Can Orchid Air Roots Be Trimmed?

We love plants, especially indoor ones and our site being a resource for everything indoor plants, we keep on getting questions. Here are a few questions we received lately that prompted us to compile a comprehensive article about orchid air roots, how to care for them and whether to trim or not.

  • How do you trim orchid roots?
  • Can you cut off orchids aerial roots?
  • Should I repot my orchid?
  • Should you water orchids after repotting?
  • How do I know when it’s time to repot my orchids?

From the questions, you can tell that people, especially beginners are really not quite sure what to do.

So this article answers all those questions.

Read on to learn more.

Can orchid air roots be trimmed?

There is nothing to worry about orchid air roots. Besides, they aren’t special. However, for someone new to Phalaenopsis orchids, you may be left wondering whether to trim or not to trim orchid air roots.

So should you trim orchid air roots? You should not trim orchid air roots since they aid the plant to absorb nutrients, moisture, carbon dioxide, and water for them to thrive directly from the air. This means when you cut off orchid’s aerial roots, the plant won’t absorb enough water and nutrients and hence it will die.

The good thing is that orchid air roots can be managed. Besides, you only need to repot orchids once every year.

What are aerial roots?

Ideally, orchid air roots, also known as aerial roots are those that grow and spill out of their pots and float above the surface of the pots; well, some orchid roots may burrow down the potting media. Some people may start to think that when orchids grow aerial roots, it’s a sign they need repotting but that’s not the case.

The function of orchids air roots 

Orchid’s air roots have plenty of functions to the plant than you can imagine. They aid the plant when it comes to physical support and conduct photosynthesis.

Let’s take a look at each function of orchid’s air roots.

Absorption of water

The function of the roots in any plant is to absorb water. However, orchid’s air roots are different from other ordinary terrestrial plants roots in that, their roots are enclosed in a spongy tissue called velamen that helps to store water to prevent orchids from drying due to lack of water. The roots absorb water from the surrounding and store it for use during dry conditions.

Support 

Roots support the plant physically, and the same applies to orchid’s aerial roots. In fact, some climbing orchids use their adventitious air roots to climb the leaves of other plants to get maximum light, leaving their terrestrial roots in the ground.

Some, such as Epiphytic orchids, relinquish terrestrial roots and use air roots to hang on the branches of other trees.

Conduct photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is a process that takes place in leaves of most plants where light is converted into energy. However, for orchids, things are different. Most orchids grow a photosynthetic system in their air roots and given that they are more exposed to sunlight, they are able to conduct photosynthesis quickly.

Absorb nutrients

Most plants depend on the nutrients absorbed through their roots from the soil but this is different for epiphytic and lithophytic orchids. These plants absorb nutrients from the environment, especially when it rains and from debris surrounding them.

What’s the difference between healthy orchid roots and unhealthy orchid roots?

Healthy orchid roots

Healthy orchid roots are always white or green in color and a strong to touch. You shouldn’t be worried when orchids aren’t bright green though. Staying bright green all through could be an indication of drowning, which is caused by overwatering. Ideally, orchid roots should be bright green immediately after watering.  

Unhealthy orchid roots

If your orchid dies, don’t discard it yet, instead, observe its roots. This way, you can tell what caused its death so you can prevent it from happening to your other orchid plants.

Overwatering your orchids could make the roots turn brown, mushy, and hollow. If the roots are brittle, then it means you are under-watering your plants.

Don’t worry if your orchid plants are alive but the roots have died. You can still save your orchids. Discard the dead roots and use pipe cleaners to support the orchids in the potting media so that it can develop new roots.

Air roots and normal roots- what’s the difference?

There is perhaps no difference between air roots and normal roots. The only difference between them is that air roots hang on the air while normal roots burrow themselves in the soil.

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that air toots are healthier than all the other parts of the plant since they are exposed to sufficient sunlight and the native environment of the orchid.

What to do with orchid air roots?

It tends to be confusing when it comes to the way one should manage orchid air roots. However, to keep them healthy, you’d better leave their roots alone. Leave them to grow outside the pot freely. In fact, some people love it when the roots spill out of the potting media while others don’t. 

Besides, as long as the orchid air roots are firm and white, they are healthy and you shouldn’t get worried either. Don’t take out the roots. Only trim orchid air roots when they have dried up, and avoid cutting harming your plant.

Well, if you don’t like orchid air roots spilling out of the pot, here are a few things to do:

Double pot your orchids

Ideally, to ensure your orchids get enough light, you grow them in a well-draining and transparent pot and then place them in a huge decorative pot that does not leak water out.

When orchid’s roots start to spill out of the potting container, you can leave them to spread to the decorative pot. This way, you will not see the roots. Also, be careful not to expose the roots to the water that collects at the bottom of the decorative pot. Just make sure you drain your orchid completely after watering before you place them on the decorative pot.

The good thing about double potting is that it is advantageous to your orchids in the following ways.

  • The decorative pot keeps the loosely tangled orchids roots from view making them attractive.
  • Double potting minimizes the need for repotting.
  • The transparent pot makes it easy to monitor the orchid’s roots without disturbing the plant by taking it out from the decorative pot every time.

Repot your orchid

Well, this shouldn’t be your primary option when it comes to managing orchids air roots given that the roots are less healthy when grown in a potting vessel. Doing this might bring both positive and negative results, so be careful when repotting your orchid.

A good rule of thumb is to repot your orchid on a durable container with expanded clay pellets to allow air to circulate freely.

Also, don’t make a mistake to overwater your orchid when potting.

What types of containers to repot orchids?

You can repot your Phalaenopsis orchids in many types of containers. However, when repotting your orchids you must note that the size of the container is more important.

Keep these key factors in mind when choosing orchid pots.

  • Choose a container with good drainage with holes on both sides and at the bottom. A container should have at least 5 to 8 holes at the bottom. This way, the roots will get adequate airflow.
  • Choose a larger pot at least 1 inch wide
  • Choose a shorter orchid pot.
  • Choose a container that will not break easily over time. Make sure the container is heavy or rigid at the bottom to accommodate the orchids when they become heavy.

How do to know when it’s time to repot your orchids?

Orchids are beautiful indoor plants. They don’t require close attention and are enduring. They can grow stronger and survive even without regular maintenance.

However, after some years of growing in the same pot, you will need to repot your orchids.

How do you tell it’s time to repot your orchids?

When you notice these signs, it’s time to repot your orchids.

  • Your orchid’s roots are soft and brown– This occurs when you leave your orchid’s roots to hold too much water. When you touch the roots, you will notice that they are too soft and brown. That’s the right time to repot your orchids to give them the right environment and promote their health. 
  • Your orchids roots are tightly tangled- Ideally, Phalaenopsis orchids should have loosely tangled roots. If you notice that the roots are tangled, then it’s time to repot. Place your orchids in a larger pot with fresh potting soil after every one or two years.
  • It’s long since you repotted your orchids- If you can’t remember when you last repotted your orchids, you should do it now. As we have mentioned above, orchids need to be repotted every one year or two to allow the plants to continue getting fresh nutrients and for air to circulate freely. When left to stay in one potting media for a long time, the roots will rot which could attract fungal diseases.

Also, new roots signify the best time to repot your orchid.

When your orchids start to grow new roots, it’s an indication that you should repot them. This is a sign that the orchid has started to grow and would be beneficial if you transfer your orchid to a new pot. Note that, at this time the roots are breakable, so repot your orchids with care.

How to repot orchids

If you are sure it’s time to repot your orchids, follow the steps outlined below to give your plants a deserving environment that promotes its growth and health.

  1. Choose the right potting media/container. Allow the orchid mix to soak for at least 24 hours and make sure water drains completely.
  2. Take out your orchids from the container and cut off dead or dried roots. Make sure the roots are DEAD dead before you remove them.
  3. Add the orchid mix to your new container to fill one-third of the container.
  4. For single stem orchids, position them in the center of the pot. For multi-stem position against the pot wall. You may want to stake the plants until they are fully grown.
  5. Make sure roots are cover with the orchid mix and keep the pot half full below the rim.
  6. Water your orchids accordingly.

How to trim orchid air roots

Well, sometimes you may be interested to cut off the air roots. That’s not a problem if you aren’t concerned about the drawbacks of trimming your orchid’s air roots.

Besides, if the air roots aren’t many and your orchid has other healthy roots, we supposed trimming won’t affect its health. But if it has plenty of air roots, it could be that the plant depends entirely on these roots and trimming them could make the plant to struggle to survive. So be careful there.

Also, if you have decided to trim orchid air roots, do it after watering it. This is the time when the roots are soft and supple.

You can use a sharp blade or fine pruning scissors but make sure to sterilize them under a flame before using them. Remember that exposing the plant to open wounds could introduce fungal diseases.

Make sure you trim the air roots right close to the stem and make sure you don’t harm the stem. Cut the air roots clean.

How to care for your orchid air roots

If you are getting into the world of orchids for the first time, you may think that these plants are complicated to care for but they aren’t.

You just need to learn how to take care of your orchids and the most important parts of the plant are its roots. As we have said earlier in this post, orchids are epiphytic plants. They grow by hanging on to the leaves and barks of forest trees.

Generally, there is nothing special when it comes to caring for your orchid’s air roots. To care for your orchid aerial roots:

Don’t water the air roots regularly

Unlike other traditional potted plants, orchid air roots don’t need frequent watering. Well, you could just spray the roots with water occasionally. If taken care of properly, the air roots will remain firm and plump.

Usually, orchid air roots will absorb moisture from the humid in the environment. But you risk damaging your orchids when you keep them in arid conditions. 

What humidity levels are suitable for healthy orchid aerial roots?

For copious orchid air roots, keep humidity levels above 40% to keep the air roots from drying out fast. You could use a home humidifier in case your house has low humidity levels.

How much light do orchid air roots require?

Unlike other plants, orchids conduct photosynthesis through their roots. That means you need to expose your orchids to bright and indirect sunlight.

It’s also worth noting that orchid roots can suffer sunburn, especially when exposed to hot direct sunlight for a long period. You will notice this when the roots start to turn crispy and brown. If this happens, you may want to transfer the plant to a place with suitable light conditions.

How to deal with overgrown orchid roots

As we have stated earlier, orchids can have both aerial roots and those that bury themselves into the potting soil. These roots can also cause problems when they cram the orchid pot. If you notice the roots rising out of the pot, you should repot your orchid.

Also, the orchid plant may grow huge to the extent that the roots have no ample space in the pot. You should repot your orchid with a larger pot.

Take out all the potting mix and keep the roots free. This is the best time to examine the health of the roots. And as we have said, healthy orchid roots are firm and plump, green and silvery when watered.

If the roots are mushy and soft, brown or black, it’s an indication of root rot. Dehydration can also make the roots turn grew or crispy.

Take out any unhealthy roots with a sterilized putting scissors or blade and repot them into a fresh large pot.

Should you mount orchids instead of potting them?

In their native habitat, orchids grow by hanging on the barks of forest trees. For this reason, you can mount orchids on a tree and they will grow healthy. Well, you can also mount them on a branch or any structure, provided they get enough sunlight.

Note that, taking care of mounted orchids can be tough although they can give you a beautiful view.

So, can you trim orchid air roots? Not necessarily unless they are completely dry and show no signs of growing again. If your orchid air roots are firm and white, they are healthy, leave them alone to grow. Cutting healthy air roots could introduce harmful fungal diseases.

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