Root loss on orchids – some tips on preventing it

Sometimes, you will have little control over root loss, particularly if the orchid was sick when you acquired it. However, there are some things that you can do to prevent root loss in orchids. So, let’s have a look at a few factors that can impact on roots.

Orchid roots

The media the orchid is growing in is a fairly big factor. Your orchid will spend a considerable amount of time in the same media, maybe a couple of years, before it is re-potted. If you are using organic media such as bark or sphagnum moss, this breaks down over time and eventually suffocates the roots as it compacts. Keeping an eye on your orchids will help reduce the impact of broken down media. When you water your orchid, you’ll notice a pretty pongy mushroom smell from the pot. That’s a good indicator that the media needs to be changed. Inorganic media such as seramis or leca pellets are unlikely to break down, because they are made of clay. Given that they don’t break down, your roots are less likely to be suffocated which could help to maintain a healthy root system. I have not used inorganic media but I may be looking into this for some orchids currently in my care.

Research the care your orchid needs. Some orchids prefer to dry out completely between waterings, whilst others like to be moist. If you are providing different care to what your orchid needs, you run the risk that the root system will start to fail. Roots require time to adapt to changes, particularly if there is an alteration to the care the plant itself is being given.

Researching orchids
Researching the care needs of your orchid can help reduce root loss.

Overwatering is also something to be mindful of. By this I mean the frequency you water your orchids, not the quantity. If the orchid is not given time to dry out even a little between each water, the roots may start to suffer. Saturated organic media can start to break down quickly and so the roots can begin rotting.

Occasionally, critters can get into the orchid’s pot and may cause damage to the roots. Slugs are one of the main culprits for root damage – I’ve seen them chew into a pseudo-bulb, which is not pretty! There are a few ways to remove them, and I did create a post about slug control previously which you can view here.

Your own lifestyle can have an impact on your orchids roots, believe it or not. The Stanhopea that was given to me recently is testament to this. It belongs to a family member who works away during the week in a different part of the country. Although the orchid goes with them, their job requires them to work long hours. So the orchid doesn’t always get the attention it needs. As a result, the roots have dried out and died because the roots weren’t receiving enough moisture.

Sometimes, your orchid will terminate old roots which will be replaced by new ones. This is normal for sympodial orchids such as Dendrobiums and Oncidiums. When the old roots are terminated, they will start to decompose and may cause the media (if you use organic media) to break down. Keep an eye on the condition of the media and replace it if necessary.

Mostly though, it is the level of attention you give to your orchids that will help prevent root loss. By regularly checking the overall health of the plant, you can minimise the effects of root loss.

Happy growing!



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