Repotting Orchids - Important Factors

A lot of handling and cutting takes place when you are repotting an orchid. In addition, most people generally report several plants at the same time. Owing to these, the chances of transmitting viruses, diseases as well as pests from one plant to another is exceptionally high.

Therefore, it is always wise to just presume that all the plants have viruses. When you are dealing with several plants transferring them from one pot to another or just washing them, you need to put on plastic gloves. Never use your bare hands while repotting the orchids.

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Repotting is an extremely sloppy process which involves fingers tearing away the decayed or rotten roots or breaking off the old pseudo bulbs. Even when you are washing the plants, some pieces of the plants may be left behind beneath your fingernails and they may infect you too.

Using gloves helps to do away with quite a few variables. Moreover, gloves also protect your hand from possible pathogens and splinters present in the growing medium. There are other sources of infections too during the repotting operation, primary among them are the cutting instruments used while repotting plants.

It is advisable that you should never use any cutting instrument on the plants and use them again on another plant without sterilizing the instrument in between. You should sterilize the tools by using a propane torch flame. Alternatively, you may soak the tools in trisodium phosphate solution.

Always bear in mind that simply dipping the tools in alcohol or chlorine will not help to sterilize them to the extent that they may eliminate the viruses. However, there is an easier solution to sterilize your tools.

You may purchase packs of single-edged razor blades for use on each plant. You can clean these blades and place them over oven at 375°F to sterilize them. The blades should be kept over the oven for about an hour.

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Reusing potting materials

If the potting material is not damaged and still acceptable, you may use it again without any problem while repotting the same plant in another pot. However, you should never use the potting material from one orchid while repotting another orchid. If you still use the same potting mix for a different plant it is sure to transfer pests and viruses too.

In this case, the best option with old organic potting mix is to dump it in a compost heap. When you are using a new clay pot remember that it has been over-heated. Therefore, it is essential to soak them in water for about half of a day so that the pores of the pot are filled with water.

However, no pre-soaking is required for older clay pots that have been washed and dried in a dish washer. When you are cleaning pots that have been encrusted with algae and leached salts, you need to soak them in hot water for quite a few days while changing the water a number of times.

Subsequently, scrub the pots using steel wool and dish detergent in warm water. If you add a little amount of vinegar to the water, it will help in loosening the salt deposits in the pots. Clay and polypropylene pots should be subjected to temperatures of about 180°F for about 30 minutes to eliminate any virus that may be present in such pots.

A number of high-temperature dishwashers may attain temperatures this high, but most dishwashers usually do not heat so much. Soaking the pots for the night in a water/bleach solution in the ratio of 9:1 is a simpler and safer way to kill the viruses.

Subsequently, rinse the pots and again soak them in plain water for about 15 minutes. Rinse the pots again before you use them. It is also possible to baking the older and used pots in a oven with temperature of 200°F because polypropylene pots melt at a much higher temperature - 250°F.

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Nuts and bolts of repotting

When you are all prepared to repot your orchid, you first need to select a workplace that is convenient. An ideal place would be a spot close to a sink and having a trash basket nearby. In case you do not have a counter space, you may put a cardboard piece across the skin.

On top of the cardboard, place several layers of newspapers. Newspaper layers should also be placed down on your workplace, particularly if you are working to report a number of orchids at the same time. The mess in between the plants can be bundled in some of these newspapers and disposed of neatly.

The next layer will be clean for you to carry on your repotting activities. Keep a new or sterilized single-edged blade readily available. In addition, you need a knife, a boxful of disposable plastic gloves, various sizes of clean pots, rhizome clips, plant stakes and ties in addition to some substances to clean the knife while working between plants.

Ideally, you need to keep some trisodium phosphate solution or propane flame ready for this purpose. In addition to these, keep a toothbrush on hand for getting the plants rid of insects, Keep a bucket of potting mix soaked in warm water on the floor nearby.

It would be best if the potting mix is soaked overnight in warm water. Before removing the orchid from its pot, soak it as well as the pot in a bucketful of water for some minutes, as this will make it easy to take out the plant from the pot.

Soaking the orchid and water in water will also make the roots softer as well as pliable and less prone to break. As a result, the roots will release their rather insistent grip on the inside of the pot.

In fact, roots as well as plants are equally more flexible when they are repotted after they spend some time in warm instead of a cold environment. Next, keep one hand over the surface of the potting mix and turn the pot upside down.

While some plants will easily slip out on the newspaper layers below, but in case an orchid stands firm, tap the sides and bottom of the pot. Alternatively, you may also lightly squeeze a plastic pot in different places.

In case, the orchid persistently holds on to the inside of a plastic pot, use a sharp sterile knife and run it around the internal wall of the pot to loosen up the mix. However, if the roots of the orchid cling on to a clay pot stubbornly, the option is to break the pot after turning the pot on its side and tapping it lightly with a hammer.

If you find that small pieces of clay are still clinging on to the roots, you should not remove them. If you try to remove them from the roots, it may damage or break the tender roots.

If you are repotting an orchid because its potting mix has deteriorated and not for any other reason, such as overgrowth, you may use the old pot again for repotting. If this is not the case, you should discard the old pot and not use it again even for repotting any other plant. The old pot can only be reused after it is sterilized properly.

Taking a look at the roots

Having set up your workplace and removed the orchid from the pot, it is time that you take a break and examine the potting material thoroughly. While examining the potting material you will be able to get precious information regarding how it has responded to the environment and watering techniques.

What is more important is to examine the roots of the orchid. They will give you some understanding of how well the potting material is working. Usually, the roots that are live are white and gleaming. At times, the live roots may also have green tips and appear firm when touched.

All these are signs of a first-rate potting mix for the environment. On the other hand, dead roots have a grey, brown or black. Moreover, such roots are soft and mushy and appear dry when touched. The condition of decaying roots may be something in between.

In case the roots of the orchid are mushy, soggy or black, the potting mix will not drain properly nor will the air circulation be proper for the watering technique as well as the environmental situations. Even the time between the repotting may have been very long.

Then again if the core of the root ball is already dead, but the roots on the periphery of the pot appear to be fine, the mix will retain excessive water. This may be due to over watering; watering very frequently or the potting material is holding excessive water.

On the other hand, if you find that the roots are desiccated and have a grey color; it is a sign of the potting mix becoming dry. Similarly, if the tips of the roots are black, it is an indication of the fact that it contains excessive salts. This may happen due to using too many fertilizers, damages caused by snails or use of softened water.

You may rectify these conditions by modifying the potting mix. In order to improve the drainage of the potting mix, you need to incorporate materials whose moisture retention ability is less, for instance charcoal, tree fern, rocks of particular types, perlite, coarser bark or a clay pot.

On the other hand, if you want the potting mix to hold more water, you should incorporate rock wool, sphagnum moss, fine bark and a plastic pot.

While the plant is out of the pot

When you have removed an orchid from its pot for repotting in a new pot, first clean the plant by getting rid of all old materials on it. However, be careful not to break or damage any good roots. Often you will find that the root ball is most decayed at its center.

Get rid of the old potting mix, gently pull the root ball and place the orchid under running lukewarm water. Cut all the dead roots of the orchid till the base of the plant. In order to find the dead roots, you should hold them individually and pull them out gently.

In case the outer root comes out easily and a thin core thread is left behind or if the root has a brown color all over till its core, you should be sure that the root is dead. You should also cut and remove the roots that are partially decayed.

Cut such roots at a place where a fresh tissue starts. In case the roots of the orchid are dead and they are soft and soggy, you should know that the potting mix contains a fungus that rots the roots. Therefore, after you have cut and removed the rotten root parts, you need to treat the remaining parts with sulphur powder.

While cleaning the roots your aim should be to retain as much as the root that is possible. In case some roots have grown exceptionally long and it is difficult to push them back in a standard-size pot, you should trim them. Bear in mind that you should only trim the thick roots which have a coating of white velamen.

Never cut any thin or wiry live roots, because they will not form branches if they are cut. On the other hand, the thick roots are capable of forming branches even after they are cut away.

While cleaning your orchid before repotting, you need to cut away all dead or yellow leaves along with old spikes and sheaths of flowers and if there are any rotten or dried up pseudo bulbs. In case a pseudo bulb appears to be live but does not have any leaf, you should not get rid of it, especially if you find that it has good roots too.

This is because the pseudo bulb may still have some food in store for your orchid. When you are removing rot, you should also dust the portions of the pseudo bulb or the leaf that have been left behind using any sulphur fungicide so that the rot does not spread or occur again.

At the same time, examine the plant thoroughly to see if it is infested by insects like mealy bug or scale, which may conceal themselves on roots, pseudo bulbs, under the sheaths and even inside the crown of orchids.

While you are searching for insect infestation in the leaf sheaths, you may use a toothpick as it would be helpful. In case you discover any pest, use any soft toothbrush and lukewarm water along with insecticidal soap to clean the orchid very gently. Ensure that you do not damage or harm any good portion of the plant.


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