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There’s nothing to worry about if your orchid stem is turning brown after the blooms fade away. This signals that the stem has finished supporting the life of the flower and it’s entered a period of rest. This is part of the natural life cycle of the orchid plant.
Here’s what to do about the brown stem, and when it becomes a problem.
Blooms have faded
What to do with the brown stem
Cut the brown, dried out stem back all the way to the base. (Use a sharp, disinfected secatuers/pruners.) The plant can now direct energy to the other stems that still are growing or have flowers on them. Nothing will grow back from a stem cut down to the base.
If just the flower spike is brown and dried out, cut this back to a node or two below. Look for a node from which new growth appears and cut above the new foliage. New blooms can emerge from that growth, especially in Phalaenopsis orchids.
The stem is yellow and not brown
If this colour change happens after the fading of the blooms, it’s still OK. It shows that the living period of the stem is over. The stem may stay yellow or turn to brown. Cutting back the stem as described above still applies.
Blooms have not faded
If your orchid stem is turning brown and your orchid flowers are still in bloom, you have a problem. And it’s generally that the sun is scorching your orchid. Orchids grow naturally in indirect sunlight (aka shade under tree canopies) and don’t tolerate direct sunlight, especially in the midday hours.
They need six to 12 hours of indirect daylight. Any harsh sunlight causes the orchids to burn over time and the leaves and stems turn yellow and then brown – they effectively get sunburned. Please read How much light do orchids need? to learn how to adjust your orchid’s lighting for its best health.
Another reason your orchid’s stem may be turning brown is because of stem root. Feel the stem to determine if it’s also soft and squishy. That’s bad news. What’s probably happened is that you’ve over-watered your orchid and let the roots stand in water. This prevents the roots from breathing, making them unable to circulate water and nutrients to the rest of the plant.
It also lets root rot, a fungal disease, move in. Root rot disfigures the roots leaving them brown and soft and steadily moves up the orchid stem, becoming stem rot and having the same effect on the stem. Once you notice this, it’s too late. There’s really nothing to do but discard the plant.
But first read my article Preventing and treating root rot, just in case you can save your orchid plant.