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Culture of Orchids

Re-potting - A necessary chore with Orchids

Potting Orchids is not difficult but it is different from potting tropical plants.  Most Orchids grow naturally in tree branches with their roots securely attached to the branches.  Their roots are exposed to the air.  Over time they have evolved to grow well in this environment, but we insist on growing them in pots. 

What we need to do is to duplicate the environment as nearly as possible to the open air.  The Orchids need this air circulation over their roots.

We use a loose potting mix to get this result.  Fir bark is the most common because it does not pack down, hold a reasonable but not excessive amount of water, and is cheap.  Their are many other types of medium used by different growers.  Remember all mediums work, they just work differently.

Get Organized
Decide if we need a larger pot
Chose the correct potting medium
Have all supplies on hand

Comparison of pot size on growthPot size is important for Orchids.

Chose the smallest pot possible to hold the roots and allow for about one years growth. Orchids will not flower if potted in too large a pot and may lead to root rot. If a larger pot is necessary chose a pot one inch larger than the previous year. The one exception we make is when we re-pot a 2 inch pot. It can go into a 3 inch pot and it will flower sooner. Or it can go into a 4 inch pot, and while it will take longer to flower, the plant will grow larger faster.   So here it is a trade off - do you want early flowers or a larger plant. The smaller plant will grow larger and the larger plant will flower later, so the choice is only temporary. 

The photo shows a standard 2 inch pot needing to be re-potted.  The center is a 3 inch pot after 6 months and the right is a 4 inch pot after 6 months.  (This is a very fast growing Cattleya results will normally not be this extreme)



Potting Mediums

First remember that all potting mediums work, but they work differently.

Chose a medium that matches your watering style and growing conditions.

Fir Bark Orchid MediumThe most common medium is Fir Bark. It is light and airy, drains well and is readily available. It is organic so it decays over time and must be replaced periodically. It is often mixed with charcoal and perlite. Charcoal is smaller and keeps a small amount of water close to small roots. Perlite, called sponge rock, holds a percentage of water thereby slowing the drying process.

Coco Husk Orchid medium Coco husk is very similar to Bark, but holds more water and is a sterile mix lacking in any beneficial microbes.  It may may have varying amounts of salt. Be careful of the brand you chose.  If you decide to use Coco husks, it is safer to rinse the mix well before use.  

Hudroponic rockHydroponic rock is a newer medium that is growing in popularity. It is an expanded clay product that being inorganic will never decompose. It dries much faster than Bark or Coco. It can not hold more than 8% water reducing the dangers of rot root. When used in a semi-hydro (s/h) manner with a saucer of water under the pot, It wicks water into the pot, keeping a uniform amount of water at the roots.

Sphagnum moss is also popular, especially with orchids that do not like to dry completely, such as, Phalaenopsis, Sphagnum moss Paphiopedilum, Zygopedilum and many terrestrial Orchids.

Orchids can be mounted, grown in baskets or grown in anything.

Pot clips

We highly recommend the use of pot clips when re-potting. Movement of the plant in the now loose medium can cause roots to rub against the medium causing damage to the roots. Clips are a very cheap way to stabilize your Orchid.

Pot types

You start with two basic types of pots, plastic and clay.  Plastic is cheap and  light.  It is used by commercial growers because clay is too heavy and fragile to ship. 

Plastic is most often clear or dark colored.  Clear allows you to see the roots and many hobbyist like this.  It deteriorates faster in sunlight then dark pots but still lasts a couple of years. 

Clay pots are more stabile due to their weight and wick water out of medium when water is plentiful and releases it back to the roots when necessary.  Clay pots are often bought with slit cuts in the sides.  Contrary to common thought it is not to allow the excess water to drain but to allow air circulation up and over the roots.  Air circulation over the roots is critical to good growing conditions.

Then you can always move on to fancy decorative pots.  They do a lot for personal enjoyment.  Be sure to chose a type that does not harm the plant.  A drainage hole on the bottom and a height that is not excessive for the size of the plant are the minimum requirements.  The pot that is chosen should be the smallest pot possible to hold the roots of the plant and allow for one years growth.  For mature plants of 4 inch pot size and larger, this is about one inch larger pot size for every re-potting.

It is common to grow an Orchid in a plastic pot and place it in a decorative pot to enjoy indoors when in flower.

Mounting OrchidsMounted (Cattleya alliance) Hknsa Sogo Doll

Orchids grow naturally on tree branches and mounting them on various supports duplicates these conditions.  Wood, tree fern, and cork are common types.

We use grapevine rather than driftwood.  Pine driftwood deteriorates in a couple of years while the grapevine lasts 12-15 years.  Driftwood from salt water needs to be Mounted Brlla Marfitch soaked for weeks to remove the salt.  Grapevine is extremely attractive in itself and readily available.  It also does not have the residual salt content of driftwood. 




  Fertilizers  The Basics Potting Mediums  -  Water  -    Light  -  Temperature   -  Blooming   -  Repotting