Repotting Orchids

Learn about transplanting orchids as you shift them from pots to garden.
Cypripedium calceolus

Cypripedium calceolus

Photo by: Image courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

Image courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

Leave wintery thoughts of snow boots behind and behold these heartwarming yellow lady's slippers. Typically found in moist and woody areas throughout the world, visitors to the Chicago Botanic Orchid Show will find them cleverly displayed throughout the Regenstein Center Greenhouses and Gallery.

Keep your hardy orchids healthy by transplanting orchids correctly. Growing orchids means you’ll need to tackle transplanting in the early stages of creating your orchid garden, as you shift plants from pots to beds. If you’re raising hardy orchids in containers, you’ll need to take on repotting orchids at some point. Learn tips and techniques for each of these orchid planting tasks.  

Transplanting orchids is similar to planting perennials. The main thing to watch for is handling roots carefully. Orchid roots are extremely fragile. When you remove the plant from its pot, cradle the top of the plant in one hand as you slip the pot away.  

Most hardy orchids come in small pots, so you should be able to hold the roots in your other hand once the pot is free. Do this over a small tub or plastic bin to catch any of the orchid potting mix that falls away. Add this mix to the planting hole around your orchid.  

Have your planting hole ready before removing the hardy orchid from its pot. Once you remove the pot, place the orchid into the hole. Most of the orchid potting mix will fall away from the roots. Handle the roots gingerly to avoid breaking them. Spread the roots out in the planting hole and arrange the orchid so the growing point is at or just below soil level. Don’t plant it too deeply, or the plant may develop crown rot and die.  

Gently place the orchid potting mix the plant came in around the roots, then slowly backfill the hole with compost-enriched soil. Don’t tamp the soil hard or you risk breaking roots. After soil is in place, add a mulch layer to maintain soil moisture and a cooler root zone temperature.  

Slugs and snails are a major pest of hardy orchids. Plan to prevent their attacks by using slug bait or traps, especially if you know these pests are a problem in your orchid garden areas.  

When growing hardy orchids in containers, at some point you’ll need to bump plants to larger pots. Repotting orchids is an easy task. Typically it’s done on indoor-grown orchids roughly every two years. If your hardy orchid summers outside and spends the winter indoors, you may need to repot more frequently.  

Signs that plants need repotting include roots creeping over pot edges. Or rhizomes and their new shoots may strain against pot edges. Or maybe the plant has become top-heavy, and the pot continues to topple. The last reason to consider repotting orchids is if the orchid potting mix has become mushy and condensed.  

Repot an orchid by gently tipping the pot and letting the orchid fall into your hand. You might have to break some roots if they’re clinging to the pot, but try not to. Do your research to know if your orchid likes to be in tight quarters or wants a larger pot. Clip any black or dead roots.  

Fill the bottom of the orchid pot with orchid potting mix, and add the orchid so that the growing point is level with or slightly above the top of the potting mix. Water thoroughly after repotting orchids.  

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