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How to Identify Orchid Viruses and Prevent Them

July 27, 2023

If your orchid comes down with a bacterial or fungal disease or is attacked by pests, there’s a reasonable chance that you can nurse your orchid back to health. Orchid viruses are trickier. Just like the common cold, there’s no cure for plant viruses. Prevention is your best protection against orchid viruses.

When and Why Orchid Viruses Attack 

Worldwide, orchids are subject to attack by about 30 different viruses, although many are regional or most deadly to a specific orchid species.

Viruses, such as the tobacco mosaic virus, can attack your orchid when transmitted from other plants, mites, nematodes and flying insects, such as aphids and thrips. Poor tool sanitation when handling plants is the most common cause of virus infection

Common Virus Symptoms in Phalaenopsis Orchids

Although we can't cover this topic in detail in a blog post, some symptoms to look out for include: 
    • Loss of plant vigor and pale, brownish or colorless streaks on your orchid's leaves and flowers
    • Color breaks (variations in petal color) on flower petals
    • Patches of dead tissue on leaves or flowers
    • Downward curling leaf edges 
If your orchid develops any of the symptoms listed above, it does not necessarily mean that your orchid has contracted a virus. Some virus symptoms are also associated with other plant conditions.

Laboratory testing is the only way to definitively diagnose plant viruses, but testing is only reasonable for commercial orchid growers and hobbyists with extensive or valuable plant collections.

What To Do If Your Orchid Has a Virus

For casual orchid collectors, the best course of action is to immediately isolate any orchid plant that shows signs of illness until you can determine what the problem is. If your orchid does have a virus, continue to isolate it and disinfect all of your tools before to prevent the spread of disease to your other houseplants.

Depending on the location of the virus, it can be beneficial to trim off infected structures of the plant with sharp and sterile tools to prevent infection from spreading further. Infected orchid leaves, for example, can eventually pass on the viral, bacterial or fungal infection to the central stem of the plant. 

Once a disease has reached the "heart" of a Phalaenopsis orchid, it’s very difficult to nurse it back to health. Trimming away extensively infected leaves and sealing off the wound that resulted from trimming is necessary, in some situations, for the plant’s overall health.

5 Ways To Prevent Orchid Viruses

As they say, an ounce of orchid virus prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you follow these orchid plant sanitation guidelines, you'll decrease the chances of your orchid contracting a virus in the first place. 

1. Thoroughly wash your hands before and after working with plants. This avoids the spread of viruses you may have on your hands from handling other plants. 
2. When handling sick plants, wear disposable gloves. This will prevent the spread of disease to your other plants. Inexpensive disposable surgical gloves are available at drug stores. Be sure to dispose of the gloves when you are finished!
3. Sanitize work surfaces and tools. Fill a bucket with a solution of 90% water and 10% household bleach. Use the solution to wipe down work surfaces before and after use.
To sterilize tools, knives, stakes and clips, soak in the bleach solution for 10 minutes. Soak used pots for 1 hour. If you are using inexpensive plastic pots, you may prefer to discard used pots and repot plants in new pots.
4. Use only new potting mix when repotting orchids . The old potting mix may contain viral and bacterial material.
5. Buy orchids only from reliable growers. In addition to being in business since 1968, Just Add Ice is one of the largest greenhouse growers in the country. We produce more than eight million orchids each year, using eco-friendly growing methods.
To help make at least one of these steps easier, we offer repotting kits so that when it's time to repot your orchid, you'll have clean soil ready to go!
repotting kit