Orchid roots are intriguing, but their existence is not limited to their attractiveness. They are in different colors, depending on their health, and their growth needs vary from species to species.
Our team of gardeners is here to help you explore their many other specifications. Keep on reading our article to discover everything about your orchid’s roots.
- Characteristics of Orchid Roots
- Types of Orchid Roots
- Growing Needs of Your Orchid’s Roots
- Common Problems and Mistakes
Characteristics of Orchid Roots
The roots of the orchids have a unique characteristic because they are responsible for giving the plant healthy growth. They preserve the nutrients and absorb the right amount of nutrients for the plant, they are able to exchange gases and some are non-photosynthetic roots.
Your orchid’s roots shift color immediately when you fall back on watering or caring for them. For instance, healthy roots are green in color. They vouch that you have watered them timely and in the correct quantity. You will notice strength when you touch them, and they won’t be emitting any type of smell, just looking green and firm.
As an experienced orchid grower, you must know that the orchid’s roots differ from the rest of the plants. You will notice that even the fine roots are thicker than other plants. They have a special covering called Velamen which is an absorbent layer.
– Preserving Nutrients
An orchid’s white and smooth root caps indicate they are healthy. A few sympodial terrestrial orchids have two tuberous roots; one of them is responsible for preserving food for winter and aids in the development of the other one, from where you notice new growth.
Furthermore, the roots of Phalaenopsis Orchids adapt best to the changing environment when you repot them in the initial growth stage, and this is because you want the plant to have the proper amount of nutrients to be able to survive.
– Absorbing Nutrients
Furthermore, they have a large surface area that helps to absorb nutrients and water rapidly. The roots have an inside core, also known as the cortex, which is tough and carries nutrients, while the outer layer is a spongy layer that absorbs humidity from the surrounding air and can be silvery-gray, brown, or white in appearance.
The root epidermis cells grow at a right angle and provide a firm grasp to help roots grasp onto something for support. As you grow them in a healthy manner, you will also see that this is because how they are the source to absorb the water you place in the pot, and through the roots, it will have the right nutrients to grow in an ideal way.
– Can Exchange Gases
Moreover, the orchid’s roots, specifically the epiphytic roots, are responsible for the exchange of gases; to take in oxygen and repel carbon dioxide. Also, it is common for the roots of a few orchid species to carry out photosynthesis, which is why you see orchids growing in clear pots. A few orchid species are leafless and rely on their roots to obtain their energy from chlorophyll.
– Non-photosynthetic Roots
The behavior of an orchid’s roots varies with the orchid species. For instance, terrestrial orchids have non-photosynthetic roots, live for less than three years, and may show seasonal differences in growth and composition, but yet again, this is a characteristic that would differ from one plant to the other.
Types of Orchid Roots
There are two types of orchid roots; the ones you see and know as all plants grow underground, and then there are those that are spider-like and extend above the ground in search of water, food, and support. The latter roots are called aerial or air roots.
Almost 70 percent of orchid species are epiphytes, meaning they have air roots that help them climb onto trees for support and survival. When you provide the right needs, you will see that an average orchid’s roots take two to five weeks to grow, depending on the climatic conditions and the time of the year.
– Typical Roots
These roots are the ones that you usually see for other plants as well and grow underground. The orchid species having such roots are called ‘terrestrial orchids.’ They are buried underground or under leaf litter and obtain most of their nutrition from dead organic matter. The only time you can see them would be while repotting orchids.
– Aerial Roots
When you see aerial roots that are coming from the plant, they are less common and grow without a soil substrate. You might have seen roots protruding out of the soil; well, they are air roots that are completely normal and healthy.
They ooze from the orchid pot and climb the neighboring trees and rocks for support and survival, and they will be growing outside of the pot and not fully in. Furthermore, they fulfill their water needs from the air. You will see these orchid air roots growing in every direction.
Is trimming air roots on orchids a good idea? Well, it depends on their condition. It is common for them to turn yellow and wither at low humidity levels, so the best option would be to trim them and repot orchids to a spot with higher humidity levels.
The aerial roots show that your orchid is doing just fine. It does not mean your orchid is unhealthy or has grown out of its pot; they grow that way. They also benefit you by looking closely at them without taking the orchid out of its pot.
Growing Needs of Your Orchid’s Roots
The growing requirements of an orchid’s roots differ from species to species. You can categorize them based on sunlight needs, water needs, feeding needs and the right way to feed them, the optimum temperature to ensure maximum growth, and porous potting media for better drainage.
You will see the roots growing if the plant is in the right condition, and receiving the ideal requirements when they are growing. Some Cattleyas produce a minimal number of roots per year, and they are either damaged or destroyed, so you will only be seeing new roots simultaneously the following year.
– Sunlight Needs
Do orchid roots need light? Yes, they do. The sunlight needs differ for orchid species. Some species prefer sunlight throughout the day, while some do well in partial sunlight. Knowing your orchid’s species first is essential so you do not burn or kill the roots.
– Water Needs
Generally, your orchid’s roots appreciate when you water them at the right time; twice a week in the cold months and weekly in the dry and hot months. You can check if your roots need water by checking the moisture level of the potting mix; if the top two to three inches are moist, it means that your orchid’s roots are not thirsty and are doing well without water for now.
The optimal way to water them is to plunge them into your kitchen sink. Let the orchid stay there for a maximum of 15 seconds, after which you must remove it and allow the excess water to drain; this is a crucial step as the leftover water can cause rot.
In short, you must also keep in mind how you cannot leave them in water, as orchids cannot tolerate standing in water for too long as it disrupts their root system. Use potting soil with good drainage and a pot with drainage holes. The holes not only allow the excess water to come out but also are an escape route for the epiphytic roots.
– Fertilizer Needs
Your orchid’s roots will appreciate when you feed them with a liquid fertilizer rather than a concentrated fertilizer, and it can damage them. For best results, dilute a 20-20-20 fertilizer to a quarter of its strength or a 10-10-10 fertilizer to half its power. Remember never to fertilize a dry orchid as the dry roots can burn, fertilize them the week following a watering session.
– Warm Temperature
Orchids are tropical plants and love growing in regions with high humidity levels. The roots grow best when grown in humidity levels between 40 and 70 percent. But you can also adjust the humidity level if it is low by misting your orchids daily or using a dehumidifier if the levels exceed the stated level. Also, many orchid growers place a tray full of pebbles under the pot to maintain the increased humidity levels.
– A Porous Potting Medium
It is common to overwater your orchids, thinking it will help them produce more blooms, but that is not the case. Orchids have a naturally delicate root system, and overwatering can rot your orchid’s roots, so it is essential to pot your orchids in porous potting soil.
A permeable potting soil also allows the roots to have access to air, and this is going to give the roots the right environment to thrive, and as a result, it will also help the right development of the plant. Regular garden soil and your orchid’s roots do not go well together as it does not promote airflow, suffocating the roots.
Common Problems and Mistakes
The common problems and mistakes associated with an orchid’s roots include overwatering, underwatering, and moving around the orchid too much without knowing that they are sensitive to movement, root rot, fungal infection, and growing in suitable potting soil as they cannot grow in regular soil.
Orchids that are silver to gray indicate that they need water. They are not too dehydrated and still count as healthy. It would be best to drench them in water and let the excess water drain to help them restore their attractive green color.
– Brown in Color
Brown roots indicate that you have overwatered your orchid or the roots are standing in water. If there is one thing that the roots cannot tolerate, it is excessive watering. Trim unhealthy orchid roots, so your orchid can focus on growing healthy ones.
– White in Color
Similarly, you would be amazed to know that orchids can have white roots. Such roots are dry and dead. Their pale color shows that you have not watered them for a long time, and the last resort is to kill them as they are incapable of receiving any more nutrients or water. You must know that it is important to remove them and avoid watering your orchids for a while after doing so, as it can shock the remaining roots.
– Excessive Irrigation
One of the most repetitive beginner mistakes is overwatering their orchids. Orchids are native to tropical regions but have fewer watering needs than other houseplants. Watering too much can create favorable growing conditions for fungal and bacterial infections in your orchid’s root system.
Contrary to overwatering, beginner orchid owners also tend to underwater their plants. Even though orchids prefer to be watered sufficiently, on the contrary, they will leave you with gray and shriveled roots if you are overwatering.
– Moving Around
Moving around the orchid too much can have adverse effects on its roots. The roots adapt to the growing conditions that suit them best, so if you move them around frequently, it will shock them. The shock can lead to the orchid’s death. Furthermore, people often mistake pushing the epiphytic roots downwards without realizing they are meant to grow that way and can snap easily.
The epiphytic roots grow naturally outside the pot and fulfill their water and nutrient needs from the surrounding air and trees. Therefore, placing them in the soil means changing their natural growth pattern, which can kill your orchid. Also, they snap easily.
– Root Rot
Root rot is the top-most common problem an orchid’s roots go through. You can tell the roots are rotting by looking at the condition of the orchid flower spikes and the leaves; they will droop and, at times, fall off.
The problem can also be spotted by looking at the roots’ color; the rotten or rotting roots are mostly yellow or brown. So, you must make sure that you keep your orchid’s roots from staying in the water for long.
– Fungal Infection
The roots go through a fungal infection when you overwater your orchids or leave them in standing water. It causes the fungus Rhizoctonia solani to develop. It thrives when the roots are moist and cannot access unrestricted airflow.
Orchids are plants that have specific needs and requirements that an enthusiast shouldn’t go astray from and only grow in some potting soil. Their roots need a porous medium to breathe. Potting them in a potting mix best suits their growing needs is recommended.
You also know the common mistakes and problems when it comes to dealing with your orchid’s roots, so let’s sum up what we have learned so far:
- The roots of an orchid plant are of two types; the normal, inground ones, and aerial roots, which grow above the ground.
- Irrespective of the orchid species, the roots need a porous growing medium so there is no water standing, and they can have good air circulation.
- Please avoid common mistakes like overwatering or underwatering your orchid’s roots, as they play an essential role in the overall health of your orchids.
- Providing primary orchid care helps your orchid’s roots thrive, keeping them away from problems like rot.
Orchid roots are full of benefits and center any landscape attraction. They perform well if you remove the accompanying dead roots and take care of their basic growing needs.
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