How Do You Save Orchids With No Roots? (Explained)

How to save orchids with no roots

It goes without saying that roots are extremely important to any plant, not just orchids.

They absorb and store water and nutrients and, without them, a plant is unlikely to stay alive for long.

So it is no wonder people are asking how do you save orchids with no roots?

Thankfully there are ways to seemingly bring your orchid back from the brink, and we are going to explore them.

So let’s get started.

How Do You Save Orchids With No Roots?

There are a few ways to save orchids without roots. You can wrap sphagnum moss around them to create a humid environment and release water, or use the tried and test ‘sphag and bag’ method using sphagnum moss and a plastic bag. The simplest method is via water culture, whilst some even swear soaking them in tea works.

Now we all know orchids are remarkably resilient.

Varieties that have pseudobulbs have an advantage as these plant storage organs can hold water and food for periods of drought.

So in the first place can an orchid survive without roots? Well the good news is, even orchids that do not have pseudobulbs can survive in the short run.

And with the right care and attention, you can save rootless orchids and get them to grow new roots.

First things first though.

If you notice your orchid’s roots are damaged beyond repair you will want to get some sterilized scissors or gardening shears and remove the dead roots.

Make sure you avoid damaging the aerial roots when you do this.

When that is done, spray the orchid with a fungicide to ensure it is free of any fungal rot or infection.

Then pick any of the methods below to revive its roots.

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Method #1: Plant it in Sphagnum Moss

Wrapping damp sphagnum moss around your rootless orchid is a great way to promote root growth.

Sphagnum moss can retain up to 20 times its own weight in water.

So by wrapping it around your orchid, it will keep it moist but not so wet it rots, and it will keep it constantly hydrated but provide the air movement it needs.

Water will be slowly released, and a humid environment will be created, everything your orchid wants!

To use sphagnum moss effectively just follow a few steps:

  • Find a pot similar in size to that your orchid has been using or, if you are going to use its existing pot, make sure it is thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.
  • Soak the sphagnum moss in water for around ten minutes, then remove it and give it a squeeze so it is not sopping wet.
  • Wrap the sphagnum moss loosely around the orchid and place the orchid in the pot and place more sphagnum moss around it. Do not compact the sphagnum moss too much, you want to leave spaces to encourage air circulation and increase water retention.

There should be sufficient moisture from this setup to promote the growth of tiny roots. These roots will then use the humid environment to continue growing.

A slight variation on this method is to find a tall vase or pot and put around an inch or two of damp sphagnum moss on the bottom.

Place your orchid in the vase, and ensure it is sitting on top of the moss. You want it not to be buried, but just touching the moss. Keep the sphagnum moss moist, not wet or water-logged. 

This is a gentle way of introducing moisture and airflow to the base of your rootless orchid.

The tall vase or pot will trap the humidity around the orchid, but still allow airflow and reduce the likelihood of mold forming.

Method #2: Use the ‘Sphag and Bag’ Method

The so-called ‘sphag and bag’ method is one of the most widely used methods to save an orchid with no roots.

By creating a basic humidity tray and using some sphagnum moss and a plastic bag you can raise humidity levels significantly and spark new root growth.

  • STEP 1: Find a pot with good ventilation and sufficient drainage holes and place rocks or pebbles at the bottom of it to trap moisture.
  • STEP 2: Place the orchid inside the pot and place damp sphagnum moss around the sides of the pot.
  • STEP 3: Place the pot in a clear plastic bag that can be sealed. A dry-cleaning bag (the type you get when you take clothes to be dry cleaned) works well.
  • STEP 4: Place the bag (and pot) in a warm well-lit location, but make sure it isn’t in direct sun as that will cook your orchid. Indirect sun from a north-facing window is a good option.
  • STEP 5: After you see a few inches of new root growth, gradually acclimatize your orchid to normal house humidity by opening the bag for a couple of hours each day
  • STEP 6: You can usually unbag it in a couple of months, when you do so lift the orchid from the pot and trim off any roots.

This method works as the water from the moss and the pot evaporates and gets trapped in the plastic bag around the orchid.

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This creates a very high humidity that is difficult to replicate even in a greenhouse and promotes root growth.

It also means the plant is not having to draw moisture from the roots

Method #3: Use Water Culture

One of the easiest methods to save your rootless orchid is via water culture.

All you need is a glass, or vase, and some water.

Simply put some water in the glass or vase, using purified or distilled water is best, but tap water is fine if you allow it to settle for a while.

Then put your orchids in the glass/vase, so it is suspended just above the water. 

If there are any roots remaining the water should just touch the tip of the root. If not then the water should be just below and not touching the stem.

Place the glass/vase in a bright window that receives good sunlight and mist it every day as orchids can drink through their leaves.

You can either use a full-water culture method, in which the orchid remains in the glass/vase all the time or a semi-water culture method, where you rotate the orchid in and out of the glass/vase.

Start with one or the other and see how your orchid responds.

Method #4: Soak Your Orchid in Tea

Person with tea

There are many who swear the tannic acid found in tea promotes new root growth.

Simply fill a vase or container with water (rainwater is ideal, but normal tap water will work fine), and dip a regular tea bag in the water until you have a weak tea solution, just enough to give the water a slight tea color.

Place your orchid in the solution during the day and then take it out at night and allow it to air dry.

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Repeat the process for a three-week period, changing the solution every three or four days.

The theory is that soaking your orchids in tea water has the same effect as when an orchid is subjected to heavy rain when it is growing in the wild.

That being that rain rushes down a tree and washes tannic acid over the orchid, signaling that it is time for it to grow and bloom.

Method #5: Use Tissue and a Plastic Cup

Another simple method to encourage new roots to grow involves using just a tissue, a plastic cup and some plastic wrap.

Wet a paper towel so it is damp, not soaking wet, and place it into a plastic cup. 

Place the orchid in the middle of the plastic cup, ensuring the paper towel is covering the orchid’s roots without suffocating it.

Place plastic wrap over the top of the cup, with some holes in it and secure it with a rubber band.

Place this outside on the porch during the day (again not in direct sunlight), and bring it in during the evening.

This works in a similar way to the ‘sphag and bag’ method by creating a humid atmosphere for the orchid and providing moisture to stimulate root growth.

Final Thoughts

So if you are looking to get your orchid to grow new roots, there are a few methods to try.

The resilience of orchids means, that even if they have no root system, if you act quick enough you can encourage them to grow new roots and keep them alive.

Each of these five methods suggested is fairly easy to implement, and won’t take up too much of your time or money.

And you have nothing to lose by trying any of them because without any action there is one likely outcome – your orchid will die.

Let me know what works for you.

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