Orchids can be notoriously difficult plants to keep happy. Improper care – or proper care at the wrong time can cause a bunch of issues and lead to an orchid’s death.
Because of this, it’s never fun to see your orchid has wrinkly leaves.
Why does this happen, though?
Most Common Cause of Wrinkled Orchid Leaves
A wrinkled orchid leaf is usually a sign that the plant is getting too much or not enough water. Improper watering can cause a number of issues, including root rot.
Unfortunately, a lot of people misinterpret the signs of overwatering as the plant not having enough water. This leads them to water the orchid into an early grave.
The best fix in severe cases is to repot with a fresh and sterile soil. This will take care of any fungus that might be growing in the substrate as well as any excess water that the substrate may be holding onto.
If it’s already gotten root rot, your chances of being able to save the plant are very slim. If it’s not too far gone you can try repotting, but just know that it may not be salvageable.
However, even if you do transplant the orchid, the long term fix is going to be adopting a sustainable watering schedule. This means ensuring it gets enough light and making sure you only water the plant as often as is necessary (typically this is once per week).
Another reason why orchid leaves wrinkle is because they’re not getting enough water to keep their leaves hydrated, so the leaves wrinkle as transpiration causes water to leave the plant that can’t be replaced.
If your plant is being underwatered, you can start providing the appropriate amount of water by (first making sure the substrate is dry and then) giving your orchid a 15 minute soak in water and then watering the orchid with 3 ice cubes per week. (According to UMN, using ice cubes to water your orchid is as effective as using water and causes no real issues.)
Temperature & Humidity Changes
Another reason orchid leaves will wrinkle is that an orchid’s leaves are sensitive to humidity and temperature changes. When the plant experiences temperatures that are too high or humidity that drops below what is necessary for the plant, the plant’s leaves can wrinkle up and start falling off.
Orchids prefer to have a humidity level between 50-80%, so that’s what you want to shoot for as a humidity level in the immediate area of your orchid.
You can use a hygrometer to check the humidity level, and if you find that it’s too low, there are a few things you can try to raise it:
- Place a tray of pebbles below your plant and fill the tray with water to just below the top of the pebbles.
- Get a small terrarium to keep your orchid in.
- Use a humidity controller combined with a small, cool-mist humidifier.
If your humidity is too low, it can also increase the water requirements of the plant due to increased moisture lost through transpiration.
Wrinkled orchid leaves can happen for other reasons too. These include things like high heat, too much/little light, diseases, root damage, overwatering/underwatering and poor nutrient levels, among others.
Causes of Wrinkled Leaves in Orchids
Because there can be so many reasons behind an orchid’s wrinkled leaves, it’s important to examine the plant and check it against the following causes:
- Diseases: Due to the fragile and sensitive nature of orchids, they can easily succumb to fungal and bacterial diseases. The stress of it causes the leaves to wrinkle and wilt.
- Overwatering: It’s common for indoor orchids to experience overwatering. This can cause root rot, change the soil’s pH balance or leach nutrients. There should be plenty of effluence and only water when the top two inches are dry.
- Underwatering: Likewise, if the plant isn’t getting enough water, the leaves will give off a shriveled appearance. This will be the case when the wrinkled leaves look droopy and sad.
- Poor Nutrient Levels: Orchids must have the proper balance of nutrients to thrive. Any lack can cause curling and wrinkling of the leaves. This can come from the soil or fertilizer.
- Root Rot: Because an orchid has very sensitive roots, it easily succumbs to root rot due to overwatering. But root damage can happen from over fertilization, underwatering or transplant shock.
- Too Much/Little Light: Direct sunlight causes the plant to droop because it loses too much water, which results in bleaching the chlorophyll. There will be yellowing that accompanies the wrinkled leaves if the light is insufficient.
- Overexposure to Heat: Generally, orchids like temperatures between 65-85°F. You have to look up the temperature for your species of orchid to know what the range is, but going above that range can cause this as well. Not only will they lose water through transpiration, it can also cause the leaves to wrinkle.
How to Fix the Problem
While not all issues are fixable, most are. In the cases of root rot, damaged roots and disease infestations, there will be no way to save the orchid. The biggest mistake people make is trimming the leaves before they are dead. Don’t prune until they are brown and dried. Follow the steps below to revive and fix wrinkled orchid leaves:
1. Transplant the Orchid
One potential solution is to transplant your orchid into a new pot and replace the substrate with clean orchid bark.
Make sure you’re using a potting mix specifically designed for orchids and that the pot is suitable to the size of the plant’s roots. If the wrinkled leaves are also curling, try using a Phalaenopsis mix. This contains a 3:1:1 ratio with fir bark, perlite and sphagnum moss.
Changing your orchid’s soil can be tricky business. When an orchid is in full bloom, it’s best not to try and move it as you run the risk of damaging its flowers. If you do go ahead with transplanting during this time, handle those flowers gently!
2. Treat Infestations
For bacterial and fungal issues:
As long as the fungal or bacterial infestation is mild, you may be able to save the plant. If you’re able to find an anti-fungal/bacterial solution in your local store, you can try that. Otherwise, you can make your own by mixing 1tsp of hydrogen peroxide with 1 cup of water.
You can spray this on the plant and its roots to kill any bacteria and fungal growth on the plant.
With pests, you’ll want to treat the plant with a pesticide instead of with hydrogen peroxide. One good option is a spray made with neem oil. You can spray any areas where there are bugs to get rid of them, then check to see if the issue improves.
3. Check Your Watering Schedule
When watering, make sure you water in the morning to ensure air and sunlight to prevent fungal and bacterial infestations.
Make sure your orchid is in a pot with very good drainage and using orchid bark as a substrate. Water the orchid by dipping its roots into a bucket of water for up to 15 minutes at a time. Alternatively, you can water it by placing 3 ice cubes on top of the substrate per week.
As a general rule, water indoor plants once per week and outdoor orchids three times per week.
4. Make Sure Your Orchid Gets Enough Sun
Place the orchid in an east-facing window that receives regular bright, indirect sunlight. In severe cases of lacking sunlight, put the plant in a well-lit area for a few days until you see an improvement. However, don’t expose it to long periods of direct sunlight.
5. Don’t Over-Fertilize
Orchids like a 20-20-20 fertilizer and a soil pH of around 5.5. If you have the right fertilizer with a poor pH, your watering schedule may very well be the culprit.
The three most common causes of orchid leaves wrinkling is overwatering, underwatering, and too much humidity.
The trick to fixing the issue is identifying which one it is. With overwatering and underwatering, the fix can cause further problems if you apply the fix for the wrong problem.
Fortunately, checking the level of humidity is easy to do, at least, so ruling that out should be pretty quick.