Project#1: Why, when and how to repot your orchids

Repotting your orchids in organic medium

Repotting your orchids can be a simple task for most people. However, there are certain aspects that need special attention. Ensuring that these things are done right will help your orchid adjust that much faster to its new grow environment and help the roots of the orchids function optimally.

The cattleya seedlings that I ordered online arrived in the nick of time and needed repotting. So I have documented the same for better understanding of the nuances of repotting orchids.

Why should you repot your orchid

Repot to grow orchids in a better medium

There are several reasons that could lead to a decision to repot your orchid in fresh medium that is more suited to your environment:

  1. Orchid hobbyists do not trust the medium that their newly purchased orchid is growing in.
  2. Following best practice of repotting your newly purchased orchid once the blooming is done will provide the opportunity to inspect the root system, tidy and disinfect it, and repot it.
  3. You need to check for signs of pest (read snails, slugs, mealy bugs, roaches, fungus knats and the like) or bacterial and fungal infection affecting the roots, and treat the same before repotting it in fresh medium. Read my post How to save your orchids from pests and diseases to learn more.
  4. If you observe signs of dehydration such as dull, limp and leathery leaves (especially the newest leaves), then you need to unpot your orchid, find out the reason for the same and take prompt remedial action, before repotting the same in fresh medium.
  5.  Organic medium such as bark decomposes and sphagnum moss gets compacted, over time. So they require repotting every 2-3 years.
  6. Your orchids grow every year and produce fresh roots that fill the pot and start growing out of holes or slits in the pots. This is an indicator that the pots need to be replaced with bigger ones.

When to repot your orchid

Once you have identified the orchids that need to be repotted, there are two options that need to be considered. Check if the orchid requires immediate repotting (due to pest or fungal infections or any other reason that spells urgency), But this is often ridden with risks as the orchid may take longer to get adjusted to the new medium.

So you need to carry out a risk analysis and may have to consider a tradeoff to save the orchid.

Repot when your orchid has new growths

In case you can put it off for a few months, then wait till the orchid develops new growths. These new growths will very soon produce new roots to support it. You need to repot your orchid before these roots begin to develop, since these new roots are extremely vulnerable to mechanical damage or could even break off while repotting. This would definitely be a setback to the plant, affecting its growth and bloom cycle.

What kind of medium and pot should you use

Organic medium is a good choice

Now that your decision is made, it is also important to decide on what pot size and medium will best suit your orchids. You can accordingly select either organic medium such as a bark mix or use inorganic media like LECA hydroton for repotting the orchids.

I generally use organic mixes, but also grow orchids with thick roots such as phalaenopsis and cattleya in LECA.

I source my orchid pine bark from Amazon due to its superior quality. You can check out the price here.

The pot also needs to be selected accordingly, based on the potting medium. For organic medium, it is best to use a pot that is one size bigger than its current size (choose a bigger size pot if your orchid is a vigorous grower). This is important as the orchid will not be repotted for another two or three years unless there is an emergency situation that requires immediate repotting.

For more details on pot size and choosing the right organic potting media, read my post, Everything you wanted to know about organic media for growing your orchids, which discusses the topic at length.

Since my environmental conditions are warm, the moisture from pots evaporates very fast, I prefer using regular pots for potting my orchids.If required, I burn some small holes to provide aeration. This provides me with better control to provide the right growth conditions to my orchids.

But if you are not gung-ho on DIY, then you can use pots with holes for your orchids. The transparent, holed pots that are available on Amazon will provide a good balance of air and moisture to your orchids.You can check them out here.

How should you repot your orchid

  1. Preparation

At the outset, you need to understand that repotting is not something you can carry out on-the-spot, in-a-jiffy, hurried manner. It needs to be planned and requires a little bit of preparation. This is why orchid hobbyists schedule their repotting so that it gets their full attention and time.

First and foremost, clean up the potting area by wiping it clean with 10% bleach solution. This will disinfect the work area.

Next, you need to sterilize your tools such as a cutter/pruner by wiping them with rubbing alcohol and flaming them if possible (Alcohol is inflammable, so take utmost precaution while handling it). Lay out the sterilized tools and materials like stakes, wire-ties and clips for securing the plant on the disinfected surface.

Use a container to collect the old potting medium and dispose it off. Take the required amount of fresh potting mix in a separate container and keep it handy.

2. Unpotting your orchid and cleaning up the root system

Before you begin unpotting, soak the orchid roots for a few minutes in a bowl of water. This will ensure minimal damage when you pry the roots away from the pot surface and medium. Remove the old medium completely, without disturbing the root system.

If there are a few pieces of bark/coconut chips stuck to the roots, then let them be, as pulling them off could damage the velamen (the thick coating covering orchid roots) and root, especially if the orchid has only a few good roots.

Cut off darkened, mushy roots

Clean the root system under a tap and place the orchid on the work area. Inspect the roots and cut off any mushy blackened roots. Leave the firm, pale yellow and green roots intact. Spray 3% hydrogen peroxide on the roots and allow it to sit for ten minutes. This will eliminate snails and their eggs. It will also kill bacteria and fungi and reduce chances of root rot significantly. You need not rinse the orchid again with water.

3. Repotting your orchid

Now that the orchid is ready for potting, take a suitable pot that is washed and ready for use. If you are using organic potting mix such as bark, sphagnum moss and perlite, then place a little sphagnum moss at the bottom. Layer with bark and sphagnum moss. You can add a little perlite to the mixture to ensure there is a good balance of moisture-retentive and well-aerated environment in the pot.

To pot up my cattleya seedlings, I decided to try out an inorganic moisture-retentive medium for the first time and mixed synthic, an organic material, in place of sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is becoming a scarce natural resource and so it is best that we switch over to man-made alternatives that are more affordable and readily available.

Potting in inorganic medium

I used LECA to pot two of the cattleya seedlings. I source  mine from  Amazon. Usually, I source the light and porous ones like the one here. But this time, I used the solid, heavy clay balls to find out their suitability for growing orchids. I will inform about my findings in a subsequent post.

When you repot the orchid in the pot, ensure that you plant it to one side and the direction of the newest growth is towards the centre of the pot. In the case of bidirectional growth, ensure that the orchid is positioned in the centre of the pot. Doing this will ensure the orchid rhizome does not extend outside the pot in a year’s time.

Orchid with bidirectional growth potted in the centre

Lastly, stake up your orchids to hold them firmly in the pot. This will prevent old root tips from getting damaged and will also help the plant feel more secure and put out new roots at the earliest. Label your orchids for easy identification. Water your orchids, so that the roots don’t get dehydrated.

All potted up and watered

With the repotting done, you need to now focus on watering and fertilizing the orchids right to ensure new roots start growing at the earliest.

Happy growing!


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