Still No Roots On Keiki? (Tips To Stimulate Them)

orchid keiki with no roots

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Finally you have a baby orchid, or a “keiki”, appearing with a few leaves on a spike. But the initial excitement often turns into anxiety after waiting for months and still not a sign of roots. 

Is this normal? How long does a keiki take to grow roots?

A keiki can take at least 8 months or even over 1 year to grow roots.  It first focuses on growing several leaves, which can be as big as a few inches before roots appear.  It sends out roots only when the parent is in its active growth phase.

This article will show what you can do to stimulate a keiki to produce roots faster when it is safe to separate from the parent and how to do so.

1. Is it normal that my keiki have no roots?

Keiki will grow roots but at an extremely slow speed, when it is ready. 

When a keiki first appears on your stem, it would first focus on sprouting a few leaves, three or four.  Even when the leaves have grown as big as 4 inches long, there can still be no sign of roots and this is absolutely normal.  This is because keikis like to have well-developed foliage before sending out roots. 

Sometimes, it can even produce a flower spike and bloom before any roots appear.

But, it will grow roots. Patience is key.

2. How long does it take for a keiki to grow roots?

It is perfectly normal for a Phalaenopsis keiki to take at least 8 months or even 1 year to start growing roots. 

It would send out its roots only when the mother is actively growing in spring and summer, rather than during its dormant phase in winter.  To know whether a parent is in its growth phase, check to see if there are any new active root tips.

growing progression of keiki from first appearance to growing roots
The 11-month progression of a keiki from start to growing roots (click on image to enlarge)

3. How to stimulate a keiki on stem to grow roots?

Many people have tried many things to trigger a keiki to grow roots faster.  This includes increasing the humidity level through misting or humidity trays, increasing the light level, creating a temperature drop at night, or even stopping to water the parent to force the keiki to send out roots.  But, none of these have worked, except the following: 

  • Moisture: Wrap some moist sphagnum moss or a moist cotton ball loosely around the base of the keiki using a rubber band.  Give it a drop of water when the moss or cotton ball is dry.  Be careful to not overdo it to prevent rotting.  In its natural habitat, a keiki lays against a branch or similar and then grow roots.
  • Add a little bit (a drop) of rooting hormone (namely “auxins”), in the form of kelp or seaweed extract, to the moss or cotton ball to trigger root growth. Do not use keiki paste (see the next section for explanation).
  • Once the blooms start to fade, remove them from the spike and cut back 1 inch above where the keiki is.  This is to redirect the energy of the parent away from blooming to its baby keiki.  It is believed that roots will start growing after blooming is over.
  • Finally, stop checking your keiki everyday.  It will put out roots when it is ready.

You can also read this article to learn more about stimulating root growth on orchids.

4. Can I use keiki paste to stimulate root growth?

You cannot use keiki paste to stimulate root growth. The major ingredient of keiki paste is cytokinin hormone which is intended to induce shoot growth (keiki) or dormant buds and suppress root growth.

Kelp or seaweed extract, which contains the plant hormone auxins, can induce root growth.

Click this article to read more about the differences between keiki paste and kelp extract.

5. When can I remove a keiki from the orchid stem?

After the first sign of roots, it can take a few more months for a keiki to develop roots long enough to be separated from the parent. 

From the first appearance of a keiki to being ready to separate from the parent, it can take between 1 and 1.5 years.

A keiki is considered ready to be removed from its parent when it has produced a total of at least 3 inches of roots, i.e. either one root of 3 inches or 3 roots of 1 inch each, etc.  Also, it should have at least 2 or 3 leaves.

6. How to separate a keiki from its parent (CARE)?

When a keiki is ready to be potted up, follow the steps below:

1. Cut the spike off with 1 inch of distance above and below the keiki, using a pair of sterilized cutters.  The best way to sterilize cutters is to wipe them down using 70% alcohol and pass the blades over flame.  *Do not just twist the keiki off using your fingers to prevent it from breaking.*

2.  After separating it from the parent, sprinkle some cinnamon over the cut to prevent infection.

3.  Submerge the roots of the keiki in a bath of water for 10 minutes to soften them. 

4.  Place it inside a small, clear pot with drainage holes.  A keiki should fit snuggly in a 3-inch pot.  Do not use a bigger pot as it would take too long for the medium to dry in the center, thus increasing the risk of root rot.

5. Fill the pot with fresh bark mix and care for it as a separate orchid. 

There you have it – a new orchid!

A mature keiki separated from parent and potted up
A keiki potted up after 1.5 years on the spike

7. Will a rootless keiki die after separated from its parent?

Since it takes so long for a keiki to grow roots, a keiki is often found separated from its parent before it manages to send out any roots. 

One of the reasons could be that the parent suffers a major health problem (such as stem rot, crown rot, root rot) and the parent dies before the keiki is fully developed.  Or, simply, a keiki got removed by accident or impatience.

If a keiki has no roots but is at least a few months old and has a few leaves, it is possible that it could survive and produce roots under intensive care.  More about this in the next section.

8. What to do with a rootless keiki on a dying parent?

Once a parent orchid falls sick, no matter how sick that is, its keiki should be removed from the spike. 

If the parent is sick while having a keiki baby but still have a chance to recuperate because of some healthy leaves, removing the keiki would help the parent to redirect its energy into recovery.  Both the parent and the baby could be saved separately.  If not, both the parent and the baby will die.

If the parent is very sick with no roots and leaves with absolutely no hope of getting cured, removing the keiki from the parent is obviously needed and only the rootless keiki can be saved in this situation. 

The type of care needed for a rootless keiki and a rootless orchid parent is the same. 

Place the rootless keiki or parent sitting on a bed of moist sphagnum moss to provide moisture around the base of the orchid.  Monitor closely the moisture level of the moss so that it is constantly moist (not overly damp). 

The “sphag and bag” method may also work by putting the rootless keiki inside a plastic bag with some moist moss. 

Either way, it can take at least a month to see any results. 

Here is an article to learn more about the different intensive care setups for rootless orchids.

Conclusion

It takes literally ages for a keiki to grow roots and it will only do so after developing enough leaves.  It can safely separate from the parent only when it has developed 3 inches of roots and a couple of leaves.  You can make it grow faster by wrapping some moist moss with root hormone around the base of the keiki.  But other than that, patience is the best policy.

Happy growing!

Related

Keiki Paste vs Rooting Hormone: What’s the difference?

How to Promote Orchid Root Growth? (Easier than you think)

Kelp/Seaweed Extract: Magical Rooting Stimulant for Orchids

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