I love orchids. They’re a wonderful way to bring blooms and greenery indoors and they’re not as hard to raise as people seem to think — you just need consistency and the right window. They also need to be repotted once they start climbing out of their pots. Here’s how! (This tutorial is for an orchid with pseudobulbs, the fleshy bulbs you see below the leaves.)
First off, you need an orchid that needs repotting. There are two ways to tell: one, it may literally be bursting out of its pot, like the orchid shown here, or two, the medium it’s in may have broken down. Most orchids are epiphytes, meaning they need air on their roots, which is why they are usually planted in bark. Over time, the bark breaks down, the roots will be sitting in water, and they can rot. The best time to repot is when there is new growth but the orchid is not flowering. To repot, you will need a new pot that’s slightly bigger than the current pot, new potting medium, and clean scissors. It’s also useful to have some perlite (or, even better, reused packing peanuts), newspaper to help keep the bark from getting all over your table, a stake, and some rubbing alcohol to make sure everything used is sterile.
First, put your potting medium in a bowl to soak. If you’re reusing bark, pour boiling water over it to kill any bacteria. Then carefully remove the orchid from its pot. You may need to use a sharp, sterile knife to run around the inside of the pot to detach the roots from the surface. In some cases, you may need to break the pot if the orchid’s really root-bound.
Now you need to gently clear out all the bark from the roots. In some cases, you will literally have to peel the bark off. Some of the roots will be clearly dead, but be gentle so you don’t break any living roots.
Next, start clearing out the dead roots. Use clean, sharp scissors and cut close to the base of the plant. If the root is still half-alive, cut off only the dead part. You can tell the difference because living roots are greenish-white and firm, and dead roots are brownish-white and squishy. Some even have the core exposed, as you can see in the photo above.
Here’s my orchid with its roots cleaned up. You can see both by the new growth and the new roots that the plant is growing out from the center and can be divided into two plants. You could just place it as it is in a new pot, but why not have two plants? When dividing, make sure each new plant has at least three healthy pseudobulbs so it’s strong enough to grow on its own. (Also, take note that you can only divide plants with pseudobulbs this way; phalenopsis and lady slipper orchids, for example, are propagated differently.)
Here’s a close look at the cut dividing the two plants. Again, make sure to use clean, sharp shears or a knife.
Now put a layer of perlite or packing peanuts in the bottom of your pot. Orchids need good drainage, so this will keep them from sitting in water.
Fill the pot partway with bark, leaving room around the edges to gently tuck in any long roots. Sit the oldest part of the orchid against one side so there’s room for new growth.
Cover the remaining portion of the roots with care. It’s ok to leave them partly exposed, although they will dry out if they are too high above the bark. You may wish to cover everything with moss, although I like to be able to see how dry the roots are so I know when to water. If the orchid is too loose, stake it in the position you want it to grow. You can buy orchid clips, but I just reuse old twisty ties. Put your now-tender orchid in a spot with nice light but no direct sunshine until it has recovered from its move and is putting out new roots or shoots (usually a few weeks). Don’t water until then, but mist regularly. I killed my favorite orchid many years ago by over-watering after I repotted it, so keep an eye on your plant! Repotting will keep your orchid healthy for many years to come so you can enjoy its beautiful blooms and fascinating foliage.