How To Tell if Orchid Roots Are Dead: The Different Ways

How to tell if orchid roots are dead is a process that detects the signs and grows your awareness. Check whether bad odors or insects are coming out of the root zone. Sometimes, orchid discoloration and flower wilting indicate that the roots have died.

How To Tell if Orchid Roots Are Dead

If you want more detailed info and analysis, continue reading this article as we explain every reason in detail, which will help you confirm if the roots of your orchid plants are dead or not.

How To Tell if Orchid Roots Are Dead?

To tell if the roots of orchids are dead, you should start by smelling a foul odor coming, showing you the roots are dead and in the decomposition phase. You will see wilted leaves, yellow stems, flowers falling off, and insects in the soil, showing the roots have died.

Any dead plant or orchid looks discolored and fragile. It cannot hold still either because it has no physiological function, as the leaves are also tan and wrinkled up when orchids die. If you shake such an orchid, the leaves can fall off easily, showing you that it isn’t in an active state any longer.

– Smell Coming From the Root Area

One of the main ways to find out whether the roots are dead is to check for any foul smell from the root area. Generally, the root or crown rot disease is the reason behind the odor and the death of the roots.

Crown or root rot is a fungal disease if you keep the potting medium wet. When orchids get attacked by it, the roots take the most damage. They start to rot, and before you know it, they are near death.

To confirm whether the orchids are infected with root or crown rot disease, you must begin by checking if there is any bad smell coming from the soil. In addition, if the soil or air roots are wet and soggy.

Now, dig up a little and see the roots’ condition, and note that if they are rotting, then they are affected. If the orchids have aerial roots, then the decomposition is visible. In this case, dry rotting may start from one side only. In rare cases, the rotting can be seen on all sides. In most cases, rotting starts near the soil line.

You must also go ahead and determine whether there is any yellowing on the stems and leaves. If the answer to all of these points is yes, it means orchids have been attacked by root rot, and their roots are near death or have already died.

– Stem Yellowing

When you see the stem turning yellow, chances are the roots have died. The reason is that orchids and every other plant depend on roots to uptake water and nutrients. When roots perform their role, the stem and all the other parts stay healthy.

When the yellowing starts, it may indicate that the roots face some problems. But how to confirm if root death causes the stem discoloration. This is an indicator that the roots are slowly beginning to die.

The yellowing starts from the base of the stem and quickly spreads to all parts. After complete discoloration, the stem droops down and eventually falls to the ground. The worst part is that there is nothing much you can do to a dead orchid stem after it loses its color and vigor.

– Seeing Spots Everywhere

Another way to tell whether your roots are dying is to look for any spots. Generally, black and tan spots or marks emerge on the phalaenopsis orchids when roots take damage. These spots can appear anywhere but the common areas and roots and leaves, which would closely mean that the plant’s roots aren’t as active.

It is understandable why roots develop spots when they are harmed. You will most likely see the marks on the leaves because they face the most problem or damage. When roots are hurt, they cannot absorb water and nutrients.

Seeing Spots Everywhere

Since leaves utilize these two things to do photosynthesis, issues will arise, and spots are one of them. The simple way to pin this would be to consider how less energy will be generated when this physiological process won’t occur smoothly. As a result, patches or marks will form there.

– Not Seeing Any New Growth

Seeing new growth is important as it shows healthy orchid roots. So, when there is no new development of leaves or flowers, it can raise concerns. The biggest one is- Is my orchid dead or dormant?

Your orchid is dormant if it is standing still with full vigor, but if it looks weak or its parts are wilting, chances are the roots are no longer alive. In this case, give it a few more weeks to confirm whether the roots are dead. During this period, water them properly and even apply a dose of liquid fertilizer, but if its condition continues to downgrade, then the orchid is dead.

– Drooping or Falling of Leaves

Deformed or yellow leaves on orchids can also mean the roots are dying. As discussed above, roots play the most significant role in absorbing water and minerals, in addition to how strong the plant is standing and blooming. So, when they are dying or dead, orchids will face the problem of both water and nutrient stress.

Drooping or Falling of Leaves

When these stresses happen, the physiological processes stop. On another note, yellow and brown spots appear on the leaves, but the whole leaves will discolor and look fragile. With time, these leaves will droop and ultimately detach from the plant.

– Flowers Wilting

Almost every gardener grows orchids to watch them bloom, and their flowers beautify the whole garden and enrich the air with fragrance. But all of this is possible only when they have healthy roots.

You may also think about, is an orchid dead when the flowers fall off? Well, yes, it might be, even though another indication of dying orchids is flower wilting. It can also be one of the first signs you observe when the roots start to die.

Orchids need water and minerals to bloom the flower buds and maintain their posture; notice that when roots start to die, flowers will not be able to sustain on the orchids. First, the petals will start to shrink up and discolor, all due to the roots. With time, these petals will start falling one by one. In the end, you will have flowerless orchids.

Note that flower wilting is also accompanied by other problems. You will also see leaves shrinking during the wilting of flowers, especially the top ones. Furthermore, discoloration on stems is common when the flowers fall off.

In short, all of these are signs of roots expiring, and overall, they would be telling you that the roots have been nullified. If only the flowers are wilting and all the other parts are in perfect condition, it means orchids are facing temperature stress only, and the roots are fine.

– Insects on the Soil and Stem

The last main way to tell whether your roots are dead is by spotting insects on the orchid potting mix and stem. There are lots of insects that love to feed on the roots, which can cause their deaths. The insects that you may find would be orchid weevils, mealybugs, grasshoppers, cockroaches, termites, scale insects, and fungus gnats larvae.

These insects feed on the roots, which negatively impacts their health. But the real problem begins when they lay their eggs. One fungus gnat alone can lay up to 200 eggs. The larvae coming out of these eggs eat roots and organic matter.

Insects on the Soil and Stem

So, the problem of insects can go out of hand within a few weeks. Following soil and plant care measures to control their population is super important. The first thing is to confirm how many insects are attacking the orchids. Now, in this case, you would begin to spot them slowly, as you observe the potting medium and bottom of the stem.

The insects on the leaves are less likely to harm the roots. If you see half a dozen of the abovementioned insects, immediately apply neem oil spray or hydrogen peroxide. You should also plow up the soil to get rid of the insects’ eggs and larvae more efficiently. Furthermore, cleaning gardening tools and removing weeds can help avoid insect infestation.


– Is It Possible to Revive an Orchid With Dead Roots?

No, reviving an orchid with a dead root system is impossible, but you can start taking measures and revive the ones that aren’t dead yet. Remove the upper soil layer, place a well-drained one, and peat moss to ensure the soil is suitable for the roots.

After this, apply Phosphorus and Potassium rich fertilizers as they encourage root growth and improve their overall health. You should also ensure no insects are attacking the plants and that the moisture level is optimal. That’s how to save a dead orchid.

– Can You Cut off Dead Roots of Orchids?

Yes, you can cut off dead or discolored roots. We suggest you do this only if you are repotting your orchid. Putting it again in the same pot will lead to the same damage, especially the dead parts of root tissues.


It is really simple to identify whether the roots are dead or not. Here are the key points to sum up all the identification methods discussed above:

  • First, check for any unusual smell coming out of the root area. This is an indication of a fungus attack that can lead to the death of the roots.
  • You can dig up the soil and determine if the roots are discolored. If you see one side or lateral branches tan and the soil is soggy, it means crown or root rot has attacked.
  • Leaves drooping, flower wilting, and stem yellowing indicates that roots are dying or dead.
  • When you see lots of insects on the soil or even in your garden at any spot, then chances are they are eating the roots.

That’s all about how to tell whether the roots of the orchids are dead or not.

5/5 - (14 votes)

Leave a Comment