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All Orchidophiles have their particular techniques for potting and dividing orchids. Likewise, every orchid has a slightly different cultural requirement and every home offers a different environment to work within. Whatever tricks of the trade you pick up along the way are for you to experiment with. This guide covers the basics.
First of all, it's important to know what type of orchid you have. Look for a plant label when you buy the orchid or ask what kind it is. You can also look it up in any of the common guides to growing orchids as houseplants. Knowing the name of your orchid will help you learn how to keep it healthy and encourage it to flower again.
What Type of Orchid Do I Have?
There are two types of orchids: sympodial orchids and monopodial orchids. Sympodial orchids (such as cattleyas and oncidium) grow on rhizomes and spread along the surface of the pot. Monopodial orchids (like vandas and phalaenopsis) grow upright from one growing point, producing roots and sometimes offshoots (keiki) on either their stems or flower spikes. As a general rule, monopodial orchids will not need dividing. Sympodial orchids can be divided during re-potting for propagation.
Why Repot or Divide Orchids?
There are a number of reasons. Perhaps it has outgrown its container. Or perhaps over-watering or over-fertilizing has damaged the root system. The most common potting mixes used for orchids are fir bark mixtures. With watering and fertilizing, these mixtures tend to break down within a year or two and need to be replaced. When fir bark mixtures start to deteriorate, they get darker and spongier and may develop a musty or rotted odor. This deteriorated mixture can damage orchid plants delicate roots. Accumulation of fertilizer salts in the potting mix can also damage root systems. Eventually, all plants need to be taken out of their existing potting medium and given a healthy new home.
When Should You Repot Your Orchids?
The best time to re-pot most orchids is after flowering when all the flowers have faded. Many orchids produce new growth at this stage and will benefit from re-potting. Many common orchids, such as phalaenopsis, flower in the winter and produce new growth in the spring and summer. Re-pot and divide these orchids after flowering in the spring. As a general rule, you should re-pot your orchids plants every year or two.
When you purchase your orchid, inspect the potting medium. If it is a fir bark blend, then it usually will be good for a year or two. Some orchids are sold in sphagnum moss. While it is an excellent medium for some of the more moisture-loving orchids, it can be challenging for the beginner. Sphagnum moss tends to dry out around the edges and stays very moist in the center so be careful not to over-water. Re-potting the orchid into an easier medium may be helpful.
When Should You Avoid Repotting Orchids?
It's best not to re-pot your orchids when they are in bud or flowering. The plant is working too hard placing its energy into the bloom. The stress of re-potting may cause the buds to drop or may shorten the life of the blossoms.
Because orchids are susceptible to plant viruses, it is important to work with clean tools and clean hands. Wash your hands often when handling different orchids or wear latex gloves. Divide and re-pot your orchids on layers of newspaper, so that you can easily clean the debris from one plant before working on another. Disinfect tools with ether a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) or isopropyl or rubbing alcohol (70% straight from the bottle). Soak for a minimum of ten minutes. Disposable utility razor blades can be purchased at a hardware store and work well for trimming roots and dividing orchids. Pots can be disinfected with the 10% bleach solution.
Steps for repotting and dividing orchids: