Is Your Orchid’s Pot Killing Your Orchid?

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dark orchid pot

What if you are doing everything right to care for your orchid and it still isn’t thriving, the pot may be the culprit. 

Healthy roots are the foundation for healthy orchids. The best way to care for your orchid’s roots is to avoid pots that damage and kill the roots. Stay away from these kinds of orchid pots:

  1. Dark Colored Pots
  2. Orchid Pots Without Drainage
  3. Pots that have Absorbed Salts
  4. The Wrong Sized Pot – Too Big or Too Small

Find out why these pots can be so damaging to your orchid’s roots, and why you should stay away from them.


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A Dark Colored Orchid Pot

Orchids need light, which is why we set them close to windows. This is a good thing unless the dark color of the pot absorbs too much heat from the sun. I learned this lesson the hard way.

I have two mini cattleya orchids that I re-potted. One was re-potted into a dark cobalt blue pot and the other into a shiny black orchid pot. I re-potted the orchids in pots with lots of holes on the side for plenty of drainage. It wasn’t long before the roots came snaking out the holes. I was delighted by the bright, green healthy tips of the roots.

One day I noticed how warm the pot was. The morning sun streamed in through the window and was baking my orchids. I looked closer at the orchids and noticed that their root tips were black instead of green. Rather than re-potting the orchids, I moved them under fluorescent grow-lights. (I high-jacked lights which I had given to my husband so he could get a jump start on planting seedlings for his vegetable garden.)

My experience with my cattleyas got me thinking about my other orchids. I set my orchids with high light requirements, like my dendrobium, in light-colored pots. Paphiopedilum and phalaenopsis have lower light requirements and do best a few feet away from windows. Those lower light orchids are doing great in dark-colored pots.

burned orchid roots

The dark-colored pot absorbed the heat of the sun streaming through the window and burned this orchid’s roots.

Same Pot – New Location

Sometimes even if you’re using the right orchid pot, you may need to adjust the location-in this case grow-lights was the answer. My cattleya orchids have been under the grow-lights for several months and the roots are doing fine, putting out new growth, and, I hope, getting ready to bloom. Cattleya orchids require lots of light, so moving the orchid to a lower light location was not an option.

Cattleya orchid roots are doing fine under grow lights.png

This is the same orchid, now under grow-lights. The roots are much healthier away from the heat of the sun’s rays.

An Orchid Pot Without Drainage

Another common problem that leads to orchid problems are pots without drainage holes. This happens most commonly when buying pre-made orchid displays. In this situation, several orchids are placed in the same pot–one without drainage holes.  I have purchased orchids like this. The orchids were planted in a basket lined in plastic.

To solve the drainage problem I busted the bottom of the basket. I don’t mind telling you that it took a little muscle to get it out. Then, with a knife, I sliced several holes in the plastic lining to allow excess water to drain out. I set the display on a plate to protect my furniture surface. The orchid has been in bloom for a LONG TIME, but once it finishes blooming I will re-pot them in their own separate pots, complete with plenty of drainage holes.

Orchid pot without drainage

Buyer Beware: this orchid arrangement had no drainage.

Discard or Leach Pots That Have Absorbed High Salts

It is easy to tell if your orchid’s pot has absorbed too many fertilizer salts. The orchid’s root tips that touch the pot will turn black or brown.  While fertilizer, in small, diluted quantities, will help you to grow strong, vigorous orchids, the salts, the carrier for the fertilizer nutrients, can kill an orchid. Unglazed ceramic pots or terracotta pots are particularly prone to absorbing salts. 

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use fertilizer or that you should avoid unglazed ceramic orchid pots, it just means that you need to take precautions against letting the salts build up too high. Once the salts reach an intolerable level, an orchid can quickly die.

To avoid high salt levels, repot your orchid every year or two. The benefits of repotting are two-fold. 

  1. Your orchid will get a fresh potting mix.
  2. You can replace or leach the salts from the pot.

To leach salts from an unglazed ceramic pot, or a terra cotta pot just place the pot in a large bowl and pour distilled water over the pot to cover it. Let the pot soak for about an hour. One week later, repeat the leaching process.

Note: many pots are glazed on the outside, but not on the inside and will still benefit from leaching.

Finding a Pot Goldilocks Style: Too Small – Too Big – Just Right

Like Goldilocks, orchids like things “just right.” While orchids love being a little crowded in their pots, every year or two it’s time to re-pot. Just as an orchid won’t perform at their best if their pot is over-crowded, a too-large pot will also inhibit flowering.

The best time to re-pot is just after the orchid has finished blooming. This is when the orchid is ready to shift gears and put their energy into their root systems. Select a pot just slightly larger than their former pot, one with plenty of drainage holes, and one that isn’t too dark. Generally, I like to use a clear pot so that I can see the roots. Then I slip the clear pot into another (light-colored) pot.

new growth on brassia orchid

This Brassia orchid has just finished blooming and is putting out new growth, indicating a good time to re-pot.

Your Turn: Find the Right Orchid Pot

Assess your orchid pots. Are your orchids over-heated, over-watered, or over-crowded? The answer may be to try a new, lighter colored pot, or it may be time to move the orchid under grow lights, or your solution may be to re-pot your orchid in a pot with drainage. With the right orchid pot, your orchid will have the best odds for health and vitality

Ready to Learn More?

Some orchid growers strongly suggest growing orchids in terracotta, while others advise against it. Is terracotta right for you? 

In addition to the right orchid pot, the potting media also has a tremendous impact on your orchids. Are you using the right orchid potting mix for your orchids?

Lastly, here is some super helpful information on when to pot, how to pot, and the tools I use to pot my orchids

  1. Raekay says:

    Helllo; I have a recycled glass vase, 8 “ in back 6”” in front basically clear. I would love to use it for a miniature or orchid I was given not in any container. I don’t know the history of this plant. It has nice blooms on 2 stems and a third stem starting with some bloom. It does have roots extending out and some moss at top. I suspect it was in a glass that was broken. Can I repot in case with lots of pebbles under it for drainage? And should I use bark or some other medium. Thank for any help you can offer RKQ

    1. Anna says:

      Hi Raekay,
      It sounds like the orchid is doing well with lots of new growth. Orchid roots will die if they sit in water. The roots will soon grow down into the pebbles and then rot. I recommend using a pot with drainage. Pot the orchid in an orchid potting mix. Bonsai Jack offers a high quality orchid mix.
      Have a great day!

    2. Carolyn says:

      Hi Raekay, have you looked at growing orchids via water culture ? Basically it’s hydroponics and you use glass vases, jars, anything transparent; my orchids converted to this a year old ago are thriving, some are on their second blooming in a few months.
      I learnt via reading a few online tutorials, its very easy. Everyone seems to make a huge fuss about it but by following a couple of easy rules you end up with lovely healthy &happy plants. Ive found it much easier than growing them in bark, soil etc

  2. Deborah says:

    I have moved from Fl to the Mts in Ga. My orchids were beautiful there. I now keep them in the house, they are not doing well. Any advice as to how to grow them in the house.

    1. Anna says:

      Orchids can be extremely adaptable-though waiting for them to adapt can be painful. Growing them indoors is definitely a new ballgame than growing them outdoors in an ideal environment like FL. Indoors, orchids need plenty of air circulation. While the amount of light varies depending on the variety of orchid, be careful not to set the orchid too close to your window as the intense light could burn their leaves. This post on properly watering orchids may also help you out. Also, by signing up for my email list via the Orchid Love Quiz, you will receive additional information and free downloads on caring for orchids indoors. I hope this helps! I wish you the best of everything in GA for you and your orchids.

  3. Elize Meyer says:

    Thank you very much for your helpful hints!

    1. Anna says:

      You’re welcome Elize!

    2. Anna says:

      You’re welcome, Elize!

  4. marina says:

    Me gusta mucho,me identifico con esta gusta mucho las plantas y más las orquídeas


    1. Anna says:

      Muchas gracias Marina!
      Con Carino,

  5. Beverly says:

    I appreciate the hints on this site for my orchids.

    1. Anna says:

      Thanks Beverly! Email me with any questions: [email protected]

  6. Janet says:

    But a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding design.

    1. Anna says:

      I love it! Thanks so much Janet!

  7. Elaine Hugo says:

    I was at Lowe’s and saw these gorgeous hanging orchids with roots three and four feet long hanging straight down. They were very expensive so I couldn’t afford them. I have two mini sized Cattleya orchids that I bought……just a few baby sized roots and three or four thin little elongated leaves. Can I make these little orchids hang like the ones at Lowe’s?

    1. Anna says:

      I’m guessing the gorgeous orchids you saw at Lowe’s were Vandas. They are indeed stunning. I’m sorry to say, but Cattleya roots aren’t like Vanda roots. Cattleyas need to be potted or mounted, while Vandas grow primarily aerial roots that need daily misting or watering.
      Enjoy your Cattleyas–they are lovely as well!

    2. Bonnie says:

      Hello Anna, most of my Catts roots are abit white and some crunchy or no new roots. Plants seem to be doing well otherwise. How do I get new roots to form?

      1. Anna says:

        Cattleyas like to be watered 1-2 times a week, drying out between watering. When dry the roots will turn white to prevent water loss but will be green when wet. Healthy cattleya orchids experience a growth cycle which includes active growth (new leaves, pseudobulbs, and rhizome growth), flowering, then, root development and finally, a resting period. If your orchid has just finished flowering, watch carefully for new roots. If after flowering you do not notice new root growth, try a root stimulator with rooting hormones. Healthy roots are the most basic ingredient to healthy orchids.

  8. Barbara Francis says:

    I have been reading your comments on growing orchids very helpful. Thanks for posting.

    1. Anna says:

      Thanks Barbara!
      Let me know if you have any questions about growing orchids!

  9. Shari says:

    How do I plant an orchid in a pot with holes all over? Doesn’t the dirt fall out of the holes?

    1. Anna says:

      Use a medium size bark-based potting media. The mix is large enough that it won’t escape through the holes in the orchid pot. Fir-bark is the most popular potting medium for orchids. Fir bark is readily available and is a by-product of the logging industry. Fir bark becomes more water-retentive as time goes on and allows for air circulation around the orchid’s roots. Replace every 1-3 years, before it start to break down.
      Here is a link for the orchid mix I use:
      Universal Potting Mix

      Check out this post on how to pot an orchid:
      How to REPOT an Orchid

  10. Cheryl says:

    I have enjoyed reading all your excellent information on orchids. This is so helpful.

  11. Susan says:

    I love orchids too! (: I am an amateur to be certain, but I like to look for inexpensive but promising additions and occasionally pick up a new plant – I have 6 or 7 at the moment. My pet peeve with these new plants is that not only are the display pots sometimes impossibly inappropriate, like in your examples, but that theyre almost always potted in waaaay too much absorbant moss which holds too much moisture , and I suspect they’re over-fertilized like crazy – a bad combo if you want the plant to survivre and bloom again. And of course they are early in bloom. In my limited experience, waiting to repot the new guys until after the blooming cycle causes a lot of root damage that can be avoided if I go ahead and repot them in more appropiate conditions right away. The trade off is that this often shocks the plant a bit and arrsts the blooming stage early. How do you navigate this scenario? And what approaches might you recommend for avoiding this seemingly ubiquitous ‘orchids on steroids’ in the first place? (I live in the Chapel Hill, NC area, if that helps.). (:

    1. Anna says:

      You make a really good point. Repotting right away may be in the long-term best interest of your orchid. You are likely to lose the flowers and buds, but in the long-run, your orchid may be better off being repotted right away. Another advantage of repotting immediately is that you get a good look at the condition of the roots and it’s easier to check for pests and disease while potting. On the downside, in addition to losing the flowers, some orchids have a harder time acclimating to a new environment than others and the shock of repotting right away may be too much. (I’m thinking of my Dendrobium Green Lantern that’s been a little stinker.)

      To avoid orchids that have been over-fertilized, attend orchid shows where you can talk personally with the orchid seller. Also, by purchasing orchids on Etsy you can contact the seller and ask them what their fertilizing practices are. As far as mass-market orchids, search the orchid distributors on Google then send them an email requesting more responsible care and fertilizing of their orchids.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  12. Frances says:

    Anna I have 2 beautiful orchids from last year lovely flowers but only one leaf some of the flowers Are now beginning to drop guess I will lose the flowers gradually what’s the best way to treat my plant so I get Flowers & leaves next year
    Thank you

    1. Anna says:

      If you are losing your flowers it is due to an environmental stress. Follow the link below to learn more about bud blast.


      It’s is such a bummer when our orchids loose their flowers and we don’t know why. These tips will help you to prevent it from happening again.

  13. Cheryl Ali says:

    The pests that I have are what they call house lizards small grey ones that eat the tips of the vandas. What can I use to keep them away and other insects that nibble on the roots.

    1. Anna says:

      I don’t have house lizards where I live, but It did find this post with 12 tips to get rid of them. Hopefully these tips will help with insects as well.

      Good luck,

  14. Maddy says:

    Hi I saw a u tube vt on how to look after my Orchid.
    Now it’s in a plastic clear pot from Homebase.
    I cleaned the roots of compost and soaked it in clean water for a while then put it in pot with Orchid mix it’s chunky and the roots are all usable, so they get lots of light.
    Good luck everyone. Maddy

  15. Jane says:

    I’ve only just found you and what a delight it has been reading all about orchids. You are a real fountain of knowledge. What I would really love to know is how long do you recommend I soak my orchids in tepid water for as they have completely dried out?
    Love from the 🇬🇧

    1. Anna says:

      I’m so happy you found me! Thank you for your kind words! I soak my orchids for about 20 minutes. Also, phalaenopsis and phaphiopedilum orchids don’t let them dry out completely – barely damp is their sweet spot. Cattleyas and dendrobiums, they like to dry out between watering. Then, when you do water, water thoroughly.
      Have a lovely day!

  16. Erica. says:

    Thank you for your tips. I’m having a difficult time finding pots for my 2 orcgids. Can you please help me find pots for my orchids?

    1. Anna says:

      Here is a link for tools I use to pot my orchids, including some links for specific pots.


      Some orchid growers love using terracotta pots. I didn’t include a link to terracotta since they are expensive to ship but inexpensive to buy in stores. The clear plastic pots are a favorite since they allow you to see the orchid’s roots – and a link is provided for clear pots.

  17. Angela Wright says:

    Hello, I’ve been successful with phalenopsis orchids in the past after years of learning from failures. I now have an oncidium orchid that I received in full bloom. It’s now finished blooming and I think it’s time to repot it. My question is what kind of pot and potting medium should I use? The same pots with holes my phalenopsis grow in? Thank you

    1. Anna says:

      Congratulations on successfully growing phalaenopsis orchids and on trying an oncidium. Here are a few tips for potting oncidium orchids:

      Oncidiums tend to do well with fir bark based potting media. Wait to pot oncidiums until after new pseudobulbs have begun growing. Position pseudobulbs so that the older pseudobulbs are toward the edge of the pot and the newer pseudobulbs are toward the center. Yes, the same pots that work for phalaenopsis orchids will work for oncidiums. Go for a smaller rather than larger pot to allow the potting mix to dry between watering.

      All my best,

  18. Gerry says:

    Hi! I was just reading your q&a’s. I am fairly new to Orchids, my husband bought me a beautiful Phalaenopsis valentines 2018. It was bloomed with a small pink flower, looked like a little face. Poor thing, I’ve been trying different variations of care… I tried the 3 ice cubes, that was not good. So I kept reading & I came across someone who would soak their orchid & let it dry out, I tried the watering & I have 2 new leaves & several beautiful green roots. It is still in the same green pot. I’m thinking it may bloom soon? Then possibly repot into a pot with holes. So thankful I’ve found you! Have a blessed weekend 🌹

    1. Anna says:

      It’s great to hear from you.
      Yes, it is likely that your orchid needs to be repotted. Be sure this happens before a new flower stalk begins to grow, or, if you notice a new flower stalk, wait until the new flowers fade before re-potting.

      Here are some tips to successfully pot your orchid:


      Also, be sure to give your orchid plenty of bright, indirect light to encourage it to bloom.

      Best of luck,

  19. MARGARET FIFER says:

    I just purchased your book. I love it. I think that I need to repot all my orchids the roots are growing out of the holes in the plastic pots. They all look real healthy they are dark green.

    1. Anna says:

      Congratulations on your healthy leaves and roots. Re-pot before the media breaks down and before your orchids grow a new flower spike.
      Great to hear from you,

  20. Dorlis Lee Grote says:

    I have a Brassavola nososa that has grown out of it’s pot due illness on my part the last 3 years, in fact a piece broke off that was hanging out side the pot. I potted the piece but after looking at different posts, am not sure if should split and pot the pieces or just leave this pot as is and let it hang and grow into a “ball”. what would you advise? if broken up, could end up with at least 3 new plants. am also thinking of mounting some on piece of wood (what kind of wood?). right now, have pot sitting on grid of boot tray whixh allows me to have about 1/2″ of water in the tray with the pot sitting just above for humidity.

    1. Anna says:

      I hope you are feeling better!!! Congratulations on your vigorous Brassavola nososa. Climbing out of the pot does mean it is time to pot. Splitting the orchid into three sections sounds like a good idea and a good deal! For orchids that get quite large, mounting can be an excellent solution as they can grow much larger unencumbered by a pot. Mount often require less maintenance (but more humidity) at they can be left on their branch or wood slab for many years. To mount use a slab of hardwood (not walnut), or cork oak. To learn more about how to mount an orchid, click here.
      All my best to your health and to your orchids,

  21. Lori Bowman says:

    I have long envied orchids and rescued one from the grocery store a few weeks ago. It appears to be a mini Phalaenopsis. It looks very healthy even after the poor treatment it received at the store. My issue is the pot is tiny. It looks like one of those little cups that comes with liquid cold medicine. The pot is so small that the roots have deformed the cup so that it looks like it’s stretched around the roots. How much larger should I go with the new pot? I guess this is the only pot this little plant has ever known. I have a small African violet pot, the two piece kind with a porous ceramic liner. For violets the liner sits in water in the outer pot. Could I pot the orchid in the liner and let any excess water drip into the outer pot to keep from over-watering the orchid?

    1. Anna says:

      I recommend potting in an orchid pot (there are many kinds, clear slatted, ceramic, terracotta) all the pots allow for air circulation to the roots. After the orchid has finished blooming, follow the guidelines in this article.


      I am excited for you to grow orchids! Your orchid has a bright future since it has an established root system – and of course – an invested caregiver!

      Here is another link with a download on caring for phalaenopsis orchids.


      I wish you all the best,

  22. Kay Janvrin says:

    I live in central Illinois, where is the best place to purchase pots for my orchids?

    1. Anna says:

      It just depends on what kind of pots you like. For clear, plastic pots, I buy mine on Amazon. If you like terracotta, buy those locally as shipping costs would drive up the price of an otherwise inexpensive pot. If you prefer traditional orchid pots with holes in the sides, I would check into your local nursery. You can also get them at Amazon. But, if you like artisan pottery, I really like these pots by Jolene.
      Orchids can be grown in all of these different pots. It just depends on your preference, if you want to see the roots go with clear pots. If you want form and function go with Jolene’s handmade pots. If you’ve got watering down and don’t want to spend a lot, go with terra cotta. If you love to water, go with the traditional lots of holes orchid pot. I gave a friend an orchid that she promptly overwatered. So I traded back the orchid and gave her another orchid in a pot with lots of lacey holes so that she could water it every day if she wanted to can couldn’t over-water it. Keep your care-style in mind before purchasing.

      I don’t have a recommendation for a specific store in central Illinois, but I hope this helps.

  23. Cindy Gabusi-Martinez says:

    Hi! I just found you! Thank you for your wealth of knowledge! I am new to growing orchids. I was gifted a chain store Phalaenopsis. It is potted in a clear, slotted small plastic pot. The instructions state soaking weekly for one minute then drain excess which I have done. I have it near my bathroom window which is bright but no direct sunlight. It is doing well; no shock as of yet. I would like to transplant but don’t want to risk losing the beautiful blooms. I’d love an organic vessel such as a wood-slatted box or fiber-type basket. I know that would require more watering. What are your thoughts on repot timing & vessel type? Thank you in advance!

    1. Anna says:

      Welcome to growing orchids! You only have to wait until the flowers are spent before repotting. A slatted cedar basket will work well. I use Bonsai Jack’s fir bark orchid potting mix. I also mix in a couple of cubes of wool rock for added moisture. Phalaenopsis orchids like their potting mix to be slightly damp, never soggy.
      I wish you all the best,

  24. Séverine says:

    Hello there, a very informative article. Thank you! However, I have a question about size of pot: i have a massive orchid which had been planted in a giant terracotta pot and left there. The actual plant has grown many branches and is giant. I decided to repot it in a proper orchid pot with proper medium.

    Took the plant out, washed the roots. There wasn’t many damaged roots. Just super long ones (some about 30 cms long. They were all white due to the dark pot, but weren’t squishy or blackened so I left them alone.

    Then decided to repot it only to realise that my orchid pot was too small. I pushed the plant in anyway by curling the roots underneath, and put the medium in making sure there are no air pocket.

    Now I worry that I might have killed it by pressing the roots down hard… what do you reckon? Should I do it all over again with a much larger orchid pot or wait and see?

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