Understanding Orchids: Why Losing Roots on Older Bulbs is Normal

Understanding Orchids: Why Losing Roots on Older Bulbs is Normal

Orchids, with their exotic allure and delicate beauty, have long captured the fascination of botanists and enthusiasts alike. However, for those new to orchid cultivation, encountering their peculiar behaviors can be perplexing. One such phenomenon is the natural shedding of roots on older bulbs. While it may raise concerns among growers, understanding the reasons behind this process can alleviate worries and empower orchid enthusiasts to better care for their plants.

The Orchid’s Life Cycle

To comprehend why orchids shed roots on older bulbs, it's crucial to grasp the life cycle of these remarkable plants. Orchids, renowned for their adaptability, often grow in environments where resources are scarce. Consequently, they have evolved unique strategies to survive in such conditions.

Orchids typically grow in two distinct phases: the growth phase and the rest phase. During the growth phase, characterized by active vegetative growth and flowering, the plant channels its energy towards producing new shoots, leaves, and roots. This phase is marked by robust root development, as the orchid seeks to absorb water and nutrients essential for its growth and reproduction.

Conversely, the rest phase, which follows the growth phase, is a period of dormancy or reduced activity. Orchids enter this phase to conserve energy and prepare for the next cycle of growth. It is during this phase that older bulbs may shed roots as part of a natural process of renewal.

Reasons for Root Loss

  1. Resource Allocation: Orchids are resourceful plants, adept at allocating resources efficiently. As older bulbs enter the rest phase, the plant redistributes nutrients from these bulbs to sustain new growth. Root shedding on older bulbs allows the orchid to reclaim valuable resources stored within these structures.

  2. Adaptation to Environment: In their native habitats, orchids often cling to trees or rocks, where roots are exposed to fluctuating environmental conditions. Shedding older roots enables the orchid to adapt to changing circumstances, promoting survival in challenging environments.

  3. Prevention of Disease: Over time, older roots may become susceptible to decay or disease. By shedding these roots, the orchid minimizes the risk of infection spreading to healthy tissues, thereby enhancing its overall health and vigor.

  4. Facilitation of Reproduction: Orchids employ various reproductive strategies, including the production of aerial roots, which play a role in vegetative propagation. Shedding roots on older bulbs creates space for the emergence of new roots, facilitating the orchid's reproductive endeavors.

Cultivation Considerations

For orchid enthusiasts, witnessing root loss on older bulbs can evoke concerns about the plant's well-being. However, it's essential to recognize that this process is a natural occurrence and not necessarily indicative of poor plant health. Nevertheless, certain cultivation practices can support orchids during this phase:

  1. Monitor Moisture Levels: While orchids shed roots, maintaining appropriate moisture levels is crucial to prevent dehydration. Regularly inspect the potting medium and adjust watering frequency accordingly to ensure adequate hydration without waterlogging the roots.

  2. Provide Nutritional Support: During the rest phase, orchids may benefit from a balanced fertilizer regimen tailored to their specific needs. Providing supplementary nutrients can bolster the plant's resilience and support new growth.

  3. Optimize Growing Conditions: Orchids thrive in environments that mimic their natural habitats. Providing optimal light, temperature, and humidity levels can promote healthy growth and aid in the orchid's transition between growth and rest phases.


In the intricate tapestry of nature, orchids stand as remarkable examples of resilience and adaptation. The shedding of roots on older bulbs, far from being a cause for alarm, is a testament to the orchid's ability to thrive in diverse environments. By understanding the reasons behind this phenomenon and implementing appropriate cultivation practices, orchid enthusiasts can nurture their plants to flourish and bloom with vitality, enriching both their homes and hearts with their captivating beauty.

Back to blog