Orchids are beautiful plants. They are exotic and fragrant, which is why they are prized flowers. If your orchid’s leaves are turning white, think of it as a cry for help.
Your plant is telling you that something is wrong. Once you know what the problem is, you can take the right steps to fix it. In most cases, the issue is caused by overwatering or underwatering and you can have your orchid healthy again with little effort.
Let’s take a look at the most common reasons and what you can do about it.
Orchids are seen as exotic, with their tropical appearance and fragrant smell. In this sense, they certainly are exotic plants. However, they are found on every continent, except Antarctica. This means orchids may not be as far from their native habitat as you might expect, no matter where you live.
Most orchids live in forests or rainforests. This provides them with lots of nutrition from trees or decaying plant matter. When you have orchids in containers, you’ll need to mimic these conditions by fertilizing regularly.
The general rule is to use a fertilizer designed for container plants. Instead of fertilizing heavily occasionally, give them 1/4 strength fertilizer weekly. Thus the saying, “fertilize weakly, weekly.”
Avoid homemade fertilizers like coffee as well as these aren’t as effective as commercial mixes.
There are two types of orchids. Some are epiphytes and grow on trees in their natural habitat. Others are terrestrial, which means they grow roots in the ground.
Orchids require plenty of light and stable temperatures. They also need good airflow to be healthy. A fan pointed away from the plant will provide a gentle breeze and good airflow.
Overwatering is a common issue for orchids, and it can cause their leaves to turn white. You should always allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings.
If the leaves are exposed to too much water, particularly the tips of the lower leaves, this can cause oval white spots on the leaves.
Watering an Orchid
Water your orchid when the soil has dried out completely. This is a better option as orchids are more suited for underwatered conditions than overwatered.
When you do water, you should water thoroughly. This method will give the orchid the water they need, while not over watering them.
Lack of Humidity or Underwatering
A lack of humidity or under-watering can also cause white spots on the leaves. In this case, the orchid is too dry. It’s not getting the water it needs to thrive, so it becomes unhealthy.
The leaves will have white spots with dark spots surrounding the white.
To solve this problem, water your orchid as mentioned above. You can also increase the humidity around your orchid. To do this, you’ll need a tray of decorative rocks. Place water in the tray, and place your orchid on top of the rocks.
Too Much Light
Orchids are tropical plants, so you may expect them to tolerate lots of light. However, they can become sunburned. This occurs when they receive too much strong sunlight.
This is typically caused by the plant being in a west-facing window. A drastic change in light intensity can also cause sunburn.
Sunburn will typically cause either part or all of the leaf to turn white. It essentially bleaches the color of the leaves. Eventually, the damaged leaves will turn black and then fall off the plant.
If your orchid is getting too much sun, the first step is to move it to a new location. You can do this by moving it 2 to 3 feet from the window sill. You can also move it to a north or east-facing window, which are exposed to less sunlight than south and west-facing windows.
Another option is to place a curtain over the window. This won’t eliminate the light, but it will soften it. This helps prevent the orchid from getting too much light.
Genetics are another culprit for white leaves. Unfortunately, this is one cause that doesn’t have a remedy. In this case, the leaves don’t turn white. They emerge white.
This is due to poor genetics, or simply if you purchase a type of orchid that grows white flowers. If this occurs, inform the nursery you purchased the plant from. Some of these plants are unable to tolerate even slight changes in conditions.
Scale bugs are common orchid pests. They will look like small white dots on the leaves. This can be mistakenly seen as discoloration on the leaves, but it’s actually a small white insect known as the scale bug.
Scale bugs feed on the sap from the plant’s leaves. If allowed to continue to feed on the leaves, they will cause yellow and brown discoloration due to damage to the leaves.
Getting Rid of Scale Bugs
One way to get rid of scale bugs is with isopropyl alcohol. Simply pour alcohol onto a cotton swab, and wipe the leaves. Pay attention to the bottom of the leaf and the area where the leaf meets the stem.
Once you are finished wiping away the scale bugs, mist the leaves with the alcohol.
You can also use neem oil. Spray neem oil on the leaves. Then remove the scale bugs by wiping the leaves with a paper towel. Repeat the neem oil for 5-7 days until the scale bugs are completely gone.
If you see powdery white spots on the leaves, mealy bugs are the culprit. They cause white spots that look similar to cotton. Over time, the leaves will turn yellow and fall off. Mealybugs can be fatal to your orchid if the problem isn’t caught and treated quickly.
Like scale bugs, mealy bugs feed on the plant sap. They leave behind a substance called honeydew. This occurs because the bugs feed on sugars from the plant, and leave behind honeydew as waste. It is sticky and thick.
Mealybugs themselves aren’t the only problem. The honeydew they leave behind invites sooty mold. This appears as a black mold, and can further damage your orchid.
Getting Rid of Mealy Bugs
There are a few ways to get rid of mealy bugs. Like scale bugs, you can remove them with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Pay special attention to hard-to-reach areas, as these are the areas where the bugs lay their eggs.
You can also use a toothbrush to remove the bugs. Just scrub the leaves with the toothbrush to physically remove the pests.
Of course, these are short-term fixes. They won’t completely solve your mealy bug problem. For that, you’ll need some long-term solutions.
First, you should repot your orchid. The soil likely harbors plenty of mealybug eggs, which will lead to re-infestation.
Next, use horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. This will kill any remaining mealy bugs.
If you have a severe infestation, you may need to use an insecticide. Just be sure the insecticide is safe for ornamental plants or orchids.
If your orchid leaves are turning white, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Over or under-watering, too much sunlight, poor genetics, and pests can all cause your orchid’s leaves to turn white.
With proper care, you can reverse any damage and have your orchid looking great again in no time.