Having an indoor garden requires work and is a lot to learn. It is almost as if you are taking care of another living, breathing pet or child. While learning about your plants and discovering the best care methods, you notice your plant starts growing these strange roots above the soil. What are they, and should you cut them? Your plant is most likely growing aerial roots. Aerial roots are roots that grow above the ground or soil. Aerial roots can look strange, but they are not necessarily bad, and some plants need these above-ground roots to retrieve nutrients or for structural support.
Let’s talk about aerial roots more in-depth and learn more about how they benefit or hurt indoor plants.
What Are Aerial Roots?
Aerial roots are precise, as the name states. These are roots that grow above the surface of a plant’s soil. These are common among houseplants of the vining, hanging, trailing, and climbing varieties.
Philodendrons, monstera, pathos, orchids, and some succulents are just a few types of plants that can grow aerial roots.
Why Do Plants Grow Aerial Roots?
Normal roots grow beneath the soil, getting nutrients from the soil and water provided to them.
Aerial roots, however, extend above the surface, receiving nutrients from the air and rainfall around them. Since we are discussing indoor plants, though indoor air nutrients are not as common. Luckily, that is not the only reason some plants form aerial roots.
These roots grow to retrieve nutrients but, they are typical for indoor plants because they provide stability and allow the plants to stretch out more.
In a plant’s natural habitat, it will grow aerial roots to climb larger trees or structures to allow it to reach sunlight. These roots are also good for collecting water or supporting overgrown plants. Indoors, some plants will grow these roots up the sides of bookshelves, walls, or trellises. Sprouting these types of roots and climbing other surfaces allows the plant to overtake an area. If it starts outgrowing its pot or is trying to get closer to natural light. This can be good or bad, depending on your preferences.
What To Do with Aerial Roots
Deciding what to do with aerial roots growing from your plant will depend on the look you’re trying to achieve and how the roots benefit your plant.
Tips To Deal with Aerial Roots:
- If the aerial roots growing from your plant are near the soil, you can force their direction down into the soil. The plant will continue to reap the benefits of the it by absorbing more nutrients. The roots will continue growing downward rather than unsightly upwards. This may only be a short-term fix if your plant is determined to continue sprouting more aerial roots.
- Determine if you have an epiphyte plant. Orchids, for example, are epiphytes. Epiphytes in their natural habitats grow from other trees, plants, rocks, or even suspended in the air. While these roots may be unsightly for you, epiphytes such as Orchids require these essential roots. Orchids and other epiphytes do not have dense, long roots to absorb significant nutrients from the soil itself, making it detrimental for these plant types that you allow them to grow.
- If you find these roots unsightly and your indoor plant is not an epiphyte, feel free to cut them off. You will not harm a plant that does not require these roots for survival, just like sometimes we need to cut back or propagate plants roots from the soil. Same concept here; you will not hurt the plant because you are not removing all the needed roots. Sterilize your pruning shears with peroxide or rubbing alcohol to prevent any bacteria transfer and start clipping away.
- Maybe, you do not mind the aerial roots, or your plant is an epiphyte, but the these plants are getting way too long and unruly. In this case, it is ok to simply trim the roots up a bit. Leave a little length, especially for the epiphytes, to continue reaping the benefits but do not hesitate to trim unruly these roots up if needed.
- Find a separate pot for aerial roots is another option. This idea would require excessively long roots, yet some gardeners like adding a pot next to their plants, filling the extra pot with water, and simply adding the them to the separate pot.
Can I Propagate Aerial Roots?
Yes and No.
You cannot take a plant’s aerial roots alone and transplant them into another pot with water, soil. Expect it to grow an entirely different plant because that will not happen. Roots do not contain plant cells needed to produce a new plant. Roots are just roots; they gather nutrients and deliver them to the plant and plant cells.
If you want to propagate a plant with these roots, you can take a plant section at the stem or node that includes an aerial root. The plant node is essential to replicating plant cells to encourage new plant growth, but by having the attached aerial root, you will already have the benefit of a root to help absorb nutrients quicker for cell division and new plant growth.
How To Keep Aerial Roots from Growing Up Unwanted Surface?
Pathos and philodendrons are two common houseplants that can grow insane aerial roots. While growing roots is not bad, they have been known to attach themselves to walls, molding, and even some people have discovered them growing in televisions.
Being aware of the possibilities of where these roots could grow will help you strategically place your plant. Growing up a wall or into baseboards is not harmful but can be a pain when the area of the paint or surface becomes damaged. Growing into a television, though, can become costly quickly.
Sometimes the wall is an unavoidable place to risk, especially near a window, because your plant needs light to survive. However, plant enthusiasts recommend hanging baskets when possible; plants can grow over and hang with they want to stretch out rather than crawling up objects or surfaces.
Aerial roots provide benefits to plants in their natural habitats and indoors when attempting to replicate these habitats.
Most of the time, cutting these roots is your preference unless dealing with epiphytes, then you want to cut them cautiously because they could be necessary for plant growth.
Watching a plant grow, climb, and spread out is pretty neat to experience, so do not be too quick to cut these roots. Instead, try to enjoy nature.
No, some plants will never grow aerial roots. That does not mean you are doing anything wrong, but more than likely, your plant doesn’t feel it needs the aerial roots.
Pathos, succulents, philodendrons, orchids, monstera, rubber trees, spider plants, windowleafs are just to name a few common ones that will produce aerial roots.
Aerial roots do not contain plant cells needed to reproduce and grow new plants. Aerial roots are simply roots; they are only there to support the plant and soak in nutrients. If you want to propagate a plant, you must use a section of the plant. You can use an area with an aerial root attached, but you need actual plant cells to replicate and produce new growth.
Epiphytes in their natural habitats are often found growing from rocks, trees, or suspended in the air. Epiphytes absorb most of their nutrients from the air and surroundings. Epiphytes like orchids do not have prominent roots in the soil, so these aerial roots may be necessary to provide your plant with what it needs to survive. You can try turning the aerial roots inwards towards the soil if possible but try not to cut them if at all possible.
When deciding whether or not to cut aerial roots, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
- Is your plant an epiphyte?
If your plant is an epiphyte, it is best not to cut aerial roots. If you must cut them, leave as many as possible and only trim them back a tiny amount whenever possible.
- Are the roots overtaking your plant?
If the roots are overtaking your plant and it is not an epiphyte, then yes, go ahead and cut the aerial roots off. If the roots are not overtaking the plant, consider letting them grow or only trim them back a bit.
- Are the roots unsightly for you?
If the plant is not an epiphyte and you simply hate the appearance of aerial roots, you can cut them off. It will not harm the plant.
- Are the roots harming your home or other plants?
If the aerial roots are tearing up your walls or growing into other plants, you can definitely cut them off.