Tip: Always use sterilized tools when cutting live plant material. Viruses are easy to spread with cutting tools and a virus will kill every plant it infects. I prefer using a new razor blade on each plant and throwing it away when I am done with that plant. Also, scrub your hands between plants - viruses are always lethal to the plant!

Ask ten different growers what they pot in and you will get ten different answers. Each person will swear that his mix is the best and the funny thing is that each is probably right. That is because the mix should be matched to your conditions, the way you water, the types of orchids you grow, and how often you repot. I will give some recommendations here but repotting is one place where a demonstration is worth more than a 1000 words. Have someone show you the finer points, including how deep to pot the plant, what to do with the old roots, which way to orient the plant, what size pot to use, how to attach the plant to the pot, and many other things. Even if you do everything else perfectly, if the plant is not potted correctly, it will die.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: Find the right media for your conditions. This can vary for each micro-climate in your growing area and also varies with the species you grow.

I will start with the most controversial subject of all: what media to use. Through the years I have seen the potting medias come and go and each is the rage for a few months or years. Often, supplies of a particular media type get used up and you just can't get it anymore. I have seen this happen with redwood bark, osmunda, tree fern, and sphagnum moss. I remember a few years ago the rage was ground up rubber tires. I heard it worked fine but one of the problems was that it was too expensive to produce. Even fir bark, maybe the most popular media of all through the years, sometimes becomes difficult to find. The following are my comments on some of the media types available:

Media Type Description
Like I said above, this has been the most popular media component through the years. Some people like it straight and others like it mixed with other components including perlite, charcoal, ground redwood or redwood bark, lava rock (or other types of stone, preferably lightweight), and even sphagnum moss. As with most types of media, fir bark breaks down. When it does, it can take the root system with it; that is one reason to mix other things with it that break down at a different rates (or not at all). The microbes that break it down also use a good deal of the available nitrogen, making it unavailable to the plant. Personally I prefer to use about 50% fir bark with 25% charcoal and 25% large perlite and sometimes some lava rock.

One nice thing about perlite is that it is inorganic and therefore does not rot. The main problem though is that it is very fragile and crushes easily into dust - dust that you do no want to breathe and dust that clogs up the holes in the bottom of your pots, blocking essential airflow. That is why I mix it rather than using it straight. Perlite is available in assorted sizes from 1/8" to about 1/2".

With charcoal, as with most media types, there are pluses and minuses. On the plus side it is relatively easy to find, it is a somewhat renewable resource, and several sizes are available. It also absorbs impurities. There are though some potential negatives:

  1. Often the rain forest is destroyed to make it.
  2. As it absorbs impurities it tends to become toxic to the plants.
  3. The dust is messy and tough on the lungs.

The best thing is that it never rots. It also has rough surface that holds water for a while. One downside is that if you have minerals in your water (and most of us do) they tend to accumulate on its surface and most orchid roots are not too fond of that. I once bought a big Cattleya that was potted in a mix of about 50% lava rock and 50% fir bark. After about 6 year in the same pot the plant had grown into a nice big specimen but because it was growing over the sides I needed to repot it. What I found once I got it out of the pot was that as the fir bark had rotted away the lava rock had kept the media from collapsing into the bottom of the pot and so instead of killing the roots system, the rotting bark made more room for the roots. Every root the plant had grown over its six years in the pot was still in perfect shape.

I go through phases with this stuff; sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it (right now I am hating it because it is getting harder and harder to find decent moss). When used correctly, this moss makes some kinds of plants grow like nobody's business but it does come with issues:

  1. Don't let it dry out because it is really difficult to get the stuff wet again.
  2. Repot often because it breaks down in a year or so. This is one reason sphagnum is popular with Phalaenopsis and not with Cattleyas; Phalaenopsis can generally be repotted without destroying the root system but this is not generally the case with Cattleyas.
  3. Don't over water. The moss will get soggy and rot the roots.
  4. Be careful using it in anything bigger than about a 4" pot as in large pots it can get really soggy and compressed, rotting the roots and then the plant.
  5. Get used to the fact that different batches of moss are of differing levels of quality. It used to be easy to get sphagnum from New Zealand; now most of it comes from other places including Chile. I got great moss a year ago and now moss from the same source is so-so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: Always buy azalea pots or a type of pot that has more than 4 holes in the bottom. Since most orchids are epiphytes, they need lots of air flow to the roots. Azalea pots have extra holes in the bottom that are good for getting the air to the roots.


The general rule is that the pot should be large enough to allow 2-3 years of growth before you have to go to the next size.

  • Inexpensive
  • Light weight
  • Don't allow media to dry out too quickly
  • Use azalea pots

  • Heavy
  • Relatively expensive
  • Fragile
  • Allow mineral buildup
  • Porosity allows good air flow
  • Always use orchid pots with the slots in the bottom

Overall I like plastic pots better in most climates. In a hot and humid place like Florida I might reconsider. For a commercial grower who has to move, haul, and ship potted plants there is really no choice, but even for the average hobbyist I think plastic is a good choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: Consider repotting any plant when you get it. Pull it out of the pot and inspect the media and roots. If there is any evidence of media breakdown or if the pot and media are much different from what you use with the rest of your plants, in most cases the new plant should be repotted.


It is important to repot often enough but not too often. In many cases, equally important is doing it at the right time of year.

 

 

 

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  • Repot only when one of the following conditions exists:
    • The media is seriously breaking down.
    • The new growths are growing out over the side of the pot so far that the new roots coming out cannot get into the pot.
  • Always clip the plant down after it is repotted. It is essential that the plant not move around while it is trying to get rooted. Use a combination of pot clips or stakes.
  • Especially with some species (non-hybrids), repot only during periods of active root growth.
  • Remove most of the root system when repotting.

  • Avoid media that supports a buildup of minerals (like lava rock) if your water is high in mineral content.
  • Use a media that does not allow the plant to dry out too quickly.

  • Use a media that does not allow the plant to dry out too quickly.
  • Repot every year or two.
  • Be careful to avoid root damage during repotting.

  • Repot only in the early spring (before new roots begin to emerge).
  • Consider hanging your pots and tying the plant to the hanger since they are generally too tall to stand well on a bench.
  • Be careful not to overpot; Dendrobiums like it tight.
  • Avoid use of copper-based fungicides