We often see orchids with roots spilling out of the pots or just floating in the air above the pot. Some of these roots are growing from a higher point of the stem. These are called aerial roots.
It is easy to think that something is wrong with our orchid because we are used to the fact that roots should be under the potting medium and not above it. But what are these roots exactly? Why do they grow like this? And what should we do when our orchids have aerial roots?
This article will present to you the importance of the aerial roots and how should be treated. Also, I am going to teach you how to repot an orchid with lots of aerial roots, and what kind of potting medium should you use.
Importance of Aerial Roots on Orchids
Orchids live in rainforests, where the humidity and temperatures are high. Orchids are epiphytic plants, which means they live on other plants, like trees, shrubs, and they can live even on rocks.
Therefore, these plants have aerial roots that help them cling to the host plant and to reach the light. The aerial roots also help the orchid to absorb nutrients and enough water from its environment, like the rain, or from the surface of tree branches.
So, because the air roots are so important for the orchids, these shouldn’t be cut off even if you don’t like how your plants look. Cutting them off, your plant can struggle to get enough nutrients and water; therefore, your orchid can die.
However, if these aerial roots are damaged somehow or are dead, you can cut them off with sterilized scissors.
When an orchid has a lot of aerial roots, it can mean that the orchid needs to be repotted. This can be a sign that the roots which are buried, are not very healthy, and the orchid cannot absorb sufficient nutrients through these. Therefore, this grows aerial roots to get the needed nutrients from the environment.
Another reason why an orchid grows lots of aerial roots is the stability. When the plant is looking for security, for example when a spike full of lowers is unbalancing the whole plant, this grows air roots as it is trying to cling to something.
Aerial roots shouldn’t be buried even if the orchid needs repotting. As these roots are not used to be buried, if you put them under the potting medium, they might rot. The air roots usually are not watered, these are absorbing the moisture from the air.
Buried air roots are rotting because that environment is wetter and the air circulation is weaker as well. However, you can “train” these roots to be potted by dipping them in water every day for a while.
Repotting an Orchid with Lots of Aerial Roots
Repotting an orchid is a bit different then to repot another houseplant. It isn’t complicated, but there are some rules you must follow if you want your orchid to survive.
So, if you were wondering how should you repot your orchids with aerial roots, then here is the guide for you.
Gently remove the orchid from its pot. Try not to break or to damage the roots.
These can be sometimes clingy and they can be attached to the pot, so, there are circumstances when you cannot avoid damaging them a little bit.
But don’t worry, if the damage is not big, your plant will still survive.
When the plant is out of its pot, you should remove the old potting medium. This shouldn’t be reused, so you can put it in your compost or just throw it away.
Again, be as gentle as possible, because you don’t want to harm the roots. Gently remove the potting mix from between the roots by shaking it a bit or touching the roots to help the old medium to fall out.
After you removed all the old potting medium, you can run some lukewarm over the roots, or just soak them for 10-15 minutes.
This will help the roots become more flexible, and cleans the residue and the potting medium “leftovers”.
Pay attention not to get any water in the orchid’s stem, but if it happens, then you can dry out the water from there with a paper towel or a cotton pad. Leaving water in the stem can cause crown rot.
Because of soaking, you can see which are the healthy roots and which needs to be removed with a sterilized cutter or scissor.
If you see dry, mushy, brownish or even black roots, you must get rid of them. Now you can realize if you are doing a good job of taking care of your orchids, or you have to change something.
Lots of green roots, means you are doing good whatever you do, however, if the orchid has many brown, black and mushy roots, you should change your caring habits.
If the roots are dry and mushy, your orchids need more water. If the roots are black, then it means you overwatering your orchids and the roots are rotting.
So, after removing all the dead matter, you can sterilize your orchid’s root system with Hydrogen peroxide 3% for example. Some people use cinnamon for this. Make sure you don’t use stronger peroxide, as it can harm your plant.
Now that the orchid is clean, you can place it in the pot. If you use the same pot, because the plant’s roots still fit in it, then you should clean the pot as well.
If you are using a new pot, then make sure it is suitable for orchids. It should have drainage holes and should be bigger only by 1-2 inches than the old pot. Orchids don’t like to be potted in a pot that is way bigger than the plant itself.
Usually, I like to use clear pots for my orchids, as I find it easier to care for my orchids because I can see if the medium is dry or still wet. Also, I can see the roots so, it is easy to decide whether it needs repotting or not.
The sixth step is when you place the potting mix into the pot. Holding your orchid in the pot, gently, but make sure it stays in the middle of the pot.
The aerial roots should be left out of the pot, as you don’t want to bury them. Placing aerial roots in the pot under the potting mix, can damage them and can cause root rotting.
Fill up the pot with your chosen potting medium filling up the gaps as well between the roots, but without the medium being too dense and tight.
If you are not sure what type of potting mix should you use, you can buy a ready orchid potting mix. I usually pot my orchids in the bark, but you can use sphagnum moss, clay pellets, lava rocks, coconut fiber, or a mix of these organic and inorganic matters.
The last step is optional, or I could say that everyone is doing it in their own way.
I prefer to water my orchid after repotting, but some people say that you should wait one week after repotting.
If you choose to water your orchid, you can do it by dipping the pot in a container of water or just simply run the water over the plant.
Remember, always dry the water out of the stem to prevent crown rot.
Can you Repot Orchids in Regular Potting Soil?
Orchids are epiphytes (air plants); therefore, these plants don’t grow in soil like the other plants.
If you would plant your orchid in regular potting soil, this would die quickly. Orchids’ root system needs air circulation and a humid environment. Regular soil would suffocate the roots.
Also, the soil would be too wet for the orchids, as this is not draining as quickly and as good as the bark or sphagnum moss.
Basically, the purpose of the potting medium is for stability. Orchids, in their natural habitat, are absorbing the water and the nutrients from the air.
Should You Repot Orchids When Blooming?
Orchids should be repotted every two-three years. Depending on your orchid. Some of them should be repotted every year.
The best time to repot an orchid is after blooming, because doing it while it has flowers, can cause the flowers’ death. A repotting can be stressful for an orchid, so the adaptation process will affect the flowers and these will die quickly.
You should repot an orchid when blooming only if it is to save its life.
Remember, air roots are important for the orchids because these provide moisture and nutrients, also help in the plants’ balance. You don’t have to cut them off or bury them. Just leave them floating as they want and let them do their job.
Repotting an orchid is best when this is in active growth. After the blooming period has finished and you see new roots are coming, you can do the repotting. This will help the orchid in the adaptation process and the new roots will provide a good grip in the new potting mix.