Gardening Orchids Plant diseases Repotting Watering

My Orchid Has Limp, Wrinkled Leaves

Droopy, wrinkled leaves on a phalaenopsis are generally a sign of watering problems. Source: soo neaty,

Question: I have an orchid whose leaves are limp and wrinkled. What should I do?


Answer: Note that in the following answer, I’m presuming your orchid is a phalaenopsis (Phalaenopsis cv), by far the most commonly sold orchid. However, the information also applies to many of the other orchids grown as houseplants.

Usually, the presence of soft, droopy leaves wrinkled lengthwise indicates that not enough water is reaching the leaves and there are two main reasons for that: chronic underwatering or overwatering.


Shriveled roots combined with wilting leaves indicate a chronic lack of water. Source:

If the plant is regularly being underwatered (very common with the unreliable ice cube watering method), the roots will appear pale green or white yet shriveled. If so, you can plump up your phalaenopsis fairly quickly by watering it more effectively. Ideally, that would be by soaking the pot in tepid water—yes, even right up to the pot’s rim!—for 10, 15, 20 minutes, even half an hour, then letting the excess water drain off before putting the plant back in its place. Then, when the substrate is dry to the touch, soak the roots again.

Depending on your growing conditions, you’ll probably find your phalaenopsis needs watering about once a week to 10 days.


If the plant has received too much water for too long, the roots or at least a good part of them will be brown or yellow and either rotting or rotten. This is a much more serious problem and it isn’t always possible to recuperate an orchid with dying roots, but you can certainly try.

20181112B Randy from Maui,
Prune off the yellowed and brown rotting roots. Source: Randy from Maui,

Unpot the plant, cut off the dead roots (disinfecting the pruning shears in rubbing alcohol after each cut) and repot into a clean pot with fresh orchid mix. Give the plant a few days to recuperate from the shock, then take up regular watering. With a little luck, new roots will grow and most of the old leaves will become turgid again, although you may lose a few (just pull or cut them off).

In the future, be careful to only water when the mix is dry to the touch. However, when you do water, always do so abundantly. Again, soaking the roots in tepid water, then letting the surplus water drain away, is the best way to water any phalaenopsis … and, in fact, pretty much any orchid.

6 comments on “My Orchid Has Limp, Wrinkled Leaves

  1. Shirley Felty

    My orchid is blooming so I wasn’t sure if I should clean up roots now or wait. But now what began with one leaf has progressed to almost all of the leaves. The roots out of the container are green although some are cracked.

    • Mathieu Hodgson

      You’re right to wait for your orchid to finish blooming before doing anything. Generally, it’s best not to disturb your orchid while it is blooming, disturbing them might stress the plant, potentially shortening the bloom period or affecting the health of the plant. Usually yellowing leaves in orchids are du to watering issues, nutrient deficiencies, or lighting problems. Often the issue is over or under watering, but be careful to keep your orchid out of direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day. In your case, you might have to sacrifice the bloom to save your orchid. Examine its roots and remove anything rotten or yellow and repot in new orchid mix.

  2. Will cornmeal repel some molds and fungus if sprinkled on infected ant near the base!

  3. Would my limpy leaves improve if a misted the leaves and placed the plant into a plastic bag for a few days?

    • High humidity is good for most plants, such as found inside a plastic bag, although misting helps not at all. (Total waste of time). And if your orchid is wilting because if chronically lacking water, that can definitely help. But if the cause is overwatering, you’d do better to clean up and repot, as discussed in the article.

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