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What to do with the aerial roots of an orchid?

aerial roots of an orchid2

The aerial roots of orchids are part of the root system actively growing above the soil. They can grow directly on the stem of the plant. Some orchids have abundant aerial root development, while others have almost no aerial roots.

Air roots play a special role in keeping the plant above the surface of the soil on which it is growing. They are also involved in the life processes of the plant, namely the absorption of nutrients and essential moisture. This is a natural stage in the life of the plant and should not be frightened if you notice such roots. Therefore, before considering the question “what to do if the orchid has a lot of roots”, it is worth knowing in which cases they should be removed, and in which cases it is better to leave them alone. Perhaps they do not give the orchid aesthetic appeal, but do not interfere with their growth unnecessarily, and their shape can be different, both tubular and flat, regardless of their type – there are no bad roots if they are healthy.

Also, when the roots lack moisture, they acquire a silvery shade, which over time becomes gray or white, which can also look unattractive, and in the meantime you can immediately think that with such roots urgently need to do something. But, as a rule, in such cases, the plant should be properly moisturized by placing the pot in liquid. After watering, the roots will become bright green, which will indicate the good health of the root system. They can also be sprayed with water, as well as briefly immersed in it.

In addition, they are distinguished by the place of growth. They are slightly thicker than the roots that are underground and are considered the healthiest, since they develop in conditions as close as possible to their natural habitat (orchids are mostly attached in nature on trees).

Domestic orchids are often grown on a substrate consisting of pine bark and sphagnum moss to mimic development on tree trunks. Over time, this substrate decomposes and the roots can be subject to disease and rot. 

When the plant lacks moisture or nutrition, they bend and unfold in different directions. Some of them remain in the substrate, and some of them do come out, so it is also important where the orchid is placed in the house, and what kind of microclimate is there.

Why do orchids need aerial roots?

The main thing for the growth of the plant is the condition of the roots, which perform several important functions:

  • Epiphytic orchids have completely abandoned underground roots and use only aerial roots, for attachment to trees or other supports.
  • Aerial roots are able to store water in their vascular bundles, allowing the orchid to utilize it during periods of drought.
  • Orchids draw nutrients from water, air, and by interacting with fungi in symbiosis.
  • Like leaves, they are able to convert light energy into carbohydrates for their growth and development.

In homes, some of these functions can be simplified. For example, aerial roots in pots do not need to be attached to trees because they have support.

When it comes to the emergence of these roots in orchids, there are several factors that can affect them.

Main causes of increased aerial root growth:

  • Excessive moisture: Excessive moisture in the orchid substrate stimulates the development of aerial roots. When the substrate is constantly moist, the plant seeks out additional sources of moisture and develops roots that can obtain water from the atmosphere.
  • Moisture deficiency: Lack of moisture can also encourage the development of aerial roots. When an orchid experiences a moisture deficit, it seeks out additional sources of water and develops roots that can absorb moisture from the air.
  • Temperature: Low ambient temperatures can favor the emergence of aerial roots. Cold conditions can slow the growth and development of roots in the substrate, which encourages the plant to form roots that can absorb water and nutrients from the air.
  • Lighting: Lack of light is another reason for their appearance. When the plant does not get enough light, it develops roots that can photosynthesize and absorb light energy from the air.
  • Soil: Using soil that is too dense and heavy can stimulate the development of aerial roots in orchids. When the substrate is poorly permeable to air and water, orchid roots seek additional resources in the air and develop air roots.
  • Substrate: Using an acidic or salty substrate can also lead to the formation of aerial roots in orchids. An unsuitable pH or salt content in the substrate can limit the orchid’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients, leading to the development of aerial roots.

With all these factors in mind, it is important to create optimal conditions for orchids to minimize the appearance of aerial roots and ensure their healthy growth and development.

If a small number of aerial roots appear, there is usually no need to take action. Just pay attention to proper watering and follow basic orchid care recommendations. However, if there are many roots, or if they look obviously or indirectly diseased, rotting or fungus, you should intervene.

How to transplant an orchid with air roots

If you notice that a lot of aerial roots have formed, you should take a few measures to manage them:

  • Transplanting into a spacious container: The size of the container should be about 2,5-3 cm larger than the root system. It is important not to press the roots in, they will find their place on their own. When transplanting, the substrate should also be replaced with fresh substrate.
  • Removing damaged roots: When repotting the plant, it is worth carefully inspecting the roots and removing any injured or dry roots. It is also safe to cut off about a third of the shoot without harming the plant. Be sure to treat the cut areas with a special solution and allow them to dry before repotting.
  • Unraveling entangled roots: If this happens, they can be gently unraveled to improve their development and ventilation.
  • Digging up part of the roots: In case of strong branching, you can bury part of it in the substrate, but leave the root neck (the place where the stem and roots meet) free.
  • Removing diseased parts: If they are damaged or infected, they should be removed to prevent the problem spreading to healthy parts of the plant. When pruning, it is recommended to use sharp and sanitized tools such as pruning shears or a knife. Cut root areas should be treated with activated charcoal or cinnamon to prevent infection.

Pruning of aerial roots without transplanting

Orchids, like many other plants, sometimes need to have damaged or diseased roots removed to ensure healthy growth and development. Additionally, when an orchid becomes too cramped in its current pot, it is recommended that you trim off some of the aerial roots and transplant the plant into a larger pot. This will allow the roots to have enough space to grow and absorb nutrients.

Before you start pruning the roots, it is important to prepare the necessary tools such as a sharp pruning shears or knife. The sharpness of the tools is important because a clean and precise cut promotes better healing of the plant. In addition, to prevent possible infection, you should sanitize the blades of the tools with alcohol-containing liquids, or use regular chlorhexidine. These simple measures will help prevent infection from entering through fresh wounds on the cut roots.

The pruning process should be done in stages to achieve the best results. Here are a few steps that are recommended:

  • Separate the orchid from its current pot, carefully removing the plant without damaging the root system.
  • Rinse the orchid’s roots under running water to remove dirt and impurities. This will allow you to see the condition of the roots more clearly and identify possible problems.
  • After rinsing, place the plant to dry at room temperature for 5-6 hours. This will allow the excess moisture to dry out and prepare the roots for further treatment.
  • Carefully inspect the roots for damage. If you press on the root, a liquid with an unpleasant odor may come out, which may indicate problems with the root system. Remove damaged and rotten roots, leaving only healthy roots.
  • After removing damaged roots, give the orchid a couple hours to dry out. This will help the wounds heal and prevent possible rotting.
  • Treat the cuts by applying regular crushed activated charcoal. This is an effective antiseptic and will help prevent infections.
  • Repot the plant into a larger pot with fresh substrate.
  • Provide the orchid with adequate light. It is good practice to provide an average of 20 hours under a light source, usually using fluorescent lights. This will help the orchid conduct photosynthesis and maintain its healthy and vibrant color.

Proper pruning and root repotting will help maintain the beauty of your orchid.

  • Watering regulation: It is important to keep the substrate at an optimal moisture level, avoiding both excessive dryness and excessive moisture. This will help to prevent air roots.
  • Providing sufficient light: Orchids need sufficient light for photosynthesis. Supplemental lighting can be especially important when there is a lack of natural light, which will help reduce their growth.
  • Providing a spacious container: Orchids need space for their root system to develop freely. This will avoid overcrowding and air roots.
  • Regular loosening of the soil: This helps to improve ventilation and prevents moisture accumulation, which will help to reduce the number of aerial roots, otherwise it is natural that the plant is just trying to survive.
  • Using transparent containers: Using transparent pots or containers allows better monitoring of the root system and stimulates the photosynthesis process, favoring the growth of the orchid.
  • Careful observation: Inspect the above-ground roots of the orchid regularly.

Growing exotic orchids at home requires certain knowledge and skills. Proper care and attention will help your orchids to be healthy and blooming plants that bring joy to their owners.


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