This weekend I repotted a few new orchids and I thought I would show you how I did it. They were a couple of mature orchids, two Cattleya hybrids and a Brassavola hybrid, not yet in flower. I did also buy a Doritaenopsis hybrid in flower, but I will hold off on repotting that until after it has flowered. I do not want to shock the plant while it is putting out such a tremendous flower, not to mention I do not want to run the risk of accidentally breaking off any buds. For the others, however, I know that spring is a good time for them to be repotted, and I could tell that they were pretty packed into the plastic pots in which I received them. In general, repotting newly purchased plants is a good idea because then you can be sure that they are well situated in the appropriate mix in their new home. Here is a quick guide to repotting your new orchid(s).
The supplies you will need are: your new orchid, additional long fibered sphagnum moss or epiphytic bark mixture (depending on what your orchid is being raised in now), a container with good drainage the same size or 1” larger than the plastic growers pot you bought it in, a slightly oversized saucer, a bag of small pebbles or decorative gravel, and an ample work space with a faucet where you can make a decent mess. You will be using room temperature water (70-72°) and plenty of paper towel. Here you can see I set up shop in my kitchen sink with some extra space cleaned off on the counter.
Step one: Prepping your work area. Place your sphagnum moss in a container or colander and soak it thoroughly. Submerge and soak your terra cotta pot for a few minutes to make sure it is clean and saturated as well.
Step two: Cleaning and teasing your orchid. This is the part that makes most amateur growers most worried, but don’t be. You are going to have to touch and handle the plant roots, and some may break off, but you must realize that in the long run you are going to be making your new orchids very happy for their new home. Cut and remove the plastic pot. Now carefully tease out and loosen as many roots as you can. If the roots seem dry, do not be afraid to run some water over them to help make them more limber. Epiphytic orchids, those that grow in or on other plants, have roots with an outer tissue called velamen. Velamen helps the roots retain more moisture for longer periods of time, as well as helping protect against the suns rays. Once wet they are much easier to move and bend. Take your time to really tease out as many roots as you can, removing deteriorated moss, dead roots, and styrofoam. Remember that roots prefer to grow out and down, not necessarily in circles bound in a crowded plastic container.
Step three: Potting up. Go ahead and place a handful of moss in the bottom of your soaked, clean terra cotta pot. Squeeze the moss with your hands so that it is moist, but not soaking wet. Take another handful and work it in underneath the plant where you removed old moss, Styrofoam, etc. Like with terrestrial plantings you want to avoid leaving large air pockets in the container when you are done. With some moss in the pot and some cupped underneath your orchid, place the plant in the terra cotta pot. Push the roots down deep into the pot and begin to fill in with additional moist moss. Again, do not be afraid if it takes a little force to pack in all the roots and moss so that they are tight in the pot. An orchid expert and good friend of mine also passed on the tip once of twisting the plant as you place it in the pot. This helps you get the roots down deep into the container to properly anchor the plant in the sphagnum moss. Continue to fill in with extra moss until the orchid seems pretty well anchored in the pot. Use enough moss that the plant is clearly secured in the pot but do not pile the moss higher than where the foliage and/or pseudobulbs begin to push out root tissue. Once you have properly repotted your orchid you should actually be able to slowly pick up the plant and have the pot come up with it. If you pull on the orchid and it comes right out then you need to secure it better in the terra cotta pot.
Step four: Situating your newly planted orchid. Take your gravel or pebbles and place a layer of them in your slightly oversized saucer. What this does is create a buffer zone between the bottom of the saucer and the pot where the plant’s roots are. With this buffer, the extra water that seeps through when you water your orchids collects in the saucer. The excess water is not in direct contact with the roots, so you do not run the risk of rotting your roots, yet the water in the saucer slowly evaporates and provide much needed extra humidity to your orchid. Especially now while our apartments and homes are still closed up because it’s not warm enough outside, it is crucial to do all you can to provide your orchids with some level of humidity. Lastly, place your orchid in a location where it is going to get ample sunlight for that particular species, decent air circulation, and again, as much humidity as possible. If you place your orchids in a bathroom with enough light remember that even though the humidity will be great, you may also have to figure out creating additional air flow and circulation if there is no window or fan to have on or open.
From here, water and fertilize lightly and regularly, occasionally mist your plants if the species can handle it, and enjoy.