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Orchids used to be an expensive luxury plant grown primarily by collectors. But, thanks to the amazing technique of tissue culture, orchids are now common finds at grocery stores, flower shops, and gift boutiques. This rapid, inexpensive propagation technique is very, very good for folks like me who love orchids but have never been able to afford them before. Because of tissue culture, the most commonly available orchids these days are in the genus Phalaenopsis, otherwise known as moth orchids. The blooms of Phalaenopsis orchids last for months, but eventually the flower stalk dies and the plant outgrows its container. That’s when it’s time to repot. Phalaenopsis orchid repotting is not a complicated affair. However, there are some important steps to follow.
When to repot a Phalaenopsis orchid
There are several signs indicating that it’s time to repot a Phalaenopsis orchid.
- The lower leaves pucker, turn yellow, and start to die back.
- The plant stem gets leggy and flops to the side.
- Aerial roots grow down over the edge of the pot.
- If the orchid is potted in coarse bark, the bark may be crumbly and soil-like, instead of firm.
If you haven’t repotted your Phalaenopsis in three or more years, that’s another sign that it’s time to repot your orchid. Fresh orchid potting mix and a renewed fertilization program stimulate the production of future flower stalks every few years.
What time of year to repot an orchid
It’s best to repot Phalaenopsis orchids in either the spring or the fall, especially if you take them outdoors for the summer. If your plant hasn’t bloomed in a few years, Phalaenopsis orchid repotting is best performed in the spring. That way you can feed the plant throughout the summer and (hopefully!) generate blooms the following fall or winter.
While spring and fall are the best times for transplanting orchids, you can also repot moth orchids in the summer, as long as you make sure the plant gets enough water during this peak growing season. The only time you do not want to repot a Phalaenopsis orchid is when the plant is in bloom. If you do so, all the blooms will drop off due to stress and transplant shock.
Phalaenopsis orchid repotting step-by-step
1. Materials needed to repot an orchid
- You’ll need a pot that’s only 1 inch wider in diameter than the pot your orchid is already in. Phalaenopsis orchids are epiphytes, meaning that in the wild their roots cling to tree branches, rather than delving into the soil. Orchids perform their best when slightly pot-bound, so bigger isn’t better when it comes to the container. Choose a plastic orchid pot, terra cotta, or a decorative ceramic orchid pot, and make sure there’s one or more drainage holes in the bottom or sides of the pot. Terra cotta pots are more decorative and heavier, which helps support a top-heavy orchid. However, they dry out quickly. I solve this problem by growing my orchid in a plastic pot and then dropping the plastic pot into a decorative clay or ceramic container for display.
- Potting mix formulated specifically for orchids. There are many brands on the market, but here is my favorite orchid potting soil.
- Clean, sharp scissors or pruners.
2. Remove the plant from its current container.
Gently grasp the plant with your hand and tip the pot on its side. In most cases, the orchid slips out nicely. In cases where the plant is extremely root bound, it requires more effort and may be quite the wrestling match.
3. Gently use your fingers to comb through the roots and remove the old potting medium.
Don’t worry about hurting the plant or its roots; you can be pretty aggressive with them and cause little to no harm. If pieces of bark get stuck in the roots, wash them out with a sharp stream of water from a sink or hose. Used orchid potting soil is a great addition to the compost pile.
4. Use the scissors to cut off any dead or dying leaves and roots.
Dead roots appear shriveled and dry; new roots are plump and smooth. Work your way through the Phalaenopsis orchid’s roots, cutting off any that are dead, damaged, or rotten. Make your cut where the root grows out from the plant. Again, don’t be afraid to get a bit aggressive here. Any roots that aren’t 100% healthy should be cut off.
5. Add a few inches of orchid potting mix to the bottom of the pot.
Be sure not to add too much. If you overfill the pot before adding the plant, you’ll take room away from the roots.
6. Gently place the root-pruned plant into the pot.
Spread the remaining roots out into the container. Keep the plant at the center of the pot. The bottom leaf should sit just above the pot’s rim.
7. Once the roots are settled into the pot, add more orchid potting mix.
Nestle more potting mix down in between the roots, and make sure there are no large pockets of air. Tap the pot on the table a few times throughout the process to settle the mix snugly against the roots. Fill the pot to within a half inch of the upper rim, leaving a little headspace for watering.
8. Water your newly repotted Phalaenopsis orchid in well.
I water mine by placing the pot in a sink full of room temperature water up to the pot’s rim. Let the pot sit in the water for about 45 minutes, then drain and put the plant back in its display location. By the way, though ice cubes are often recommended as a way to irrigate orchids, they are far too cold for these warm-climate plants and may cause root rot.
Extra tips for Phalaenopsis orchid repotting
- If you’re completing the job indoors, spread newspaper or craft paper over your work space. It’s a messy job.
- As you repot an orchid, check the entire plant for pests. Phalaenopsis orchid pests, such as mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites, can be wiped off the plant easily with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Transplant time is a great time to do this.
- Do not fertilize a Phalaenopsis orchid for two to three months after repotting. Doing so could burn tender, newly developing roots.
- When repotting Phalaenopsis orchids, it’s also a good time to clean any dust or debris off the leaves. A thick layer of dust restricts photosynthesis and detracts from the beauty of the plant’s glossy, green leaves. Use a damp cloth or paper towel to gently wipe off the leaves after transplanting is complete.
- Repotting orchids in the spring often stimulates blooms the following fall or winter, especially if you’re careful to use an organic orchid fertilizer every two weeks throughout the summer.
Phalaenopsis orchids are among the toughest orchids, but they do require regular care to thrive and rebloom. Transplanting is an essential step in maintaining the health of these lovely plants.
Do you have experience with Phalaenopsis orchid repotting? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.
For more on caring for indoor plants, check out the following articles:
- Common houseplant pests and organic control
- Fertilizing houseplants for success
- The best houseplants for apartments
- Caring for air plants