A Guide to Repotting Orchids

Elegant and exotic, the orchid is an attractive addition to the houseplant collection. A range of different colored orchid plants can add a luxurious feel to a home. Increasingly easy to find, orchid plants are sold in numerous grocery stores and gift shops as well as flower stores and garden centers.

Most commonly sold orchid plants are moth orchids, these belong to the Phalaenopsis genus. A popular and reliable houseplant, their flowers can last for months. Sadly, despite their increasing presence, many people can find learning how to care for orchids an intimidating process. However, with a little time and patience they are one of the best low maintenance houseplants currently available.

Like other houseplants, regardless of how well you care for it, eventually the flowers fade, the stalk dies and the plant grows too large for its container. When this happens, instead of giving up and investing in another orchid, why not try repotting your orchids?

Repotting orchids may sound difficult but it is actually a straightforward process. This guide is designed to take you step by step through the process, explaining everything that you need to know.

1 The colorful moth orchid
Colorful and exotic, the moth orchid is an increasingly common houseplant.

When to Repot Your Orchid

There are a number of visible indicators that you need to look out for. Noticing any of these will tell you that it is time to start repotting orchids.

Aerial roots starting to spread over the lip of the pot is one of the most easily identifiable signs that it is time to repot the plant. The foliage starting to yellow and die back, or pucker is another easy to spot indicator that the plant is outgrowing its home. The third easy to spot indication that it is time to start repotting orchids is the stem of the plant becoming leggy and falling or flopping down.

If your plant is planted in coarse bark the condition of the bark may also be a sign that it is time to start repotting orchids. The bark should feel firm. If it is soil-like or crumbles when touched it is probably time to repot the plant. Crumbly soil can negatively impact the drainage process, blocking drainage holes and causing plants to sit in water or wet soil. If left untreated this can cause plants to develop root rot.

Whether you notice any of these signs or not, after 3 to 4 years of steady growth you should repot your orchid. Transferring the plant into a fresh orchid potting mix stimulates growth and flower production, helping to rejuvenate aging plants.

2 Root condition tells you when to repot
The condition of the roots will tell you when to start repotting orchids. 

Does the Time of Year Matter?

Repotting orchids is best done in either the spring or fall. This is particularly true for orchid growers in warmer climates who can put the plants outside for the summer.

If the specimen hasn’t flowered for a few years, repotting orchids is best done in the spring. This enables you to feed the plant throughout the spring and summer months, encouraging a fall or winter flower display.

Repotting orchids is also possible during the summer months. But you will need to water the specimen more frequently after transplanting to help it settle in its new position..

If you are repotting orchids in the fall, wait for the plant to finish flowering before you begin. Never repot your plants when they are in flower. Doing so can stress the plant, causing buds and flowers to drop.

What you Will Need

In addition to a healthy orchid plant, the most important thing that you will need is a new pot. This should be roughly 1 inch wider than the pot currently holding the plant. Like bromeliad plants, the moth orchid is an epiphyte. This means that in the wild their roots like to climb branches and structures as opposed to digging into the ground.

Don’t be tempted to select an overly large pot, these plants perform best when slightly pot bound. In this case bigger isn’t always better. Your chosen pot can be plastic, ceramic or terra cotta. It should have at least one drainage hole in the bottom or the side.

Terra cotta pots are not only more attractive but are also heavier, this better supports the orchid plant which tends to be top heavy, particularly when in flower. However, the soil in terra cotta pots tends to dry out more quickly than soil in other pots. This means that plants growing in terra cotta containers often require more frequent watering.

To get around this, you can transplant your orchid into a plastic pot before placing the plastic pot inside the slightly large, more attractive terra cotta or ceramic pot. ZIRKA’s Clear Plastic Plant Pots are a great choice for orchid growers wishing to do this. Large enough to hold a plant but small enough to fit inside a larger, more decorative pot, these durable containers have lots of drainage holes which help to keep roots dry and healthy. For more help choosing the best pot for your orchid, this is a great guide.

3 Plastic plant pots
Plastic pots may not be the most visually attractive but they do make a great home for your plant. Many growers, when repotting orchids, like to plant in a plastic container before placing the plastic pot in a more attractive container. 

You will also need an orchid potting mix such as Miracle-Gro Orchid Potting Mix.

Finally, you will need a pair of clean, sharp garden scissors or pruners.

How to Transplant your Orchid

If you are repotting orchids indoors spread some old newspaper over the unit or table you are working on. Repotting orchids can be a messy job. Alternatively, if you have a lot of pot plants, why not invest in a potting bench? These functional workbenches make potting and growing plants a lot easier.

Begin by removing the plant from its current pot. To do this firmly hold the plant in one hand and, with your other hand, tip the pot onto its side. In most cases the plant simply slides straight out. If it is root bound you may need to gently pull the plant from the pot.

Use your hands to comb the roots, removing any old potting medium that remains. Don’t worry about damaging the roots, they tolerate quite a bit of rough handling with little stress. If any bark or potting medium is stuck in the root system, wash it out with some water by holding the roots under a tap.

As you remove the old potting medium, inspect the roots for signs of disease or infestation. Aphids, mealybugs and spider mites can all target these plants. Infestations can be removed by rubbing the plant with a cotton swab or tissues dipped in rubbing alcohol or soapy water. An insecticidal soap can also be gently applied.

Used orchid potting medium can be added to the compost bin.

Take your sterilized scissors and cut away any dead or dry leaves. You can also cut away any shrivelled, dry or dead roots as well as any that appear damaged. Allow the plump, smooth and healthy roots to remain in place. When cutting roots from the plant, cut as close to the point where the root emerges from the plant as possible. Don’t worry about stressing the plant by being overly aggressive as you handle and trim the roots, they are surprisingly resilient plants.

When the plant is ready to repot, place a few inches of fresh potting mix in the bottom of the new pot. Don’t add too much potting mixture. Overfilling the pot takes away room that could be occupied by the roots.

Gently spread the roots out as you place the plant in the center of the pot. The lowest leaf should sit just above the lip of the pot. You may need to add or remove orchid potting mix before you get the level right.

When you are happy with the position of the plant add more potting mix to the pot. As you fill the pot don’t be afraid to push the potting mix in between the roots. When fully planted, there should be no air pockets left. As you fill the pot try tapping it on the table a few times. I find that this helps the potting mix to properly settle in the pot. Fill the pot to about half an inch below the top of the pot.

Once you have finished repotting orchids, water the plants well. The easiest way to do this is to place the pot in a sink or bucket filled with room temperature water. The water level should stop just below the rim of the pot. Allow the plant to sit in the water for 45 to 60 minutes before draining the water away and returning the plant to its usual position.

Finally, if you haven’t done it already. clean any dust or debris from the leaves with a cloth or damp paper towel. This helps the glossy green leaves to look their best. It also promotes photosynthesis.

Don’t fertilize immediately. Wait until 2 to 3 months have passed after repotting orchids before fertilizing. Applying the fertilizer too soon after repotting orchids can burn developing, new roots.

4 Repotting orchids is straightforward
Once you know how, repotting orchids is a straightforward process, allowing you to significantly extend the lifespan and improve the health of your exotic plants. 

Once the domain of specialist growers with temperature controlled greenhouses, today anyone can enjoy the exotic appearance of the orchid plant. Mastering the art of repotting orchids may seem difficult but it is a key part of learning how to care correctly for these beautiful indoor plants. And, as we have seen, it is also surprisingly straightforward.

Repotting Orchids 1 Repotting Orchids 2

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