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.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

2 comments on “My Orchid Has Limp, Wrinkled Leaves

  1. 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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