to root rot because the plant receives more water than it requires. Orchids like to be packed tight in their growing medium, so ensure the pot is the same size as the root ball. If you’ve left it in the same pot for a while, you should prune away any leaves that might be damaged and repot in a smaller pot.
Once you can identify the problem with your orchid, you’re on your way to getting back your healthy orchid, but here is a quick recap of some problems that orchids can develop:
- Orchid pests can be controlled using horticultural or neem oils and insecticidal soaps.
- You should always stick to the appropriate wearing and fertilization regimen to prevent root rot and leaf burn.
- Be aware of the microbes or bacteria that would harm the plant, such as brown rot or root rot.
- Ensure your potting medium is the exact size of your plant’s root ball to prevent overpotting.
We’ve discussed some of the most crucial issues that orchids can develop, so if you’ve read up to this point, you should be able to troubleshoot and decipher what is causing your orchid’s problems and fix it before it kills the plant.
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