Cutting Off Orchid Roots

As air plants, many orchids grow roots outside their pots. Popular varieties like Phals and Vandas prefer to grow this way. However, some people find exposed roots unattractive. “Can I cut off my orchid’s roots?” is a common question. Usually the query includes an explanation that the roots stick out of the pot, look ugly, or detract from the flowers. I’ve even heard complaints that they look like snakes. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t cut off healthy orchid roots.

Moth Orchid hybrid, Phalaenopsis, showing leaves and rootsNeofinetia falcata, Samurai Orchid, showing roots at Orchids in the Park 2010, San FranciscoOrchid roots attached to wooden basket in Phipps Conservatory

Like all plants, orchids need their roots. It is ok to remove dead roots. Always use sterile blades when cutting the plant. To test if a root is living, wash your hands, and then squeeze the root very gently. If it feels mushy or hollow, it’s dead. If the root is firm, it’s alive. If it’s very dry or shriveled, water well before giving it the gentle squeeze test.

Orchids roots are happy to be free of their pots as long as humidity is high. Besides absorbing water and nutrients, some orchid roots can photosynthesize, and need exposure to light. Cutting off roots strains the plant, and will hamper any future flowering. While a healthy plant can handle losing a few roots, it won’t survive losing them all. New growth may sprout for only a limited time each year, so an orchid may not be able to recover quickly from root loss.

Mounted orchid showing roots, Panaewa Zoo, Hilo, HawaiiMounted orchid, Panaewa Zoo, Hilo, HawaiiOrchid roots at Orchids in the Park 2010, San Francisco

The photos above show mounted orchids, demonstrating how the plants adapt to life in the air. Their unusual roots are part of their jungle mystique, defying logic by living freely in the breeze. It’s a sight that orchids, and orchids lovers, cannot live without.

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One Comment on “Cutting Off Orchid Roots”

  1. Cassandra23 Says:

    You’ve made some good points therе. I lookеd on the internet for addіtіonal іnformation about what to do with orchid roots and could not find much. Thanks for sharing your views on this website.