Resurrecting the Zombie Orchid: It's Not Dead Yet!

Introduction: Resurrecting the Zombie Orchid: It's Not Dead Yet!

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I love orchids! Fortunately for the orchids in my life, I'm not particularly attentive to them - which for the most part works in their favor (See Easy Success with Orchids) . Unfortunately for some of them, sometimes, I get a little too neglectful, as happened this past year with a Phalaenopsis orchid I had, that somehow just got totally blasted and reduced to a mass of what appeared to be a dried up tangle of dead roots.

By the time I realized what had happened, it looked like my benign neglect wasn't as benign as it should have been, and this one was a goner. About six months ago, I set the pot of dead looking stuff by the back door, intending to dump it in the compost heap, and promptly forget.

In the intervening months, it got chilled, rained on a bit, heat and wind blasted and used by lizards as a handy hideaway. Then, the other day, after a heavy rain, I noticed the pot again - and I also noticed a sprig of greenery in it, and some greening roots among the dead stuff. I know orchids are hearty, but wow!

I immediately set to work trying to bring the previously dead seeming orchid back to life, and now three weeks later, it's thriving.

If you've got what appears to be a zombie orchid in your home, don't toss it in the compost pile just yet. Give it a good wash, a little trim, and a little time, and you might be surprised to find - it's not dead yet!

Here's how to do it.

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Step 1: Materials

In addition to your devastated orchid, you'll need:

  • A pair of scissors or small pruner
  • Orchid mulch - soak it to rehydrate while you prep your orchid

Step 2: Wash Orchid

First, take your poor Medusa rooted orchid remnants out the pot or planter it's in, and give it a good fresh water rinse.

Then remove by hand any easily removable totally brown and lifeless roots and leaves.

Step 3: Trim Away Dead Roots

With the scissors or clippers, start trimming away any dead or damaged roots and other material. You can be pretty aggressive here - remove just about anything that's not fully green and healthy. Don't cut into the base of the orchid, but go ahead and trim off squishy stuff, brown stuff, old flower stems, etc, until you're down to mostly green or firm roots.

Orchid roots don't need to be green to be viable - pale green, or light brown roots that may look a bit like cactus material are good to leave in place.

Step 4: Rinse Again

After you've trimmed away as much dead material as possible, give the orchid another gentle rinse.

Step 5: Repot

Put the rehydrated orchid moss or other orchid potting material like orchid bark into the pot and then position your orchid. Don't cover your good roots too much; just lightly press orchid planting material around the base of the orchid to hold it in place. The roots need good air circulation, and now that you've trimmed away all the obstructive dead stuff, they should take off for you.

Step 6: Watch It Grow - Again!

That's it! In just one week's time, my zombie orchid began growing quite robustly. It went from the little tiny somewhat sunburned leaf, to a second broad, shiny green leaf! And you can see how the roots have thickened and lightened a bit, as well, but are doing their good work now, unimpeded.

Don't get carried away and over water now. Just keep an eye on things from a safe distance, put the pot out in the rain when the opportunity presents itself and keep the orchid out of direct sunlight.

When more leaves grow in, I'll trim the sunburned one if needed. But right now, the Phalaenopsis is back among the living!

Hope this helps others brings their undead orchids back from the brink!

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3 Discussions


3 years ago

My "hopeless" orchids are sort of the exact opposite of the one you show. They often still have leaves, but no viable roots at all - just dried-up hollow brown ones. This happens no matter what medium I use, and I think I've tried them all. The ones that grow white/greenish air roots generally do OK, but the others don't, even with the full treatment you describe. Rarely will they put out new air roots. I've had modest success with full water culture on a few orchids, but even that seems to keep things going only until a good healthy set of air roots can develop. Do your "rescued" orchids become healthy enough to bloom?


Reply 3 years ago

Sorry, forgot one important thing: don't let it become too crowded with healthy roots in the pot. If one of the roots die, it will get soggy and increase the risk that nearby roots die. It can easily escalate, so repot in time!


Reply 3 years ago

1) Make sure the roots get enough light! It is more important than what medium you use, in my experience. I have seen healthy Phals in regular potting soil, with healty roots. They were planted in a glass jar and placed on a window sill. Preferably, use a see-through inner pot with drain holes, and a see-through outer pot with no drain holes, I would suggest glass for better appearance. The outer pot creates a humid micro-climate.

2) Use clean water without too much nutrient additives (try without!). I think tap water is not always suitable in some areas, though I have no evidence for this.

3) Don't overwater, or water more often than once a week, or the roots will easily rot.

4) Keep in the preferred temperature range, though I think this is not a problem in your case since the leaves stay healthy.

If you do this, I think it is impossible not to have a healthy root system on a Phalaenopsis.