Aerial Roots

Why are there roots growing out of the top of my orchid plant? And why do they look dead?

Updated 3/1/17

Roots that grow above the surface of an orchid are called aerial roots and are not super attractive (in my opinion). They can look whitish grey and never seem to look super green like the roots that are buried.

It is easy to think they are dead or something is wrong with your orchid but this is just how they look. They are normal and healthy. In nature an orchid tries to grab onto the trees and shrubs around it – this is why they grow that way. Aerial roots also help with photosynthesis and they absorb moisture from the air. This helps the orchid produce healthy leaves, roots and blooms. For this reason they should NOT be cut off.

Note: it’s easy to confuse an aerial root with a spike. Please click on my post titled “Root and Spike difference.”

Burying aerial roots:

A ton of aerial roots is one sign that your orchids need to be repotted. Especially when they are super overgrown as shown in the pictures above. When orchids are this overgrown you should be able to bury some of them when you repot your orchid.

NOTE: You may not be able to bury all of them some of mine are growing in between leaves and those I leave alone. Shown below…

Back to burying the other ones: When you do this you have to be extra careful not to break them off because they can be quite brittle.

When I go to repot and I need to bury aerial roots I soak the entire orchid in a bucket of water for a bit and the roots become a little more malleable so you can bury them. If you just force them then they WILL break off. And even though aerial roots can be ugly they still provide energy and sustenance to the orchid so I like to keep them. Once the roots are little more malleable you can gently guide them down into the pot and cover them with bark or moss. If one or two break then it’s not the end of the world.

Hope that Helps,

Hannah
Feel free to leave comments or questions here and you can always email me at myfirstorchid@gmail.com with pictures of your orchid.

 

79 Comments on “Aerial Roots

  1. Good morning Hannah,

    I recently rescued two orchids from a grocery store. I repotted them with an orchid bark media, removing the soil, into an orchid pot.

    One orchid’s leaves are becoming limp and wrinkly. All of them, not just the top one.
    I water weekly. Not much aerial root is exposed.
    It’s a little wobbly in the pot but it’s full of bark. Do you think that might be it?
    Should I add some type of moss to the media for extra stability? If so, throughout or just on top?

    Your advice is very much appreciated.
    Thanks,

    Gemma

    • Hi,

      I would not add anything to it. It shocks an orchid to be repotted so it may just need to rest. As long as it is potted in a pot with a lot of drainage you are good. And you want to water it only when it’s very dry. I water my orchids maybe twice a month.

      Hannah

  2. This was precisely the information I was looking for! I have been blessed with an orchid from my MIL who has since passed! It has thrived even with my nongreen thumb! It is about 4 years old and i have done nothing except water it! It is time though as i have many air roots. Thinformationis valuable information.

  3. I have an orchid that hasn’t been blooming for 1,5 years. Now it has a new spike but I have cut the 10 airroots it had while repotting it before reading your blog 😦 will it still grow its spike and bloom soon or is it too late..Hope i did not hurt it…

  4. This doesn’t answer my question about how to deal with ariel roots that have grown into the holes of the orchid pot. They are intertwine and can’t be easily taken apart

    • Hi,

      I have had that issue as well. If you soak the orchid the ariel roots become more malleable. Sometimes I even have to break the current pot to get them out.

      Hannah

  5. I’m trying to save a really dehydrated orchid but all the roots have rotted so I’ve cut them away and it only has 3 aerial roots left, can I soak those roots in water for a few minutes to get a jump on rehydrating the plant or will that kill it quicker?

  6. When I repot my orchid, should I take it out of the clear plastic pot (inner pot) with drainage hole, or leave it in there and just put it into a bigger pot. Also does the potting mix need to be something special for orchids or just a general house plant mix.

  7. Hannah, your website is an indispensable help, thank you for taking the time to provide all this information. I’d panicked because I’ve had my orchids for a few weeks now and was worried about the lack of drainage, which I’ve since remedied, but many of the roots were silvery-white which I know to be a symptom of underwatering, which was strange to be because I found out I’ve been overwatering. I now know that these are the aerial roots and can rest easier!

    My question to you is that since orchids are far used to growing off trees, is it alright for me to leave more of the roots exposed? Or should they be far more covered by the potting mix?

    • Hi,

      It’s perfectly fine to leave the roots out. A lot of people think they are ugly to see roots hanging everywhere but it’s ok if they are out. The only time it’s not ok is if the orchid is actually growing out of its pot and needs to be placed in a bigger pot.

      Hannah

  8. Hi Hannah,
    Great Blog you have here.
    I recently repotted my orchid since it was over watered and its roots were rotten. Few roots left at that time.
    Since the repot, new roots are growing, however some are really “squeezed” in between the leaves. Should I cut off a bit of leaves or the root will eventually finds its way out?
    I also accidently broke the tip of 1 of the new root. What will happened to it?
    Thank you
    Y.

    • Hi,

      I would never remove leaves or roots. Orchids like to be snug. The part you broke off you can dab a little cinnamon on (natural fungicide) on it and it should be fine.

      Hannah

  9. Hi,

    I received an orchid as a gift. It gave out new spike and lovely blooms every year for three years. Every time, when the new spike came out, the old one dried up. Last year, I didn’t get a new spike and the existing one didn’t dry up although there are no blooms on it. Reading your blog, I understand that it needs repotting. I will do that. But I just cut off the old spike now. Will it help to grow a new spike? How can I get the spikes again instead of a profusion of roots?

    Thanks,
    Bhaskar

    • Hi,

      Old spikes die back and I always cut them off. When new spikes grow they grow from a different spot. Cutting them off early (once all the blooms fall but before it turns brown) helps transfer the orchids energy to new roots and new leaves.

      If it has not been repotted in three years I would repot it and cut the stem back. I have a post on repotting and cutting stems back.

      Hannah πŸ™‚

      • Thank you so much for your quick reply. I also realized after reading many posts that I need to feed it as well. I haven’t fed the plant all this time because I was afraid of damaging the plant. It is quite healthy and now I know better how to take care of it. Thank you so much.

        Bhaskar

      • You are welcome! Fresh mix with help feed it. I also recommend FeedMe by Repotme – never get fertilizer on the leaves bc they can burn.

        Hannah

  10. Hi. I’ve had a phalaenopsis orchid in bark since May of 2015. It had gorgeous blooms for a couple of months. I have not been able to get it to rebloom. I cut the spike down and mistakenly cut off the aerial roots after that. I started fertilizing recently with a weak solution but I think I may have burned part of the roots. I can send a photo if it will be helpful. I’ve been moving it to a cool, dark spot every night for 2 weeks and watering once a week but still no spike. Please advise!

  11. I just bought a new orchid plant that already has flowers and buds, but a couple of my smaller buds are turning yellow and Shriveling up. The roots look over crowded and the ones on top are brown and dried. I’m tempting to repot it but I’m concerned if i do i will shock it or even worse kill it. Do i clip off the dying shriveled buds???? 😯😯😯😯

  12. Hi! What happens if you break the tip off of an aerial root? I was inspecting the roots of my moth orchid and as you point it out they are quite sensetive since they are dyer then those in the pot. So the tip of the aerial root broke of. I know orchids can be sensetive to infections. I dabbed tiny amount of cinnamon on the broken tip. How common is it with root infections when you broke the tip off?

    • Hi,

      I would not worry about that at all especially since you took extra care to put some cinnamon on it. The roots break and as long as you don’t already have some kind of infection it should be totally fine,

      Hannah

  13. Hi,
    Is it true that orchids shouldn’t be planted in a potting mix?! If not, then what should we plant them in?? Please, it’s urgent!
    Thanks

    • Hi,

      You need orchid specific mix. You don’t want to pot your orchids in regular potting soil. Just look for general orchid mix.

      Hannah

  14. Hi, thanks for the info. I have an urgent question, please.
    I’ve recently got a phalaenopsis orchid as a gift. It still has flower buds that haven’t bloomed yet, but it’s pot is very small, and I can see a lot of aerial roots. It’s my first time I get an orchid, so I don’t know if there’s a difference between a root-bound orchid and an orchid with aerial roots. My question is: Shall I repot my orchid into a bigger pot and bury what I can bury, or shall I wait for the blooming to end and then repot it? Thank you

  15. I love your blog! My first orchid died from neglect, and my second orchid is doing better, thanks to your advice.

    It gets southeast sun from two corner windows and is thriving. A second spike has grown recently, and a spike branching out from the first spike appeared almost overnight. (I will send you a photo.)

    My question is about the aerial roots. How long should they be soaked in order to become malleable? And is the entire plant immersed? If so, how do you do that?

    I recently repotted it from its original Trader Joe’s mini-pot, and should have chosen a larger pot. By the time I can repot again, it will probably be overgrown. Do you have any tips for coaxing the aerial roots to climb wood or other things?

    Thanks again for your great blog!

  16. Hello I just bought an orchid and the Ariel roots I accidently tried to push them down into the soil, and most of them just started to break. Do I just leave the rest of what’s left there or what??

    • Hi,

      Aerial roots will break if you don’t soak them in water first. I only push them down when repotting them and after they become malleable from soaking in water.

      I would leave yours alone. They may not look great but they are very normal.

      Hannah

  17. Hi there, I have a concern about my moth orchid, all is well, except that the roots that are showing at the surface are breaking. I’m not sure what to do about this 😦

  18. HI, MY NAME IS STEVE AND I LIVE IN PHILA PA. HOW LONG IS THE DORMANCY PERIOD FOR THE AVERAGE?? THNX

    • Orchids don’t necessarily go dormant. Their active growing season is during the time they don’t have flowers. That’s when they grow new leaves and new roots. Typically orchids bloom once a year for a few months. So the active growing season is probably 3/4 of the year or maybe less.

      Hannah

  19. Hi there, I had to remove roots couple of weeks ago cos they were rotten due to fungal invasion. The roots were black and mushy. So I had to cut most of them and repot, hope that it will make it instead of leaving it to allow death. I left the two aerial roots as they are healthy.

    Now leaves are getting droopy, even one of the petals starting to droop. I’m soaking the aerial roots in water now for a couple of hours as I starting to think that maybe e roots were either dead or too weak to do it’s job- not taking up water.

    Mmmm what do you think? Can the orchid make it?

  20. ack! i should have read this first!! i just cut off an aerial root thinking it was dead…did i just damage my orchid??? 😦

    • Hi Monica,

      It’s ok it won’t kill the orchid or anything. Just don’t do it again πŸ™‚ those aerial roots are designed to grab onto trees and work with photosynthesis.

      Best of luck,

      Hannah

  21. hi, my name is steve and I live in phila. pa. I am still learning about orchids and especially repotting them and how to care for aerial roots. I have received a lot of good info. from ur blogs!!!! more than other articles that I have been reading! I am relatively new to orchids and want to learn more,thnx steve

  22. Regarding aerial roots on my phal’s: the tips of the aerial roots on both of my orchids appear tan in color and are starting to shrivel up and shrink. What’s going on here? Could this be due to lack of humidity or something? The plants are otherwise looking pretty ok and are well hydrated. What should I do? Thanks in advance!

    • Anna,

      It’s pretty normal for aerial roots to look ugly like this. If the rest of the orchid looks healthy then I am sure it’s fine.

      Hannah

  23. Hi: you have a fabulous blog and I am happy to have found someone who knows orchids. I rescued a phalaenopsis orchid growing in potting soil!!! It has no roots. I repotted it a week ago but did not bury the aerial roots in the soil. In addition to a few aerial roots it has a rapidly growing green shoot as pictured in your second photo on the page about aerial roots. Is there hope? When should I water it again as the bark medium is looking dry? Should I put it in the bathroom in the morning for it to enjoy our morning showers? Our bathroom faces south and I think that the March sun may be too intense, or is it? And 3rd, what is that shoot or root as you have pictured?

    • Hi Dorothy,

      You said your orchid has no roots? Does it literally not have any roots at all? What about aerial roots? An orchid can’t survive without roots and/or leaves.

      The shoot is either a root or a bloom stem…

      https://myfirstorchid.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/difference-between-a-root-and-a-spike/

      You can send me a picture at myfirstorchid@gmail.com and I could tell you which.

      You only want to water it once it’s very dry as shown here… https://myfirstorchid.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/hello-world/

      You also want it near a window that has dapple sunlight. Not direct sunlight. I don’t like to move orchids around. I find one place they are happy and keep them there.

      Hannah

      • Hi Hannah: Thank you for your reply. It has a few funky aerial roots on top. Should I try and push it into the orchid mix? The particular shoot I am referring to is a lovely green. Thank you Dorothy

      • Sorry Hannah: I meant that I can position an aerial root into the mix. Is that the right thing to do? Dorothy

      • Yes but you need to soak them first so they are malleable. If you push them in without soaking them first they will break off. Do they not have roots underneath?

        Hannah

      • Hi Hannah: It has no roots underneath. Just 4 aerial roots, one of which is short enough for me to easily bury in the pot. Dorothy

  24. Hi I have a phalanopsis orchid and all the roots have rotted can I cut the ariel roots shorter and put the orchid into a pot with coconut husk in.

    • Hi,

      I would not cut the Ariel roots. You can soak them to become more malleable and then pot them but if it is already low on roots then I wouldn’t cut off more,

      Hannah

      • Hi Hannah I soaked the roots which did not work properly they did not become as pliable as I would have liked. To get it in to the pot right so it was central and not on one side of the pot I trimed most of the ariel roots. Thank you for your advice.

  25. Hi,
    My orchid has been dormant in growing. my son pruned it like most other plants one day- cutting off all the leaves and dry roots. We now have only one very tiny aerial root. What should i do? I don’t want to give up on my orchid! please help.

    H

  26. Hello, one of my orchids has had no spike for a few years yet continues to make leaves. Why is this? Love all your info.

  27. Is it ok to transplant at any time, have aerial roots, main stem done blooming…

    • Adrienne,

      You can do it year round:) But once your orchids are on a schedule then you would want to repot once they go out of bloom. For me that is Spring/Summer.

      Hannah

  28. Glad I just read this post too! I was thinking I needed to repot and BURY those aerial roots! Whew! Crises averted for my orchid.

    Thanks for the amazing information!

    Totally following and reading your blog!! Excellent!

    • Hi,

      You actually can bury some of them – I updated the blog entry to reflect this. Sorry for the confusion,

      Hannah

  29. I bought an orchid from wholefoods (on sale). My first orchid so didn’t know what to look for before I bought it. Anyway brought it home and saw that the aerial roots were shriveled and black. I cut the dead parts off with a scissor that I decontaminated first. Looks ok now after two weeks but have experienced bud blast. Is it related?

  30. My Orchid seems to have died, after transplanting the orchid into new orchid potting soil. The leaves turned yellow, dropped off. Treated with cinnamon spice but I see no new grouwth. I have placed the orchid in my bathroom for the steam from showering and taking a bath.What has gone wrong. How much time do I give to grow, I live in the Western Cape, South Africa
    Thanking you
    Tersia

      • hi, my orchid doesn’t have a problem with the aerial roots but with the roots that are buried, the beginning of the roots are yellow but the further down you go they are green, is that normal ? do i have to cut them ? the ends are black. thank you in advance. Bruno

      • Hi,

        You should only cut black rotting roots and only the part that is black and rotting. Never cut a green/white/yellowish root. Orchids can’t survive without roots and leaves – so I never like to over cut them.

        Hope that helps,

        Hannah

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