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Why are Orchid Roots Rotting?

Orchid root rot is a common problem orchid owners face, especially novices. But root rot can sneak up even on experienced gardeners.

How common is root rot in orchids? What causes it? And can you fix a root rot problem? In today’s article, I will answer these questions and more.

After reading this article, you will be able to prevent a root rot problem or recognize it before it’s too late and remedy the situation.

Causes of Orchid Root Rot

When the roots of orchids start to rot the problem is usually caused by overwatering. Sometimes this problem is coupled with a potting medium issue, together building up a recipe that spells trouble for your orchid.

Let’s see each cause individually and what you can do about them:

– Excess Water

Excess watering is only part of the explanation of why the roots of your orchid have begun rotting.

Excess moisture can create an environment that, on the one hand, favors bacterial and fungal overgrowth, on the other hand, it has the potential to create a toxic environment in which roots are suffocated.

– Poorly Draining Soil

A corollary of excess watering is poorly draining soil. A constantly wet soil coupled with excess watering or excess moisture will also cause root rotting for the same reasons I described above.

Orchids require loose, well-draining and well-aerated soil. Remember that orchids are epiphytic plants, their roots are constantly aerated, so you must ensure that the potting medium will not compact and will not retain too much moisture.

Therefore, both excess water and poorly draining soil can spell trouble for your orchid’s roots. Once the roots begin to rot, you will need to intervene fast.

That means cleaning the root system of diseased or rotting roots and changing the potting medium. But that’s not all, you also need to put your orchid on a correct watering schedule.

Will Cinnamon Help with Orchid Root Rot?

Whichever way you want to approach the issue of root rot, simply using cinnamon won’t help the problem. In fact, using it incorrectly has the potential to create more problems than it solves.

Cinnamon contains coumarin, which essentially acts as a desiccant, pulling moisture out of an open wound or cut, sealing it up.

Cinnamon can be used to help seal wounds on leaves or roots, but not as an agent to fight root rot itself.

Simply sprinkling cinnamon on top of the soil will not fight a root rot problem. It may dry out some parts of the roots or even the entire root system if used in excess, but it will still cause severe dehydration in your orchid.

The fix to a root rot problem — assuming that the plant is still salvageable — is to remove diseased roots and change the potting medium. When all this is done, you need to switch your orchid to a correct watering regimen.

That said, you can use a small amount of cinnamon on an open cut on your orchid to close it off and prevent bacterial or fungal infections. Cinnamon does have antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Can You Fix Orchid Root Rot with Hydrogen Peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide is often recommended as a solution for root rot problems. It’s often used diluted in water and poured over the soil to kill off fungus and bacteria.

While hydrogen peroxide does have antifungal and bactericidal properties, a quicker fix to a root rot problem is still the one I recommended above. Namely to clean the roots, remove mushy, diseased roots and replace the potting medium.

You can still use hydrogen peroxide to clean the cuts on the roots and prevent any fungal or bacterial diseases.

On its own hydrogen peroxide may not efficiently address a root rot problem, especially if it’s not used at the proper concentration.

Can Orchids Survive Without Roots?

You may have heard that you can still salvage an orchid whose roots are gone either because of root rot or other reasons. But is it even possible?

It seems that orchids without pseudobulbs that have the function of storing water can survive for longer than orchids with pseudobulbs.

Eventually, these orchids will die too unless you can regrow its roots. To do this, you’re going to need to provide the plant — or what’s left of it — an environment that will stimulate root growth and will keep the plant from losing water faster than it can grow roots.

To circle back at the question of whether orchids can survive without roots — No, they cannot. But you can regrow its roots and save the orchid from an untimely death.

How to Regrow Roots on Orchid Plant?

It’s a bit difficult to regrow roots on an orchid plant, but achievable, nonetheless. The difficulty comes from striking a good balance between warmth, light and humidity.

I mentioned that your orchid will need to not lose humidity so it can grow roots to prevent the plant from drying out.

But it also requires warmth to stimulate root development. Warmth which will have a dehydrating effect. So, what can you do?

First, you need to prepare the plant.

Clean any organic media stuck to the plant’s root or what remained of the roots and soak the plant into 80 F water that contains rooting hormone. Soak the plant for at least an hour or so.

Next, you need to prepare the materials to create an environment that’s warm but high in humidity.

Think in terms of a greenhouse — you have warmth, you have humidity, perfect for growing roots.

Take a clear Ziplock bag, place some damp sphagnum moss in one corner of the bag, then place the orchid plant in the normal growing position.

It shouldn’t get in contact with the moss and the plastic should hold the plant comfortably.

Place in a warm location, out of direct sunlight. Ideally, it should be kept in shade, because too much light will speed up the vegetative growth too quickly, using up too much of the plant’s energy at once.

In a couple of weeks, the orchid will grow new roots and will be ready for potting.

Wrapping Up

Improper drainage and excess watering are the two leading causes of orchid root rot. An orchid whose roots are rotting can be saved the quickest if it is replanted in fresh potting medium and its roots are cleaned.

Cinnamon and hydrogen peroxide can help close off wounds and keep bacteria and fungi away. Even if your orchid lost its roots, you may be able to regrow them with the Ziplock method.

Updated: October 26, 2020

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