When you picture an orchid, you may think of a healthy, lush green plant with breathtakingly exquisite flowers that bloom rarely.
Yet, a sad reality is that many orchid owners struggle with yellowing leaves that ruin the perfect picture.
They may ask, “Why are my orchid leaves turning yellow?”
Why Do My Orchid’s Leaves Turn Yellow?
Orchid leaves can turn yellow due to trauma, over-watering, and incorrect soil nutrition. All these factors contribute to the orchid dying. The leaves can also go yellow as part of the plant’s natural growth cycle, where older leaves turn yellow and fall off before new green leaves grow.
Leaves Yellowing Due To Age And Growth
The most natural reason why an orchid’s leaves turn yellow is that the plant is growing.
I often see this with my orchids that will shed the older leaves first to facilitate the growth of new leaves.
If this is the case with your orchid, then you really need to do nothing as the yellow leaves will wither and die, falling off on their own.
Orchids tend to naturally shed older bulbs that are no longer useful for growth. This usually starts with leaves turning yellow and falling off.
It is a natural way in which the orchid can also gradually “move” itself toward the source of light it needs.
The yellow leaves die, so the orchid can grow new pseudobulbs closer to the light source.
Should you choose to cut yellow leaves off, be sure to use a clean blade to prevent spreading bacterial infections and seal the “wound” with cinnamon powder to keep the area clean.
Rotate the orchid at 90-degree increments every second day to ensure the plant receives omnidirectional lighting and balanced growth to limit leaf yellowing.
Leaves Yellowing Due To Trauma, Overwatering, And Incorrect Soil Nutrition
Your orchid can also begin to form yellow leaves due to a number of more serious issues.
These require intervention unless you are happy for your orchid to die.
When your orchid has suffered some external trauma such as being dropped, standing in harsh sunlight, or being placed too close to a heat source, the leaves may turn yellow and die.
If the conditions that caused the trauma to continue, you will find that the whole orchid can become sickly and die.
Even something as silly as placing an orchid too close to a doorway where people pass frequently can lead to the plant suffering trauma. I
lost one stunning Phalaenopsis orchid due to my family’s extended visit over the holidays, where the kids were running past the entrance hallway and creating an unwelcome draft that killed off my orchid.
By the next weekend, I noticed the leaves were all going yellow, and sadly, the plant didn’t recover.
Orchids prefer potting soil properly aerated with loose bark and mulching to ensure adequate airflow to the roots.
If you add too much water to the potting soil, the roots will suffocate, and the orchid will drown in the soil.
If the overwatering continues, you will find the roots will become yellow or go rust-colored, and following that, the leaves will also turn yellow, become mushy, and rot off the stem.
Be sure to test the soil’s water content before you add water to your orchid’s soil.
Assuming it needs watering has been the death of many of the orchids I have seen in the collections of first-time orchid enthusiasts.
Incorrect Soil Nutrition
When you have potting soil that is too acidic or alkaline, you will mess with your orchid’s natural pH balance.
This can affect the rate at which the orchid absorbs water, what nutrients it takes from the soil, and even foster the growth of bacteria and molds that can destroy your orchid.
Related: Orchid stems yellowing
Frequently Asked Questions About Why My Orchid Leaves Turn Yellow
Should you cut off yellow orchid leaves?
It is not necessary to cut off yellowing leaves on an orchid. When an orchid experiences stress due to external factors or as part of its normal growth process, it may lose one or two leaves that will go yellow and die. This doesn’t mean the plant is dying. Instead, it is almost required for new growth to happen. Cutting off yellow orchid leaves is more an aesthetic choice than horticultural. Be sure to cut the leaf with a sharp blade that has been sterilized to prevent bacterial transmission and seal the cut to ensure your plant remains self-contained.
What does a yellow orchid leaf mean?
I find that the most common reason why an orchid’s leaves turn yellow is over-watering. For an orchid to thrive, the roots need enough air to survive and take on nutrients. Yet, when you over-water the potting soil, the roots suffocate and die.
Can yellow orchid leaves turn green again?
Should the leaf only have started to yellow, it can turn green again if you rectify the nutritional or watering issue. When the leaf has already turned yellow, it can indicate the orchid has begun dying. The cells in that leaf are beyond saving, and the leaf will soon fall off completely. This indicates the orchid is possibly overwatered, which can burst the plant cells, or it can also indicate some other nutritional deficiency.
Orchids aren’t easy to grow and keep happy, but I find it to be a rewarding experience.
This is especially true if you have a keen eye and keep a close watch for signs like yellowing leaves or roots, which can indicate your orchid isn’t happy.
If you are mindful, you can intercede by cutting back the watering of your orchid, repotting where necessary, and even trimming back over-saturated roots that are yellowing.
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.