Ensuring Healthy Orchid Roots

Having healthy orchid roots is crucial for the well-being of your orchids since they receive most of their nutrients and moisture requirements through their roots. Proper orchid root care starts with choosing the right growing medium. In their natural habitat, orchids normally use their roots to hold onto tree branches as support. This is why epiphytic orchids are sometimes referred to as air plants. The roots are exposed to the air where they collect moisture and fertilizer from dew, mist, rainfall, leached minerals from tree bark and animal droppings.

In cultivation, growing mediums such as fir bark, sphagnum moss, and LECA (lightweight expanded clay pellets) are used mainly as support to keep the orchid upright, provide aeration and to retain some moisture for the orchid roots. The type of growing medium to use depends on the size and species of the orchid or your preferred growing method. Some orchid growers like to use self watering or semi-hydroponic growing and LECA is the choice of medium for those growing systems. Epiphytic orchids can be grown without any growing medium at all by mounting them to trees by tying them with wire (if you live in a tropical or semi-tropical climate) driftwood or cork mounting boards, but this is best attempted when you have become more adept at orchid care.   

two orchid flowers with pink white and red colors

Types of Orchids

Orchids can be classed as epiphytes, terrestrial, or lithophytes, but most commercially available orchids are epiphytes. Epiphytic plants, also known as air plants absorb most of their moisture from dew, mist and rainfall.  They absorb nutrients from decaying leaves, animal droppings, leached minerals from the bark of trees and other organic matter. Orchids do not necessarily need to be in a growing medium as they can also be mounted on branches or logs if you have a suitable location to grow and care for orchids this way. Some growers experience success with growing orchids in full water culture.

Healthy Orchid Roots Watering:

Orchids receive most of their moisture and fertilizer requirements through their roots. One of the often-overlooked factors in orchid root care is the water used to water and fertilize the plants. The best sources of water for healthy orchid roots are rainwater, filtered water, and reverse osmosis water, as tap water may contain salts, chemicals and minerals that can cause problems for the orchid roots. By using one of the three recommended sources of water and monitoring the TDS (total dissolved solids) and PH levels, we can provide more precision in fertilizer quantity and better care overall for our orchids. You can learn more about watering orchids by clicking on the navigation links at the top of the page or by clicking here. 


Fertilizing on a regular basis is essential for healthy orchid roots. Most available fertilizers recommend watering once a month, however we recommend using a quarter strength dosage of the monthly recommendation on a weekly basis. For example if the dosage says to add 1 oz of fertilizer to one gallon of water, instead add 1/4oz of fertilizer to one gallon of water.

Always use a non-urea based fertilizer formula designed for orchids. During normal growth, a balanced fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 formula will suffice for many orchids. During the flowering season, switch to a lower nitrogen, higher phosphorous and potassium formula designed for the flowering stage.  Different orchids have different flowering seasons, so it is important to know the species of orchids that you are growing, so as to provide the right fertilizer at the right time. 

Monitoring Orchid Roots

Monitoring orchid roots is also essential in ensuring their health. It is best to grow orchids in see-through containers, so that you can always monitor the root system. The preferred method of many orchid growers is to place the orchid in its growing medium in a see-through plastic container that can be placed inside a decorative pot or vase.

Phalaenopsis and Vanda roots are easy to monitor, and we can determine when to water by observing the color of the roots. Dry roots are usually grayish, while saturated roots turn green. 

Repotting for Healthy Orchid Roots

Growing medium's break down over time, so it is recommended to replace it every year or two. When repotting your orchid, trim away any dead roots, which are brown and lifeless. In other orchid species, healthy roots are typically white, although root colors can vary. Dead roots typically look brown and dry, and if you observe a lot of roots like this, it is time to remove the orchid from the medium, trim away the dead roots, and repot it. Use a fresh growing medium designed for your species of orchid and a slightly larger container if needed. 

In summary, to ensure healthy orchid roots, choose the right growing medium, use the right water source, and monitor the root system regularly. With proper care, your orchids will thrive and bring you joy with their beautiful blooms.

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