If you keep orchids, it’s likely that you have heard from multiple sources that overwatering will kill them. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that you can treat your orchids like cactuses and only water them when you remember. Orchids need regular watering and when they don’t get it their roots will start to dry out and die.
If you have noticed that your orchid has dried out or shriveled roots, it likely means your plant is severely dehydrated. Before you go dunking it in a pool of water there are some other factors you should take into account first.
What to do if your Orchid has dried or shriveled roots
Step 1: Water your plant
When you notice that your orchid has dried or shriveled roots, a good first step is to water it like you usually would. Some people use the ice cube method of watering where they place 1-2 ice cubes on their plant’s base and allow them to melt.
While this works, I prefer to use the bottom watering method. To do this, I fill a bowl or the sink with lukewarm water up to about the halfway mark on the plant’s pot.
I leave it in the water until I feel the soil at the top of the pot is moist. I then remove the plant and place it somewhere it can dry, usually either the empty sink or the windowsill. Once dried, I put it back in its normal spot.
Step 2: Trim the roots
Now that you have watered your orchid, its healthy roots will be either white or light green. Remove it from its pot and give the roots a once over. Any roots that still appear dried out or shriveled are dead and need to be removed.
To remove the dead roots, you will want to use clean sharp shears. You can disinfect your shears with alcohol or another disinfectant. Having clean shears is important because a damaged plant is more susceptible to fungus and disease.
Now that your shears are clean, you can cut the dead roots off. Start with the roots that are shriveled and then move on to any that feel mushy or rotten. After removing all affected roots, you can rinse your plant under cool tap water to make sure all dirt and debris are gone.
Once you have finished removing all the dead plant matter, you may be left with a plant with very few roots. As long as there are some left, your plant still has a chance of bouncing back.
Step 3: Prepare to repot
If your plant lost a lot of roots, you may need to boost new root growth. You can do this by removing active flower shoots. This will stop the plant from sending energy to its flowers and get it to focus on its roots.
If the new root system is small, you will want to put your orchid back into a smaller pot. These plants like to be kept in pots that are just large enough for their roots, so a smaller pot will help it feel more at home.
Step 4: New Soil
Choosing a new soil for your orchid is important whether or not it has lost roots. The ideal soil for orchids is one that is well-draining and aerated. Since orchids are epiphytes, their roots need lots of airflow and oxygen as well as fast drainage.
Your best bet with orchid soil is to just buy soil that is packaged for orchids. You could make your own, but it takes lots of ingredients, and getting the mixture wrong can mean your plant dies.
If you have been keeping plants a while and mixing your own soil, you can probably tackle this task on your own, but if not, I would just stick to the commercial soil.
Once you have your soil, fill your pot and plant your orchid. It should be well on its way to recovery.
Orchid Care Basics
Now that your orchid’s dead roots are gone, you can start giving it the best care possible to prevent it from ending up back in the plant hospital.
You will want to water your orchid once a week with either the basin method or the ice cube method. Before watering, check the soil and make sure that it is either almost dry or completely dry. If it still seems wet, you will want to wait another day or two.
Orchids are humidity-loving plants, so if your orchid’s aerial roots seem to be drying out often, you may need to raise the humidity. To do this, you can either employ the use of a humidifier or a humidity tray. You want the humidity to be at around 40%.
Orchids need fertilizer during their growing season, which is spring-summer. They prefer a 20-20-20 fertilizer mixed to half strength one to two times a month. A good fertilizer routine can make all the difference when it comes time for your orchid to bloom.
Bright indirect light is ideal for most orchids. They thrive with lots of light, but direct light can cause their leaves to burn. Being placed near a south or east-facing window is best for orchids, but as long as there is lots of bright light they should be fine anywhere in your house.
It’s easy to underwater plants like orchids, but underwatering is always better than overwatering. The best way to know what is best for your plants is to spend time amongst them each week. Look them over, check for pests and signs of disease or poor growth.
Time spent with nature has been proven to help lower stress levels and increase serotonin, making you happier and healthier. So taking time to make sure your plants are happy will in turn make you happy.
When it comes to orchids, be sure to water them regularly, make sure they are getting enough light, and fertilize during the growing season. Once you master your first orchid you are surely going to want to collect them all.