Should You Use Cinnamon to Treat Root Rot in Orchids?
While cinnamon does have uses as an anti-fungal agent in preventative care for orchids, can you use it to treat root rot? In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss examines if you should use ground cinnamon for root rot or stick to more conventional methods when it comes to treating this common orchid problem.
There are plenty of gardening “tips” that surface for just about every type of plant. Orchids are no different. One more recent circulating orchid tip is that powdered cinnamon is a proper way to treat orchid roots that have been affected by root rot.
The basis of this idea comes from the fact that cinnamon does indeed have positive uses in orchid care. It’s specifically used in preventing fungal and bacterial infection from entering open tissues and foliage wounds.
It makes sense to assume that if cinnamon is a good tool for preventing fungal infection in orchid foliage, then it would be an effective way to treat fungal root rot. But is cinnamon really a good treatment for root rot? Let’s answer that question and dig a little deeper into the best methods of treating root rot in orchids.
The Short Answer
While cinnamon is a valuable antifungal agent used in various other aspects of orchid care, it is not the best treatment for root rot. Roots affected by rot are very fragile, and cinnamon will cause root death by dehydration. Essentially, treating root rot with cinnamon will expedite root death, and therefore, whole plant death.
The Long Answer
While cinnamon is an effective tool that has valid use in the treatment of the prevention of fungal infection in orchids, it is not the best treatment for root rot. Cinnamon is highly caustic, and rotting orchid roots are terribly vulnerable and delicate. While cinnamon does technically have antifungal and antibacterial properties, it is not a recommended treatment for root rot.
In order to gain a more complete understanding of this treatment and its alternatives, let’s take a look at the cause of root rot. We will also discuss the proper way to treat it to give your orchid the best chance at recovery. Then we can discuss the manner in which cinnamon can be a useful tool in caring for orchids.
What Causes Root Rot?
The main culprit of root rot in orchids is overwatering. This is a common mistake many new orchid owners make. Orchid roots don’t like to stay wet. They reach saturation and then exposure to more water just serves to soften and deteriorate the surface of the roots. Once the roots begin to deteriorate, they become vulnerable to fungus, which thrives in damp environments.
Establishing a routine watering schedule is vital to avoiding root rot. Indoor orchids should be watered about once per week. This will depend on the container they are living in, and the amount of ambient humidity.
Too much water is a death sentence, for indoor orchids specifically. Which brings us to the second factor in preventing root rot, proper potting practices.
Orchids need very good drainage around their roots. You can water them once per week as is recommended. However, if the orchid is living in a pot with little or no drainage, it will still be exposed to too much moisture, and the roots will suffer.
Potting your orchid in a container with ample drainage is very important. So is the type of potting medium that you use. Commercial orchid potting mix is a great place to start. These mixtures of bark, charcoal, and other large particles provide your orchid with the drainage needed to keep roots healthy.
A combination of good watering practices, along with a container and potting medium that drains well will go a very long way in preventing root rot, which is the ideal situation. Once this fungal disease becomes apparent, it is often too late to undo the damage. Prevention really is the best treatment.
We recommend sticking to a standard watering schedule, and don’t mix too many different watering methods. Immersion and top-down watering methods are typically considered best, and you should avoid trends like misting or using ice cubes unless you are a more seasoned orchid gardener.
Sometimes even the best of intentions doesn’t prevent the dreaded root rot. Or perhaps you are reaching this article because you suspect that your orchid already has rotting roots, and you want to know the most effective way to treat it.
Whatever the case, there is a proper method for treating an orchid with root rot. With some extra care and caution going forward, milder cases can be reversed, allowing the plant to establish new, healthy roots, and continued growth.
Step 1: Remove and Inspect
The first step in recovering an orchid with root rot is to identify whether this is the actual problem, and not a pest of some sort. The best way to do this is to remove the orchid from its container and inspect the roots.
Healthy orchid roots are typically green or white in color, and plump. They should also be slightly flexible. Rotten roots, on the other hand, will be dark brown and mushy, and they will tend to break apart very easily when handled.
Once you have established that the issue at hand is root rot, the primary solution is to repot the orchid. As I mentioned above, it is important to pot your orchid in a proper container. There are different types of pots made specifically for orchids.
Step 2: Orchid Pot Selection
Hanging wooden baskets work great for outdoor orchids, but they can be a little messy indoors as the drainage gaps are significant and when you water, some potting mix is sure to fall through.
Specialty ceramic orchid pots are the prettiest option and the most varied in terms of color and design. They will work fine as long as you don’t overwater, but perhaps the best type of orchid pots are terracotta pots made specifically for orchids.
These pots will look like a regular clay pot, except that they have extra drainage on the sides and bottom. Terracotta wicks water away from the roots, and then retains it, so it creates a nice balance of moisture.
Step 3: Potting Medium & Repotting
The potting medium used is also important. You will want to remove as much of the old potting mix from the roots, as possible. Fungus can live in the old potting medium and reinfect the roots.
When repotting, gently shake out the roots, and inspect for damage. Using a clean, sharp tool, remove all damaged root tissue, leaving as much healthy tissue as possible. Set the plant aside for several hours and allow the roots to dry.
Once dry, treat the roots sparingly with a copper-based fungicide or powdered sulfur, and repot using new, clean potting mix. Adjust your watering habits accordingly.
If your orchid was potted properly and still ended up with rotting roots, there’s a good chance it was being watered too often. If potting was the issue, stick to a once per week watering. Make sure to select a pot that drains thoroughly after watering.
Using Cinnamon in Orchid Care
While cinnamon is too caustic and dehydrating for delicate orchid roots, it is a very effective prevention agent for fungal infection in healthy plants. A light dusting of cinnamon is a great healing tool on areas where you have pruned away orchid leaves or spent flower spikes.
The reason that cinnamon is a good addition to your orchid pruning practice is the very same reason it is so damaging to rotting roots. Cinnamon acts as a desiccant when used on plant tissue.
On delicate orchid roots, it will quickly cause dehydration and death, however, when a plant is pruned, it is best for the cut to dry quickly, in order for it to heal over and protect itself from fungus and bacteria entering the open wounds. Cinnamon does precisely this, while also offering the extra benefit of being, itself, an antifungal and antibacterial agent.
Cinnamon has valuable use in routine orchid care and pruning. However, when it comes to fragile roots affected by fungal root rot, cinnamon is simply too aggressive a treatment for most orchids. Rotting roots are fragile and susceptible to disease, but so are dehydrated roots.
It is important to maintain healthy, properly hydrated roots if you want the healthiest possible plant. To this end, copper-based fungicides and powdered sulfur are a better choice for treating root rot, but truly, repotting and altering watering practices is the most important factor in bringing an orchid back from the brink.