Like all plants, these tropical beauties need some TLC in order to thrive and survive.

By Patricia S York
March 17, 2020
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Once the specialty of only an exclusive group of gardeners, Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids are, more and more, becoming a familiar, common houseplant. As exotic as they look, they are relatively easy to grow as long as you maintain the right conditions, but almost every new orchid grower gets a little skittish when it comes time to repot their plant. As a general rule of thumb, orchids should be repotted every one to two years to keep the plant healthy and help it grow.

When to Repot an Orchid

Timing is important in order to ensure success. There are three major signs to look for when determining if you should repot or not.

If you see white roots popping out between the holes in the container, this is a sure sign that your orchid has outgrown its home.

Repotting is also necessary when the potting medium begins to break down. Instead of putting out roots in a pot of soil like most houseplants, orchids survive in a container of large, loose materials such as bark, moss, and charcoal (potting medium). Over time, the larger chunks break down into smaller pieces causing inadequate drainage. Change out the potting medium to give the roots the air they need.

The last sign to look for is tightly tangled roots. A gardener new to growing orchids might mistake the naturally tangled growing pattern of the roots as a sign that their orchid is root-bound and in need of repotting. As long as roots are loosely twisting and overlapping, which is the normal growth pattern for moth orchids, you can wait to repot. Tightly tangled roots, however, indicate that your orchid needs repotting, which will provide the plant with the nutrients it needs to flourish and bloom.

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How to Repot an Orchid

Choose a new pot that’s an inch or two larger than the one before. You can use a traditional terra cotta pot but look for specialized orchid planters which have holes all around the surface; these are designed to increase the air circulation in the roots.

Place your potting medium in a large bucket or bowl and cover it with about twice as much boiling water. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature, then drain the potting mix. Orchids are very susceptible to disease, so be sure to sterilize everything - gardening tools, new pot, etc. - that will come in contact with your orchid during the repotting process.

Gently pull the old pot away from the plant and wash off the roots. Use sharp scissors (that have been sterilized) to cut off any brown or rotting roots. Fill the new planter with the soaked potting medium and place the plant so that the base is right at the top of the medium. Use a wooden skewer or chopstick to help push bits of planting medium in between the roots. Keep the orchid misted for at least a week until new roots begin to appear.