You've heard the expression that something was "LOVED" to death......well that is what frequently happens to orchids. Their owners LOVE them to death. Orchids really do thrive on benign neglect. Orchids thrive through all kinds of conditions, yet once people get their hands on them they can easily die. A lot of it has to do with over watering, and over feeding......that is LOVING them to death!
Orchids are found in the wild in all 50 states....Yes, even in Alaska! There are around 20,000 different species of orchids in the world, and they grow everywhere except the extreme arctic, the harshest deserts, and in the ocean. So this has to prove that orchids are not the delicate little flowers that many people believe they are.
I have grown orchids for about 10 years and have about 100 (give or take) orchids right now. Many are in need of re-potting, so I'll show you a fool proof way to repot your orchid so you will NEVER be able to "love" it to death, by over watering it.
Orchids are essentially "air plants". MOST (but not all) do NOT grow in soil.
Step 1: Step 1: When to Repot
OK, so first things first. This Instructable is is for repotting an orchid that is NOT in bloom (preferably it has just finished blooming), and has out grown it's pot. You can see orchids literally "climbing" out of their pots. Sometimes their roots will engulf the whole pot. If your orchid seems to be dying, it's time to take a look at the roots, and repot. Many times the moss or bark your orchid is probably potted in is breaking down....That won't happen any more! PLEASE NOTE: the roots curled outside the pot. The dark spots on the orchid are sunburn spots, bumps, bruises, and dirt. Orchids that are not blooming are not overly pretty plants IMHO.
The orchid I'm repotting is in the Cattleya family (or maybe a laelia cross). A friend has given me several orchids that have either never been repotted, or are sorely in need of it. This orchid did not have an identification tag so I don't know what it is for sure. It's an orphan. :-(
NOTE*** (and yes I'm yelling) NEVER EVER THROW AWAY THE ORCHIDS NAME TAG! When you repot an orchid make sure you make a new name tag! Use a pencil to write on the tag, and coat in clear nail polish
Not all orchids should be repotted using this medium (gravel/rocks) but this is GREAT for Cattleyas (corsage orchid), Dendrobiums, and Oncidiums.
I would NOT use rock to repot Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) since it likes to be kept damp.
Step 2: Step 2: Supplies (recycle and Reuse)
I believe in reusing as much as possible, so this is another reason I love using gravel, pea gravel, or lava rock as a planting medium. It can be used over, and over. You can wash it, let it air dry, or dry it in the oven to "sterilize" it, and it's ready to go. Many times you can get it for free, or in bags at the local big box store for under $4.00 a bag. IF you buy new be sure to rinse it first.
Plastic Pot (one size larger than the previous one) Plastic pots keep your orchids from drying out as fast as clay, and are much easier from which to remove an overgrown orchid. These can also be reused if they are in good shape. IF the sun has deteriorated the pot, toss it, and start with another one (many places/people will give you their plastic pots for FREE. Look on Craigslist.com)
Clay Pot to hold the plastic pot (OPTIONAL) Reuse an old clay pot....Scrub first with hot soapy water, and a brush.
Circle of screen (saved from a rescreening project) to put in the bottom of the plastic pot. It will prevent the gravel from falling out the drain holes.
NEW single edge razor blade, and/or scissors that have been wiped with alcohol.
New plant label
Slow release plant fertilizer
Step 3: Step 3 Remove the Orchid From the Old Pot
This step may be easier said than done.....especially if your orchid has "taken over" a clay pot. I have started potting my orchids in plastic pots because it much easier getting them out of plastic, without ruining a more expensive clay pot.
I knew I would have to cut off the excess of roots growing out the bottom of the pot. For this I used the new razor blade. Using care not to cut myself I cut off the roots even with the bottom of the pot.
After that I had to roll the pot while I applied pressure to the pot, to loosen the plant. I still ended up having to PULL the plant from the pot, breaking the brittle plastic pot.
Step 4: Step 4: Remove Old Potting Material
This poor orchid is so root bound, it will take a lot of "surgery" to get it healthy again.
First shake out as much of the old potting material as possible. In this case it was gravel, and a few packing peanuts. Many growers were using the non-biodegradable peanuts to keep the weight of the pot down when using gravel, and to keep other mediums from packing down, and smothering the roots.....helping with aeration.
Step 5: Step 5: Trim, Cut, Remove
Take time to inspect your orchid. On this one there are a couple old "stems" that don't have any leaves. IF those stems are firm, and green LEAVE THEM they produce energy. As you can see in the center of the picture are a couple more that are brown, withered, hard stems. Those will be removed.
To remove thos old stems you should be able to pull them down, and away from the growing orchid, or you may need to resort to scissors.....using care not to nick any parts you want to keep. As you remove the old hard stems, you may find that some of the old dry roots will fall away as well.
Step 6: Step 6: Cut the Roots
Now we need to remove the dead roots. I have tried to show the broken roots. You will see that there is a thin"thread/vein" in each root.This is a thicker "vein" but it can be as thin as a hair, and will remain even when the root is dead. They are very hard to break, so rather than risk damaging the orchid CUT the roots you need to remove. I like going back to the razor blade for this. Cutting against a hard, protected surface using all safety precautions.
I try to retain any healthy looking root regardless of length, but I have a friend (who owns an orchid nursery) who cuts all roots to the same length of about 4-6 inches when repotting.
Remove any old roots that are not directly connected to the part of the living orchid. Sometimes it's hard to tell. This had a lot of dead roots tangled in with the "good" roots.
Step 7: Step 7: Clean Up
I suppose this next step COULD be considered optional, but I really like to remove the old sheaths (the light colored papery looking stuff on the stems). These loose areas are a prime place for bugs to hide.....plus they look messy!
NOTE: ONLY remove the parts that are loose, and easy to pull away with your fingers, so you do not damamge the stem.
Wipe away any dirt or grime. This plant shows that at one time it was attacked by "scale". The scale bugs are dead on this plant so wipe away easily. I may opt treating this plant just in case any of the little critters are still alive, but I'll just watch it for now.
Step 8: Step 8: Potting
Cut a piece of screen to fit the bottom of the plastic pot. I'm reusing screen from another pot, so mine is already cut.
Pour some of your prepared gravel or lava rock into the bottom of the pot.
Position your orchid in the pot and continue filling the pot with gravel.
Make a new label with all of the same information from the old label, making sure to use the SAME upper, and lower case letters in the same places as on the original label......you can gather good information from that.
Add about 1 tablespoon of slow release fertilizer around your orchid.
NOTE: this is NOT the only fertilizer you will use on your orchid. I suggest a balanced fertilizer (I use a generic of the Peter's brand) There is no need to buy special bloom booster, or orchid fertilizer for weekly use.
Put the plastic potted into a nicer clay pot (this adds weight so your orchid won't tip over as easily) OPTIONAL