My orchid leaves are drooping !

(Question)

Oh my goodness ! What a pleasure to be able to call, and ask a question about my indoor garden! My problem is that all the leaves on my orchids are limp and drooping. I keep them in pots that sit on water, but the roots are not in the water. They’re all potted in wood chips, but I’m wondering if I should add some potting soil with that? Every day I check to see who’s standing up, and who’s falling down. This is my big problem, thank you, thank you.

(Answer)

Dear Orchid Gardener,

Well, you’ve certainly asked a prize-winning question, one for which there never seems to be an exact answer. You should know right now that the greater part of the solution will have to come from yourself, the primary caregiver to your orchids.

Most orchids are epiphytes, and in their natural habitats, live on trees for support, without being parasites. The term epiphytic derives from the Greek epi- (meaning ‘upon’) and phyton (meaning ‘plant’).  Other types of epiphytic plants are mosses and bromeliads. Epiphytic orchids, such as Phalaenopsis and Cattleya, must have diffused light, or their leaves may respond by becoming limp. Direct sun on your orchids can result in sunburn. Ouch !

In fact, your plant’s leaves are the very best indicator of whether it’s receiving sufficient light. If conditions are too shady, not only will your plant fail to bloom, but its leaves will be soft and limp. Also, healthy orchid leaves are not dark green, but light to medium green.

Successfully reading your orchid’s water needs can become a true horticultural balancing act — too much or too little. Either extreme can cause your orchid’s leaves to go limp in response. To fine-tune even further, the frequency of watering is critical to orchid culture. These easily offended plants need water only when they begin to dry out from the previous watering.
Regarding your question about the potting medium: bark-based potting mixes, that mimic their native jungle habitat, allows the roots to breathe. Epiphytic orchids thrive in a coarse bark medium. If you have had your orchids for a number of years, it’s possible that the mix has broken down, and become denser, reducing good drainage. And here it is again: an orchid’s leaves respond to a compacted, poorly draining medium by becoming limp, indicating that it needs repotting.

And all this is exactly what makes the art of growing orchids so much fun, with unexpected successes when you start getting it right — and the odd hiccup. And sharing one of my orchids with you. Enjoy !

The Toronto Master Gardeners have put together a wonderful, in depth, guide you may find interesting. Please take a look at it for more information: https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/index.php/factsheet/growing-orchids-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/