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How to Care for a Dying Orchid

Orchids showing signs of distress in their foliage can often be rejuvenated, and orchids with fading bloom spikes can be nurtured to bloom anew. Whatever the cause of the problem, meeting all of the orchid's basic needs well in balance is the key to survival and recovery. Providing ample water, high ambient humidity, regular light feeding and bright indirect sunlight can often bring your tropical orchid back to life.

Rehydrate your orchid when the leaves look crinkled or have begun to brown at the edges. Hold the pot under a gently flowing faucet of tepid, never cold, water. Saturate the planting medium and roots until the pot feels heavy. Allow the excess water to drain away. Water this way every other day for 4 days and then do so once per week, allowing the medium to dry out just slightly at the top between waterings. Another test is to water when the pot feels light when lifted.

Select a growing space for the orchid that has 6 to 8 hours of bright indirect light daily from a eastern, southern or western exposure. Avoid direct sunlight unless it is morning or late afternoon sun. Never allow your orchid to bake in direct midday sun. Provide ambient temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees F.

Cut back a dying flower spike once the flowers have dropped away and the green stem has desiccated (turned brown, woody and crisp). Use clean secateurs or scissors to cut the stem down to the base of the plant between the fleshy leaves and discard it. Never cut the stem when it is partially green, as the nutrients and moisture are in the process of moving back down into the plant and roots for future use.

Feed the orchid monthly with a commercial orchid food diluted to 50 percent of the recommended strength with tepid water. Prewater the planting medium under the faucet and then pour the fertilizer solution through the medium and roots to saturate. Do not overfeed, as you can easily burn the roots and build up fertilizer salts to toxic levels for the orchid.

Repot your orchid with fresh planting medium. Use bagged commercial orchid mix, choosing very coarse bark and charcoal for epiphytic orchids such as dendrobiums and phalaenopsis. Choose finer bark, charcoal and soil mix for terrestrial orchids such as paphiopedalums.

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