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The Why and The When of Repotting Orchids

Pottting at the right time vastly improves how well your orchid will adapt.

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Before diving right into re-potting, it is important to know why and when to repot orchids. Knowing the answers will determine if you really need to, or not.

Because orchid roots are so different from other plant roots, it can be an intimidating prospect. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.  Instead, it can be rather fascinating. Orchid roots are thick and firm, not the web of tiny roots of other plants. (Or, at least they should be. Over watered orchid roots will quickly become mushy and slimy.) New potting media will give your orchid a fresh start in clean media that is best suited for your orchid’s overall well-being.

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Why Re-pot Orchids

Overtime potting media breaks down minimizing air flow to the roots, and fertilizer salts build up, creating an unsuitable growing media for orchids.

Sphagnum Moss

If your orchid came in sphagnum peat moss the best time to re-pot is as soon as the plant is finished flowering.  Many plants are potted in this media because it is a great way to ship the plants.  The moss keeps the orchid hydrated and the roots in place.  But, it is not the best media for long-term plant care.  Orchid roots need air circulation, which they cannot get packed in the moss.

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Wood Based Media

Wood based potting mixes are a popular choice for potting orchids because they allow for air flow around an orchid’s roots. The wood-based mixes are often supplemented with materials, such as horticulture charcoal and perlite, that retain and slowly release water to the orchids roots as well as prevent compaction around the roots.

Orchids potted in wood-based potting mixes require watering much more frequently than those potted in sphagnum moss. If you are accustomed to sphagnum moss and switch to wood, you will be surprised by how much more frequently you will need to water. If you tend to have a heavy hand with water, then wood chips will definitely suit your care-style.

As time goes on, the wood chips become more water absorbent and you will not need to water as frequently as you did in the beginning. Additionally, wood chips breakdown over time. Watering is a convenient time to check your potting mix. If you see what looks like coffee grounds, the wood has begun to decompose.

 

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Salt Buildup

Salt is the carrier for minerals in fertilizer. While the minerals are necessary to support the health of the orchid, salt is not. Overtime, too much salt accumulates in the orchid soil. If you notice that the tips of your orchids leaves are brown and dry, it may well be that the soil has too much salt.

Regularly flushing the orchid with water, and then afterwards, fertilizing, will help keep salt buildup at a minimum. But eventually, the soil will need to be replaced.

Now that you know why you should repot your orchids, let’s take a look at when to repot orchids.

When to Repot Orchids

There are three main indicators to watch for that tell when it’s time to pot your orchids.

The first is the hardest of all: before the soil has broken down. Waiting until the soil has actually broken down is waiting too long. Think of it this way, if you know your roof is old and it won’t be long before it leaks, it’s best to re-shingle for the leaks start. If you wait until the soil breaks down, the health of the roots will already be compromised.

The second two indicators are easier to recognize: after the orchid has finished blooming and when the orchid begins putting forth new roots.

After blooming for the first time

If you have purchased your orchid from the grocery store, chances are your orchid was potted in a minimum grade orchid potting medium. Don’t re-pot immediately.  Wait until after all the flowers die, then the orchid is ready to be re-potted.  After my orchids have finished blooming for the first time, I re-pot them using a quality orchid wood-based potting mix.

 

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There are two exceptions to this rule.  First, I do not re-pot my dendrobiums.  They do not like to be re-potted and I don’t want to run the risk of losing my plant. Second, I think twice about re-potting orchids I’ve purchased from an orchid show.  These sellers usually care a lot about orchids and are not into mass market orchid production and more more likely to plant their orchids in quality potting media.

After purchasing at an orchid show, examine the medium,  and if looks good–if it’s not breaking down and the plant looks awesome, I recommend waiting to pot. On the flip side, many orchid growers like to repot their orchids right after purchasing so that they can check out the orchid’s roots.  For those of you who like to check out the orchid’s roots first thing after purchasing, try to purchase an orchid not currently in bloom.

Roots are actively growing

If you can see new roots emerging, that is the best time to re-pot.  This tells you that the orchid is actively growing and helps to ensure that the roots will become established in the new pot.  However, even when new roots are visible, wait until the plant finishes blooming before re-potting.

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In Summary

Knowing when to repot orchids depends on several factors. By considering the following  recommendations, you will make the decision that is in the best interest of your orchids.

Before re-potting:

  • determine when the current potting media will become unsuitable, then plant to pot before it breaks down.
  • wait until the plant has finished blooming.
  • be hesitant to pot if the orchid is a Dendrobium, as they do not like being re-potted.

Remember:

  • new roots are the best indicator that the plant will do well after re-potting.

Orchids can live and bloom for many years. Making the investment to re-pot an orchid that is planted in unsuitable soil will help to ensure your orchid will thrive, supplying you with the unusual beauty that only orchid flowers provide.

How to RePot an Orchid: A Beginners Guide

For optimum health orchid need potting every 1-2 years. Come learn how.

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Top Tools for RePotting Orchids

Potting Orchids Just Got Easier

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For those of you who are looking for a premium orchid soil, make sure to check out Bonsai Jack Universal Orchid Mix. This is the soil that has helped me to grow my orchids. Full disclosure: this is an affiliate link, which means that at no extra cost to you, I make a commission if you purchase through this link. I’m always happy to answer any questions related to this product. Please feel free to comment below or email me: anna@orchidbliss.com.

BONSAI JACK UNIVERSAL POTTING MIX

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25 Comments
  1. Ruth says:

    Can more orchids be put in a pot of reasonable size

    1. Anna says:

      Yes, several orchids can be placed together in a larger pot. Although, I do recommend keeping each orchid in its original clear, plastic pot within the larger pot. After placing the orchids in the larger pot you may need to fill in the gaps with floral foam to stabilize the orchids. Once the orchids are stabilized, add preserved moss to finish the display.

      The reason for not removing the orchids from the clear, plastic container is so that you can check on the roots and health of the orchid. Orchids like to be crowded in their pots, so a larger pot with several orchids may inhibit blooming. Also, if one orchid isn’t in bloom you can switch is out for another that is.

      That said, if you’d like to remove the orchids from their clear, plastic pot and see how they do, go ahead. Gardening is all about experimentation and you may really like the result.

  2. Bess Falls says:

    I reported mine in glass containers. Can still see roots but more decorative. When the air roots come out top and are shriveled, do they need more or less water?

    1. Anna says:

      Bess,
      I haven’t ever used glass containers for growing orchids. Let me know how it goes. I don’t worry too much about the aerial roots. I just let them do what they want. You could increase the humidity around your orchids to see if that helps the aerial roots to look more hydrated.
      Anna

  3. Gabby says:

    Hello! I found your article very informative. I’ve had an orchid for about a year and a half now. Whenever buds form and it appears it’s about to flower, the stem dies and it never flowers (the leaves will stay green and seemingly healthy). This happens about twice a year, do you know why this is happening? I’ve always wanted to repot it and was finally going to this weekend, but buds have formed. Should I wait to see if it flowers or just repot it as soon as possible? What type of pot would be best? I’m not sure what type of orchid it is

    1. Anna says:

      Gabby,

      How frustrating! Don’t give up!

      Bud blast, when flower buds die before opening, is the more common problem among orchid growers. When your orchid is getting ready to bloom, use care to protect the orchid from drastic environmental changes such as fluctuations in temperature, water and humidity.

      Yes! Definitely wait until the orchid has finished blooming until you repot. There are two basic orchid pots, one with holes on the sides and bottom, and the other option is a plastic liner pot with drainage on the bottom. Clear pots are usually set inside an outer, decorative pot. Both types of pots work well and I use both. The advantage of the clear pot is that you can see the roots and potting medium and more easily check for signs of over-watering. I have used both.

      I am praying for your orchid to bloom for you!
      Anna

  4. LaVerne Drommond says:

    What, if anything, should be done with the dry shivaled roots in the pot? Should I just leave them, or trim them off. I’m about to repot in RePotme medium. I have clear plastic pots at the ready. Please advise, ASAP. TIA

    1. Anna says:

      LaVerne,
      Sure, dry,shriveled roots can be trimmed off. Sounds like you have everything ready for repotting!
      Best of luck!
      Anna

  5. Sandra Baldenhofer says:

    HI! I have an orchard plant (which I purchased in 2001 at an orchid show)…it was called Cobalt (but I don’t have the tech. name)…It has never bloomed in all these years, but last year, I told it to please bloom before I die! ( I am 78)….this is really weird, but it DID bloom with 2 flowers for me that season!!!! Probably coincidental!!!! But it has never bloomed again! I have transplanted it twice into new orchid soil…but every time I have tried to use orchid (liquid) fertilizer, it seems to turn the leaves yellow in spots. SO frustrating! What am I doing wrong? I don’t water it very often as I know it has to dry out first. Sandy

    1. Anna says:

      Sandra,
      I am glad that your orchid listened to you when you asked it to bloom! If fertilizer is causing yellow leaves, fertilize sparingly, just once or twice a month at 1/4 strength.

      If your leaves look good, stiff and upright, you are probably watering correctly.

      The main reason orchids don’t bloom is insufficient light. If possible, place your orchid near an east-facing window. A south-facing window with a sheer curtain will also work. If you’re noticing leaf growth that is a good sign. This means the orchid is growing as it should. It may take several months, but with enough light, your orchid should bloom. Do you know the name of your orchid? I could give you more specific information based on the variety of orchid you are growing.
      Warm regards,
      Anna

  6. Jess says:

    How can I tell if I have a dendrobium? Mine was bought at a grocery store 6-ish years ago. I’ve never repotted it, and it always blooms every year. Should I just leave it be? I’m almost positive it’s planted in peat moss…

    1. Anna says:

      Jess,
      Sounds like your orchid is doing well! Could you email me a picture: anna@orchidbliss.com? I love to take a look.
      Thanks,
      Anna

  7. Lillian Healey says:

    Can anything be done for Cymbidiums with scale?
    They were gifted to me, with scale. I kept it at bay, but health issues stopped me for a while!

    Thank you

    1. Anna says:

      Lillian,
      Although scale is a my nemesis, it is treatable. I advise scrubbing the plant, especially the roots and pseudobulbs with rubbing alcohol and spraying it with horticulture oil. This link will give you more detailed information: Treating Orchid Pests & Disease
      Wishing good health for you and your orchids!
      Anna

  8. Jodi Geers says:

    Hi Anna,
    I’m very new to orchid growing and I love it. Your information has been extremely helpful. Maybe you’ve answered this question in other areas of your website, but I haven’t been there yet. I found this information on Pinterest. I’ll be going to your site soon so I can understand even more, but can you tell me how often I should fertilize my plants and what you recommend to fertilize them with? Thank you so much!
    Jodi

    1. Anna says:

      Jodi,
      It was so great to hear from you! Thanks for your question about fertilizing orchids. Follow this link to learn about fertilizing orchids.
      Please let me know if you have any more questions!
      Anna

  9. Debbe says:

    My orchid is always blooming but the leaves on one of them seem very droopy. Is this ok?

    1. Anna says:

      Debbe,
      Once the orchid has finished blooming, you can re-pot it. This is your opportunity to find out the condition of your roots. If your orchid is potted in sphagnum moss, you can water it every couple of weeks, Bark-based potting media needs water more frequently,at least once a week. Likely you are either over-watering or under-watering. You’ll know for sure after checking out the roots. After potting, adjust your watering schedule accordingly. You won’t notice an immediate change, but after a few weeks, you should see an improvement.
      Anna

  10. Berni says:

    Hi there..Berni here… very informative site ..thankyou.want to know what yo do with the long stems once the all the flowers gave died…di i cut them back..short?

    Thanks a mill

    1. Anna says:

      Hello Berni,
      You’ve just asked the most common question in regard to orchid care 😉 Follow this link for more specific information: CUTTING THE ORCHID SPIKE
      The short answer is: “Yes, cut the flower spike back at the base.” That’s what I recommend for the most abundant flowers.
      Anna

  11. Pauline Gasper says:

    Hello Berni. I have a double stemmed orchid which flowers beautifully. I am thinking of repotting this time after flowering. At the base where old leaves and stems have died and been cut away it looks very dry. On saying that new roots are just pipping from this area quite high up and I am wondering if when I repot how deep should I go. Will it be okay if I repot a little deeper so as to hide the ugly dry bits. The rooting in the pot is all healthy looking but the base of the plant spoils the look. I have had the plant for three years and would hate to lose it now as it has gorgeous white flowers when in bloom. Pauline.

  12. Nancy Farmer says:

    I have an orchid I bought on clearance at the grocery store. I’ve had it for about 3 years, it has never been without a bloom. When the last bloom from one stem falls another stem is blooming.

    1. Anna says:

      Nancy,
      That is ONE of the reasons I love orchids so much! They are truly flower powerhouses! Sounds like you are doing a great job caring for your orchid!
      Anna

  13. Marie Peterson says:

    I just found your site and find it very informative. My situation is I live in Fl and will be leaving my orchids outside in a screen house with timed watering for three months this summer. When I return and find flower spikes, will bringing them back inside for my enjoyment cause buds to blast? Any suggestions on my summering of them?

    1. Anna says:

      Marie,
      Your orchids are least likely to experience bud blast if you wait until the flowers have opened. I’m just wondering if you’ve had a problem in the past. If you haven’t you’re probably okay to just bring your orchids in. But, if you’ve had a recurring problem, wait til they flower to bring them in.
      Good luck,
      Anna

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