Growing Orchids

Potting Orchids

Orchids can grow in almost anything (clay, plastic, peat) or in nothing (attached to a branch or a slab), as long as the roots get air and the drainage is excellent. This makes potting orchids a little different than potting many other types of plants. Special clay pots for orchids are available. If you are using an ordinary clay pot, knock a big hole in the bottom to make sure that the drainage is satisfactory.

Repot orchids when the potting mix and the roots seem to be getting squishy, or about every two years. Orchids with flower spikes growing straight down, such as Stanhopeas, are best kept in bottomless baskets. Some orchid varieties want to be left alone and prefer to have their roots growing all over the outside of their pot.

When potting orchids, or repotting them, take care to keep tools clean and work carefully so disease is not spread.
When potting or repotting orchids,
work carefully and keep tools clean
to avoid transmitting disease.

There are probably as many orchid potting mixes as there are orchid growers. The early English growers grew orchids successfully in sphagnum moss. Osmunda fiber was used extensively for a time, not only for potting material but also for pots. Because osmunda fiber became scarce, a number of other materials, including fir bark, gravel, and coconut husks were substituted alone or in combinations. Many growers use one mix for everything and repot their new orchids into it. It may take the new plant a while to adjust to the new medium but, in the long run, it is easier for the plant to adjust rather than the person.

Potting and repotting should be approached as a controlled operation. Before working with each plant, disinfect the tools and use a fresh sheet of newspaper under each plant and pot. This will reduce the spread of disease from one plant to another and will help with the clean-up.

Do not yank plants out of their pots. Remove them gently, even if it means cracking or breaking the pots. When the pot is removed from the orchid, clean away all the old potting material from the roots. Cut away all the shriveled and dead roots. Live roots are plump; dead roots are brown and thin. Wash your hands frequently and keep your cutting edges sharp and disinfected to avoid spreading disease.

Cover the bottom of the pot with fresh, clean, broken pieces of clay pot. Add some mix, set the plant in place, and pack the potting material firmly, but gently, around the roots. After repotting, keep the plant in a warm place, but out of direct sun for two to three weeks. Also hold back on watering for two or three weeks to give the orchid's roots time to heal. The humidity should be high, but keep water off the plant. If you feel timid about the repotting process, many commercial growers will repot your orchids for a small charge.

Potting appropriately goes a long way toward keeping an orchid healthy, but for an added boost, some fertilizer may be helpful. On the next page, find out how to fertilize orchids.

Check these resources to find more ideas and information on placing plants around your house:

  • Gardening: Whether it's vegetables, flowers, or foliage you're considering, the facts you'll need are here. Learn all the basics of successful gardening.
  • House Plants: Wondering what might look nice in your kitchen window? Find out which plants are happiest inside the house.