How to Deal With Orchid Root Rot
Early signs of orchid root rot can be subtle with the underlying problem often found in the bottom of the pot. Roots appear brown and mushy or dark in color, flat, dried out and lacking turgidity. Orchids are susceptible to fungal infections that can damage roots. Often, though, root rot is the result of a maintenance error; overwatering, poor drainage, or poor air circulation around the roots. The good news is, in almost all cases when caught early, root rot can be eliminated and the orchid can survive.
Signs of Orchid Root Rot
Any time stems, leaves, or aerial roots start to look limp or pale, the best place to start is to remove the orchid from its pot and examine the roots. Rotten roots are discolored, brown or black, soft, mushy, flat (lost turgidity.) Healthy roots should be swollen and firm, green or silvery gray green with a darker tip.
Early signs of root rot may present as flower buds that drop before they open or withering yellowish leaves. Dark, sunken spots may appear on foliage. The plant may be stunted, show no signs of new growth, or fail to bloom entirely. Each of these problems can be chalked up to any number of causes, but one of the easiest ways to find out what's wrong is to first examine the roots.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Sharp cutting tool
- Orchid pot with good drainage holes
- Loose potting materials
- Spray bottles
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Isopropyl alcohol
How to Fix Orchid Root Rot
Once you've identified root rot, you need to repair the damage by pruning out roots that are no longer viable. To return the orchid to full, good health, follow up with adjustments to its care schedule.
Before Pruning Water Thoroughly
Orchid roots, even those that are partially dried out or discolored can still feed the plant. A thorough watering 24 hours before pruning plumps up the roots which helps you determine where to prune and how much to remove.
Run tepid water run through the pot for one minute. Drain off excess and leave the orchid to sit for 24 hours. If you've removed it from the pot, soak the roots by submerging them in a small container of water until they start to plump up, Avoid wetting the foliage.
Remove the Orchid From its Pot
Gently grasp the main stem at the base. If your orchid has several stems or pseudobulbs, support the entire plant with one hand and turn the pot upside down. The orchid should slide out easily in your hand.
If the medium is tightly packed and the plant rootbound, remove some of the potting material by hand, or gently shake the pot to release loose material.
If the orchid pot has extra cut outs with healthy aerial roots protruding, carefully slide the roots back through the holes to avoid damaging them.
Remove Excess Planting Material
Lay the orchid on a clean, flat surface and use your fingers to lightly comb the roots to separate and remove any clinging material.
Prune Damaged Roots
Separate roots that are no longer viable from the main stem(s). Use a cutting tool to make a clean, concise cut at the base of the root. Clean your tool with a quick spray of isopropyl alcohol after each cut.
Cut back partially damaged roots until you see healthy tissue. Treat cuts with hydrogen peroxide, and avoid using any all-purpose commercial fungicides on the roots.
Spray the Roots with Hydrogen Peroxide (Optional)
Hydrogen peroxide is an oxygen-based disinfectant that helps prevent fungal infections. A quick spray of the roots before repotting is optional but may encourage your orchid to recover.
Repot with Fresh Material
Examine the pot for signs of fungus or salt residue (white, chalky patches.) Clean, sterilize and dry the pot, or choose a new pot, then repot the orchid using fresh materials.
If aerial roots are present and growing in an upward direction, don't try to force them back down into the pot. Make sure rhizomes are covered but avoid covering up any new buds growing on lower canes or stems.
Allow the Orchid to Recover
Give the orchid several days, up to a week, to recover before resuming a normal watering schedule. Withhold fertilizer until you see signs of new growth indicated by an emergent leaf or root.
How to Prevent Orchid Root Rot
Prevent root rot by keeping an adequate, consistent care schedule for your type of orchid. Find out about the growing conditions in its native environment and try to replicate daytime and nighttime temperatures, humidity, and type and amount of light.
Getting the watering schedule right is essential. Most varieties go through a rest period following bloom and require less frequent watering when not actively growing. Potted orchids must have good drainage holes and should never be allowed to sit in water.
Moving air is also essential for orchids, especially epiphytic varieties with aerial roots that take nutrients from the air. Air circulation can be improved by installing a fan or humidifier.
Avoid handling your orchid during bloom. Instead, wait until after bloom to inspect it and tend to any pruning and repotting.
Can you cut off rotten orchid roots?
Yes, you can cut off rotten orchid roots with a sharp, sterilized tool; spray it with a 10 percent isopropyl alcohol solution between cuts. Remove roots at the base that have lost all firmness or turned dark. Roots that still show healthy color should be cut back to healthy tissue. Treat cuts with hydrogen peroxide.
How do I know if a root has gone bad?
Orchid roots should be green, to silvery green in color and plump with just a slight give when pressed. Roots that are mushy, dried out or flat are no longer viable and can lead to infections and pests.
Are rotten roots common for orchids?
Root rot can occur with any plant. Due to their specialized growing requirements and the fact that many are kept indoors in non-native environments, errors in orchid care often lead to damaged roots and rot.