Orchid aerial roots are common. Many orchid species have them. If you notice root-like structures growing above the ground surface of your orchid, then it does have aerial roots.
In this post, you will find out more about air roots and how to repot orchids with air roots.
What Are Aerial Roots?
To know about aerial roots in orchids, you need to know about epiphyte orchids such as moth orchids. Epiphyte orchids, like all other epiphytes, root grow on trees. They typically grow on trees in tropical forests. Because they are not rooted in the ground but on trees, epiphyte orchids have roots for absorbing airborne nutrients (e.g. CO2) and moisture. These roots are known as air roots. They provide epiphyte orchids with the nutrients and moisture they need to survive.
It is important to note that epiphyte orchids only attach themselves to trees for support. They are not parasitic. Because they are not parasitic and they do not have roots going deep into the ground, their air roots play a very important role in getting them the moisture and nutrients they need to thrive.
How To Care For Orchid Air Roots
Okay, so now you know about orchid air roots and why they are important. Before I reveal to you a step-by-step guide on how to repot an orchid with air roots, let me tell you about how to care for orchid air roots.
Generally, orchid air roots are white in color and firm. They usually have a thick spongy material on them. This material is known as velamen and it is what enables the air roots to absorb moisture and nutrients (nitrogen and CO2) from the air.
When your potted orchid plants reveal air roots, you should not touch them or remove them because they are delicate. If you touch them carelessly, they could break and die. If you remove them, you could kill your orchids.
You should only remove air roots when they shrivel and die. And you should do this using a sterile pair of scissors or a knife.
Some people unwittingly believe that they need to bury air roots simply because they are roots. However, this can be harmful because air roots are adapted to living above ground.
How To Repot An Orchid With Air Roots
Now that you know what orchid air roots are and how to care for them, it is time to find out how to repot an orchid with air roots. The step-by-step guide below will help you to do exactly this. Please note that you can use this guide to also repot an orchid without air roots.
1. Determine If Repotting Is Absolutely Necessary
This is the first step that you need to take. You need to decide if repotting is absolutely necessary. This is because orchids, like many plants, do not like their roots being disturbed. Therefore, you should only repot them when it is absolutely necessary.
When is it absolutely necessary to repot an orchid? Only four reasons justify repotting an orchid. First, when the orchid grows too big for its pot. Second, when the pot drops and gets damaged or destroyed. Third, when there is a plant disease that makes root examination necessary. Lastly, when the potting mix breaks down.
Many people repot orchids when they outgrow their pots. While this is okay, some people usually do it too fast not knowing that some orchids such as Cattleya orchids prefer tight pots blooming.
2. Remove Your Orchid From Its Pot
Once you’ve decided that repotting is absolutely necessary, you should proceed to remove your orchid from its pot. The easiest way to do this is by watering it first. The water will loosen the potting mix. Moreover, driving a stick or a narrow metal rod into the mix to loosen it up can also make it easy for you to remove your orchid with most of its root system intact.
It is often a bit harder to remove an orchid from a pot that is made of clay. This is because orchids grown in clay pots usually have their roots systems embedded into the inner walls of clay pots. In other words, they grow into the inner walls of clay pots and become a part of them making them harder to remove without damaging the roots.
According to some experts, to remove orchid roots attached to clay pots with minimum damage to them, you need to knock the clay pots on the outside. This will loosen the roots and enable you to unpot your orchid plant with its root system in good condition.
After successfully unpotting your orchid plant, you should shake off the potting material around its roots. The purpose of doing this is to be able to examine its root system and its condition. If you shake off the potting material and there are bits of the same material remaining attached to the roots, you should remove them carefully with your hands.
After examining the roots carefully, you will probably notice that about 30 percent of your orchid’s roots are dead or dying. If this is the case, you should remove them and you should do this using a pair of sharp and sterile scissors. If you do not do this, you could end up infecting your orchid’s ground or air roots and killing it in the process.
If more than 30 percent of your orchid’s roots are dead, there is another problem affecting your orchids and you need to address it ASAP! The causes of dead orchid roots include taking too much time to repot, the original pot being too big, and poor potting mix.
After removing the potting material and examining and working on the roots of your orchid plant, you should go to the next step.
4. Determine If You Should Divide Your Orchid
If your orchid plant is big, then you should consider dividing it into more plants at this stage. When dividing it, make sure each new plant has at least three growth. These growths will ensure the rapid growth of the new young plants. If there are less than three growths per new plant, you could end with the plants taking too long to grow making them vulnerable to diseases. So ensure you have a minimum of three growths per new plant.
If you do not feel like dividing your orchid, you do not need to. You can still simply repot it as is. The fact that it is big and mature means it will have better blooms than if you divide it into small plants.
5. Pick The Right Pot
There is a never-ending debate on which ones between plastic and clay pots are the best. In my opinion, plastic pots are the best because they neither absorb pathogens nor toxic chemicals. This means you can easily wash them and sterilize them and re-use them. To pick the right pot, you also have to consider the size. The size of the pot you are repotting your plant in needs to be big enough but not too big. It should be about 1.5 times the approximate size of your root ball.
Because your orchid has air roots, it means it is a shallow rooter. So you do not need to choose a pot that is too deep.
6. Use A New Potting Mix
It is not advisable to use your old potting mix. This is because it could have pests, pathogens, toxic chemicals, and so on. So when repotting your plant, give it a fresh start by putting it in a new potting mix.
The best potting mix for an orchid with air roots is sphagnum moss. This is because it is well-aerated for normal roots and air roots to survive in it. Make sure among the base layer in your potting mix is a layer of pebbles to guarantee good aeration.
7. Determine What To Do With The Air Roots
Air roots can be left to stay outside. However, if you want to, you can bury them in the pot since it is bigger. If you do this, you should water your orchid very minimally for about 8 weeks to give your aerial roots time to adjust to living in a moist underground environment. Once the weeks have elapsed, you should resume normal irrigation.
As far as timing is concerned, it is always best to repot orchids when they are in active growth. If there is no sign of growth activity, then the plant will take a much longer time to re-establish itself in the new medium. For most orchids, a good time to repot is in the spring, since growth activity is usually sparked at that time of year, especially for plants growing on a windowsill.