Why Repot My Orchid?
There is no mistaking an Orchid from any other plant because of their eye-catching flowers and unique growth patterns. Orchids are epiphytic plants, meaning they live on other plants. They have thick, aerial roots that wrap around the branches of their host trees in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and Australia.
An Orchid’s roots absorb moisture through frequent rainfall and high levels of humidity. Incredibly, their roots have also evolved to absorb nutrients from the trees they live on, including animal droppings and decaying plant matter. Although the roots of an Orchid are free to grow how they please in their natural environments, they can’t be as wild in our homes.
Repotting Orchids into pottery and soil mediums that will allow them to grow healthily is one of the best things we can do for the plant. Follow our step by step guide to help you along your Orchid repotting journey.
When to Repot an Orchid
Generally, Orchids should be re-potted once every 1-1 ½ years and is best done after the flowers have expired to prevent premature flower drop. The exception to this rule is if you have just purchased or received an Orchid that is root bound in a very small pot. Root bound means the roots have grown tightly together due to a lack of room to spread out into.
Orchids are often sold root bound in small, plastic pots with no room to spread out. If kept in these pots, the roots will eventually suffocate from a lack of oxygen. This is why it is so important to re-pot your Orchid as soon as you get it. Repotting your Orchid soon after you get it also allows you to see the health of the roots and give you an idea of how to care for your plant going forward.
It is common for an established Orchid’s roots to grow over the top of their pots. This is a sign that the roots have run out of room in the pot and are looking for something to climb onto as they do in nature. Although this isn’t necessarily unhealthy for the plant, you run the risk of the plant becoming top heavy and toppling over or the plant’s roots pushing the top of the plant all the way out of the pot. When this happens, it is time to repot into a larger pot.
Tools You Will Need
Steps to Repotting Your Orchid
Step 1: Put your gloves on to prevent cuts from the bark or sphagnum moss and to prevent pesticides from getting on your hands.
Step 2: Remove the plastic pot the orchid was sold in. You may need to cut the pot if it does not easily release from the roots.
Step 3: Gently loosen the root ball and remove any soil medium attached to the roots. Orchids are often grown and sold in sphagnum moss.
Step 4: Cut away any dead or rotten roots with sharp pruners. Roots should be firm to the touch and can vary in colors from gray to green.
Step 5: Place the orchid all the way to the bottom of the new pot, gently tucking the roots in.
Step 6: Pour an Orchid specific soil medium over the roots and gently work the soil into the spaces around the roots.
Step 7: Gently place a support stake in the pot and clip or tie the flowering stem to it to prevent it from falling down. These stems are especially top heavy with a full set of flowers.
Step 8: Mix a water soluble Orchid fertilizer into a water bath in your sink.
Step 9: Soak the potted Orchid in the water bath with fertilizer for 45 min. Repeat every other week.
Step 10: Place the Orchid in an area that gets very bright, indirect sunlight for at least 6-8 hours a day.
Since an Orchid’s roots like more air and less moisture than other house plants, the pot you choose should have a lot of drainage holes at the bottom to not only drain any excess moisture, but to provide more aeration.
There are some pots that have been designed specifically for Orchids with more holes around the sides for aeration and to allow their roots to expand out in the pot.
The size of the pot you choose should be able to fit the Orchid’s entire root system with extra room for the roots to fill out into.
Here are some examples of different pot types
Orchid Potting Soil
Orchids should not be kept in the sphagnum moss they are often sold in or in all-purpose potting soil you place your other houseplants in because the dense nature of these soils can suffocate their roots in too much moisture, eventually causing root rot. The roots of Orchids are coated in a substance called velamen which allows the roots to take up moisture, but does not allow the roots to release moisture. Therefore, highly coarse potting mediums that contain a mixture of sphagnum moss and pine bark are highly recommended.
These materials allow the Orchid’s roots to easily spread out and breathe while retaining little moisture. This is the closest we can get to their natural environment in our homes. Orchids can be potted directly into either of these materials alone, but there are some Orchid specific mediums on the market such as:
Orchid soil mediums do not provide the plants any nutrients, they simply hold onto moisture for the roots, so it is important to fertilize regularly with orchid specific fertilizer.
Fertilizing Your Orchid
Orchid specific fertilizers have the same nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) as other plant fertilizers. The only difference is the ratio of these nutrients. A balanced fertilizer containing all three nutrients will provide enough nutrients to keep Orchids growing strong all year. However, growth can be manipulated by fertilizing with different ratios of nutrients.
Since nitrogen helps plants grow quickly, some will fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer early in the year followed by a high phosphorus or “bloom booster” fertilizer later in the year. The potassium in fertilizers helps plants fight off disease and grow healthy roots.
Because of the nature of Orchid pots and the need to soak their roots, we have found that water soluble fertilizers work best because they can be added right to the water bath or watering can.
Here are some water soluble, Orchid specific fertilizers: