A freshly repotted orchid. I used a mix of bark, charcoal, styrofoam and clay pellets. Note the rhizome is above the potting media. I held the new plant in place with a plant clip until it can root itself.
Photo © Jon VanZile
Repotting your orchids is one of the most important steps you can take for growing and blooming healthy plants. Ideally, you should repot before there's a problem—but don't do it too early! Repotting should be done in spring, just before the plants' growing season begins. And don't repot a blooming plant if you can help it! Done correctly, repotting shouldn't stress your plants, but set them up for a successful growing season and even better blooms. So, as you're repotting, just remember: cleanliness is key, orchids are tougher than you think, and remember to match your media to your moisture.
Time Required: 10-15 minutes
- Assess the Situation. Do I really need to repot? This is a key question. You need to repot if:
If any of these conditions are present, it's time to repot.
- The plant has clearly overgrown the pot, with exposed roots hanging over the edges of the pot.
- The plant has grown too top-heavy for the available pot and it keeps falling over.
- The potting media has disintegrated into mush, which can harbor deadly bacteria and fungus.
- Pick Your Pot. There are many ways to grow an orchid. You can mount them on slabs of wood or tree fern, you can grow them in plastic or clay pots, you can grow them in hanging baskets, and some kinds you can simply hang from a wire in the air. Unless you have a greenhouse or conservatory, it's easiest to grow them in pots. Orchid pots have slitted sides to allow for good drainage. There are plastic net pots available, and I use them for very small orchids. However, in general, I prefer the heavy clay pots, which are heavy enough to stay upright and retain just a tiny bit of moisture.
- Pick Your Potting Mix. Potting media is a controversial subject among orchid growers, and many dedicated growers insist on mixing up their own with ingredients like coconut husk, clay pellets, bark, tree fern, perlite, styrofoam, vermiculite, sphagnum moss and more. Whatever mix you use, these should be your guiding principles:
- Organic mixes decay faster. If you use pine fir bark (commonly available in most commercial mixes), it will decay within a year or so of adequate watering.
- Your mix must match your watering. If you water daily, choose a free draining mix that won't hold water.
- Gently take the plant from its old pot. Remove your plant from its old pot as kindly as possible. Roots will often have adhered to the pot sides, and you might break a root or two. It probably won't kill the plant, but try not to. Once you've got the plant free, inspect the roots carefully. Cut away and dead and blackened roots with sterile snippers and gently, with your finger, remove any rotted potting media.
- Divide the Plant if Necessary. Sympodial orchids, or those that grow from advancing pseudobulbs, can be divided at repotting. Keep at least three pseudobulbs on either side of your cut, and make sure there are healthy roots in both divisions. Cut the stem with sterilized snippers and plant each half individually. Some orchids with very small roots, such as oncidiums, can be teased apart into two individual clumps. Division of phalaenopsis is rarely possible unless the mother plant has produced plantlets on the stem of a flower (called a keikis).
- Prepare the Pot. Drainage is essential. If you don't want to fill up the pot with expensive orchid potting media, you can add broken clay pots or even styrofoam packing peanuts to the bottom of the new pot.
- Position the Plant. Orchids aren't like terrestrial plants: they aren't packed in dirt. To position your orchid, balance it on potting media gently so the top of the plant is level or slightly above the rim of the new pot. Gently fill in around the orchid with more potting media. I frequently rely on orchid clips to hold a newly potted in place until the roots grow enough to anchor it in place. If you don't have an orchid clip, that's OK, but be aware that the plant is not stable in its new home until new roots have grown.
- Water Thoroughly. Your newly potted orchid will need some TLC for a while, until new roots begin to emerge and the plant goes into active growth. I have found that some orchids will fail to bloom the year after they are repotted. This is OK. Orchid growing forces patience, and oftentimes, the plant will be more vigorous than ever once it has become established in its new pot.
What You Need
- Orchid potting media
- Orchid pot
- Sterilized snippers
- Styrofoam peanuts or broken pot shards