A Guide to Repotting Orchids

Sleek and exotic, the orchid is an attractive addition to the indoor plant collection. An array of orchid plants in different colors can add a touch of luxury to a home. Increasingly easy to find, orchid plants are sold in many grocery and gift shops as well as florists and garden centers.

The best-selling orchids are moth orchids, they belong to the genus Phalaenopsis. A popular and reliable houseplant, their flowers can last for months. Unfortunately, despite their growing presence, many people can find learning to care for orchids a daunting process. However, with a little time and patience, they are one of the best low maintenance houseplants available today.

Like other houseplants, no matter how well you care for them, the flowers eventually wilt, the stem dies, and the plant grows too large for its container. When that happens, instead of giving up and investing in another orchid, why not try repotting your orchids?

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

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

When to repot your orchid

There are a number of visible indicators that you should watch out for. As you notice any of them, you will find that it is time to start repotting orchids.

Aerial roots that are starting to spread over the rim of the pot are one of the most easily recognized signs that it’s time to repot the plant. Another easy to spot indicator that the plant is outgrowing its house is foliage that is starting to turn yellow and wither, or puckering. The third easy-to-spot indication that it’s time to start repotting orchids is the plant’s stem getting long and falling or collapsing.

If your plant is planted in coarse bark, the condition of the bark can also be a sign that it’s time to start repotting orchids. The bark should be firm. If it looks like dirt or crumbles to the touch, it’s 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 moist soil. If left untreated, it can cause plant root rot.

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

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

Is the time of year important?

It is best to repot orchids in the spring or fall. This is especially true for orchid growers in warmer climates who can put the plants outside for the summer.

If the specimen has not flowered for a few years, it is best to repot the orchids in the spring. This allows you to nourish the plant throughout the spring and summer months, thus promoting flowering in the fall or winter.

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 into its new position.

If you repot orchids in the fall, wait until the plant has finished flowering before you begin. Never repot your plants when they are in bloom. This can stress the plant, causing buds and flowers to drop.

What you will need

Besides a healthy orchid plant, the most important thing you will need is a new pot. This should be about 1 inch wider than the pot currently containing the plant. Like bromeliad plants, the butterfly orchid is an epiphyte. This means that in nature their roots like to climb branches and structures instead of digging into the ground.

Don’t be tempted to choose a pot that is too large, these plants work best when tied lightly to the pot. In this case, bigger is not always better. The pot you have chosen can be plastic, ceramic or terracotta. It should have at least one drainage hole in the bottom or on the side.

Terracotta pots are not only more attractive, but also heavier, which supports the orchid plant better which tends to be heavy at the top, especially when in bloom. However, the soil in terracotta pots tends to dry out faster than the soil in other pots. This means that plants growing in terracotta containers often require more frequent watering.

To work around this problem, you can transplant your orchid into a plastic pot before placing the plastic pot inside the slightly larger and more attractive terracotta or ceramic pot. ZIRKA’s clear plastic flowerpots are a great choice for orchid growers who want to do this. Large enough to hold a plant but small enough to fit in a larger, more decorative pot, these durable containers have plenty of drainage holes that help keep roots dry and healthy. For more help choosing the best pot for your orchid, this is a great guide.

3 plastic flower pots
Plastic pots might not be the most visually appealing, but they 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 pruning shears.

How to transplant your orchid

If you’re repotting orchids indoors, spread old newspaper over the unit or table you’re working on. Repotting orchids can be a messy job. Alternatively, if you have a lot of potted plants, why not invest in a potting bench? These functional workbenches greatly facilitate the repotting and cultivation of plants.

Start by removing the plant from its current pot. To do this, hold the plant firmly with one hand, and with the other, tip the pot onto its side. In most cases, the plant simply slides out straight. If it is tied to the roots, you may need to gently remove the plant from the pot.

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

When removing the old potting soil, inspect the roots for any 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 cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol or soapy water. Insecticidal soap can also be applied gently.

The orchid potting medium used can be added to the compost bin.

Take your sterilized scissors and cut off any dead or dry leaves. You can also cut off shriveled, dry, or dead roots as well as those that appear damaged. Let the fleshy, smooth and healthy roots stay put. When cutting the roots of the plant, cut as close as possible to the point where the root emerges from the plant. Don’t worry about stressing the plant by being too aggressive when handling and cutting the roots, these are surprisingly resilient plants.

When the plant is ready to be repotted, place a few inches of fresh potting soil at the bottom of the new pot. Don’t add too much potting mix. Overfilling the pot removes space that could be taken up by the roots.

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

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

When you are done repotting the 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. Let the plant sit in the water for 45 to 60 minutes before draining the water and returning the plant to its usual position.

Finally, if you haven’t already. Clean any dust or debris from the leaves with a damp cloth or paper towel. It helps shiny green leaves look their best. It also promotes photosynthesis.

Do not fertilize immediately. Wait 2-3 months after repotting orchids before fertilizing. Applying the fertilizer too soon after repotting orchids can burn new developing roots.

4 Repotting orchids is easy
Once you know how, repotting orchids is a straightforward process, allowing you to dramatically 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 look of the orchid. Mastering the art of repotting orchids may seem difficult, but it’s a key part of learning how to properly care for these beautiful houseplants. And, as we’ve seen, it’s also surprisingly simple.

Repotting orchids 1 Repotting orchids 2

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