Orchids are beautiful, elegant, striking plants. The only downside? We might think they’re a tad dramatic because we don’t understand their language.
How do you care for an Orchid with stems turning red, yellow, or brown? What does it mean? What is your busy bloomer trying to tell you?
Understanding Your Orchid’s Origins and Anatomy
Before we delve too much into this topic, it’s essential to understand what type of orchid you’re dealing with and the plant’s anatomy.
If you have one of our Mini Orchids, you have a Phalaenopsis Orchid. These plants are tree-dwellers from the hot and sultry rainforest.
Knowing your plant baby’s home region is the first key in understanding what environmental conditions you need to mimic indoors! Why? Orchids can be found in nearly every wild environment (other than arctic regions or arid deserts). So, their care needs vary immensely!
Looking at your Orchid, which part would you identify as the stem? The correct answer may surprise you.
The “stem” of your Orchid is its base, where the leaves and flower spikes grow from. This area can also be identified as your Orchid’s crown.
Chances are, you’re googling “red, yellow, or brown stems” in hopes of identifying what’s wrong with your Orchid’s “flower spikes.” What are these? Flower spikes are the stick-like structures that come up and out of the base and produce blossoms.
For this blog, to make it more easily understandable to everyone, we will refer to the base and spikes as “stems” and specify the correct anatomy afterward.
Stems or Flower Spikes: Does it Really Make a Difference?
The short answer: yes.
If you are experiencing issues with your Orchid’s actual stem (base/crown), you have life-threatening problems on your hands. All of your plant’s energy comes from this area; if it’s diseased or sickly, your whole plant will suffer. What are some common reasons for stem-discolorations? Overwatering, too much light, nutrient issues, and fungal infections.
On the other hand, the discoloration of flower spikes is not as severe and could be part of your plant’s natural life cycle. In general, flower spikes are expendable. However, the premature discoloration of your Orchid’s stems (flower spikes) can alert you to more serious, underlying care issues.
It’s best to listen to your Orchid when it’s trying to talk to you: Orchids are slow growers, so by the time the problems reach your plant’s true stem (base/crown), you will likely be experiencing irreversible issues that result in your plant’s demise. The question is, what’s it trying to say?
Care Issue #1: Your Orchid Says, “I’m tired.”
There is nothing wrong with your care routine if your Orchid has discoloring stems (flower spikes) after it has finished its blooming cycle. Your little plant has poured its heart and soul into its showy flowers; it needs to catch its breath and recoup energy!
Why does it turn yellow? This means that your Orchid is slowly reabsorbing energy from its stem (flower spike). If you leave the stem (flower spike) alone, there is a slight chance that your Orchid might have recouped enough energy to squeeze out one more bloom.
However, if you notice that your plant’s overall health is suffering, it may be best to remove the stem (flower spike) yourself by snipping it 1-inch above the node closest to the base/crown.
Care Issue #2: Your Orchid Stem Says, “It’s too bright.”
If your Phalenopsis Orchid’s stems (flower spikes) are turning red or yellow, there’s a possibility that it is receiving too much light. Remember to protect your plantie from the direct sun. Move it to a new location that received filtered light, or invest in sheer curtains.
Care Issue #3: Your Orchid Says, “It’s too dry in here.”
A perfectly watered Orchid in a dry environment could be suffering from “Moisture Stress.” How? It senses that the moisture in its soil and the humidity in the air doesn’t match. As a result, the stems (flower spikes) turn yellow. What are some more signs that your Orchid’s stems are suffering from a lack of humidity in their care?
When you look at the “aerial roots” that are sticking out of your Orchid’s pot, what do they look like? They should look like plump, bright green string-beans. But, if your aerial roots are brown and crumbly (appearing like they’re surrounded in paper), your plant is suffering from a lack of moisture in the air.
What qualifies as a dry environment? Quite possibly, your house. Most American Households stay around 27-33% (or lower) humidity, which is too low for these rainforest-dwellers. Boost the moisture surrounding your Orchid by misting or investing in a humidifier.
Care Issue #4: Your Orchid Stem Says, “I have bad circulation.”
While humidity is essential, the perfect amount cannot fix your plant’s water consumption issues. Problems can result from having the wrong type of potting media, not enough water, or the wrong watering frequency.
The proper amounts and frequency of water contribute to your plant’s good circulation, which it needs to maintain firm, healthy blooms, stems (flower spikes), and leaves. Healthy circulation also pushes nutrients to and fro, giving your Orchid the energy it needs to continue growing.
Do a Root Check
Do an inspection of your Orchid’s roots that reside under the soil. Again, they should be plump, bright, string-bean-like structures. Are they mushy? Or are they dry and crumbly? You can alter your Orchid’s care routine based on your findings, which will benefit your stems in the long run.
For a plant with dry roots, increase your watering frequency by 1 or two days.
If your plant is suffering from mushy roots (or a lack of them), it is probably suffering from root rot. This results from potting media that staying moist all the time. Sadly, this turns into a vicious cycle: you maintain your watering routine, your plant doesn’t have the roots to soak it up, you continue watering, and your plant loses even more roots. If left unchecked, your Orchid’s stem (base/crown) will yellow and rot, resulting in your plant’s death.
Care Issue #5: Your Orchid Says, “I’m hungry.”
Fertilizers that you use on your average houseplant will likely not provide your Orchid with complete nutrition, which can result in the yellowing of your orchid. It’s important to note that a nutrient deficiency will affect more than just your Orchid’s stems (flower spikes); you will notice discoloration in the entire plant, including the leaves.
Traditional fertilizers have three main ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. However, in their natural environment, Orchids soak up additional elements not found in regular fertilizers, such as magnesium, zinc, and iron.
Two Keys of Successfully Fertilizing Your Orchid
Frequency and amount are the two keys. Don’t care for your plant too much by fertilizing your Orchid as a hopeful solution to its stem discoloration. These plants are creatures of habit, so find a fertilizing routine beneficial for your species of Orchid and stick to it. A sudden boost of fertilizer will also throw your Orchid out of balance.
Care Issue #6: Your Orchid Stem Says, “I’m salty.”
Salt and other harmful minerals can build up in your Orchid’s potting media. The dangers? These are elements that Orchids are not accustomed to, and don’t like.
Mineral build-up can be a result of using tap-water to nourish your plants or using too much fertilizer. Maintain your routine, but lessen the amount of fertilizer you give to your plant and use distilled or rainwater.
Care Issue #7: Your Orchid Says, “It’s uncomfortable in here.”
Temperature fluctuations can also result in stems (flower spikes) that turn yellow or red. This is your Orchid’s defense mechanism that it uses to preserve its more essential parts, like its roots, leaves, and base/crown, from unfavorable conditions.
Ideally, leave your Orchid in the same location that it grew its flower spikes in. This was clear evidence that it’s happy there. If you must move it, keep it away from all hot or cold drafts.
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