How to Repot a Cattleya Orchid
Step 1: Prepare
Gather your materials and sanitize your work surface, cutting tools, and hands. Remove any wire plant-tie and stakes that may be anchoring your plant. Remove the plant's label and place it to one side where it won't get lost.
Step 2: Unpot
If your orchid is planted in a plastic pot and hasn't become too overgrown, unpotting can be as simple as turning the pot upside-down, grasping the plant and pulling it gently downwards, out of its pot. If the plant doesn't remove easily, don't force it. Place the side of the pot against the edge of your workbench and roll the pot from side to side, pressing downward against it as you roll. This will loosen the roots and bark. You should now be able to remove the plant without much effort. If the plant still won't come out, you may have to cut the plastic pot from top to bottom and peel the pot away from the root mass.
If your orchid is planted in a clay pot, its roots have more then likely "etched" themselves against the sides, making removal difficult if not impossible. Removal is accomplished best by simply breaking the pot with a hammer and picking the shards away from the orchid's roots.
Step 3: Groom
Shake away any loose bark and dead roots. This material may be saved in a plastic bag and used as mulch or mixed in potting soil for your other tropical plants. Do not reuse any old bark for your orchids. If the roots of your orchid have completely engulfed the inner mass of bark at their core, you may have to cut a slit in the root ball to clean the old bark and any dead roots out. This is a very important step to ensure your orchid will grow well and not succumb to root rot over the next couple of years. Remove as much old bark from between the roots as you can, using your fingers or a blunt point. The healthy roots should be cleaned nearly free of any potting medium. Healthy roots are firm, almost brittle, with a whitish or light brownish covering. Dead roots are mushy, with a brown covering that easily peels away to expose the root thread within. Dead roots should be cut away as close to the base of the plant as possible.
Clear your works surface of old bark and dead roots.
Step 4: Divide
If your orchid is sympodial, with individual new shoots that grew out of the previous season's growth (such as Cattleyas, Dendrobiums, or Paphiopedilums) and your plant has six or more good growths in the pot, you may cut it into divisions of not less than three growths each. The "new" plants you will get from dividing require at least three good growths to provide each division with enough nutrients and water to continue prospering. If you're dividing a Cattleya, be sure before you divide that the division you intend to make has at least two good "eyes" where new growth will be produced if new shoots are not already present. Make each of your cuts firmly, and cut in one place once you decide on the best location. Don't start cutting "here," change your mind, then start cutting "there." New growths are notoriously brittle and will snap off if mishandled. Put no pressure on the plant that bears down on any new growth. Using your pruning sealer or anti-fungal agent, apply a thin layer to each cut. This will discourage the invasion of fungus or bacteria. Allow the material to dry slightly. Now is a good time to peel the brown sheaths from your orchid's pseudobulbs (if appropriate to your type of plant) and inspect for insect dammage. If you are repotting a Cattleya, do not peel the green sheaths from any new growth.
Step 5: Repot
Cover the drain holes of your new pot with sanitized clay shards, lava rock, or styrofoam peanuts.
If you're repotting a sympodial, place a handful of the bark you have been soaking into the pot, forming a mound that almost reaches the top of the pot against one side. You should position your plant so that its oldest part is against the bark side of the pot, with the eyes of new growth facing the pot's middle. You may need to bury a portion of the old pseudobulbs into the bark mound so that the new growth is level with a point approximately one and half inches from the top of the pot. Grasping your orchid in one hand, use the other hand to spread your orchid's roots over the mound of bark you have just created.
If your orchid is monopodial, with a single main growth along which roots grow out (such as a Phalaenopsis or Vanda), you should place your bark mound in the center of the pot and position your plant over it so that its roots are more or less spread evenly on every side. If the roots are too long to fit properly, you may trim them sparingly, but keep them at least three to four inches long. Trim roots only if absolutely necessary.
Keeping plant and pot stationary with one hand, use the other hand to fill the pot with wet bark and cover the roots you have just fanned out across the mound. Press the bark down firmly into the pot. If you choose to use a blunt "potting stick" for this purpose, be sure you don't tamp down too close to the plant or any new growth. A potting stick is NOT reccommended for Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilums, or Phragmipediums. Improper use of a potting stick can cause serious plant damage.
Step 6: Finishing Up
If you are repotting a Cattleya, Dendrobium, or other tall sympodial, when you are satisfied with the position of your plant and have pressed the bark down firmly enough so that your orchid can stand more or less on its own, cut a wedge on one end of your bamboo stake, sanitize the stake by swirling the cut end in your bleach-water solution, rinse in clear water, then plunge the stake down into the potting medium beside where your plant is newly rooted. The stake should be located on the side of the plant opposite the side toward which the plant leans when you let go of it. Wrap one end of your wire plant-tie around the bamboo stake at a level high enough to support your plant. Twist the wire so that it grasps the stake tightly. Gently grasp the pseudobulbs of your plant and bring them toward the bamboo stake, wrapping a loop of plant-tie around them as you go. You are trying to create a compact stand of existing growth at one end of the pot that will leave room for new shoots to spread toward the center and other side of the pot as the plant grows. When you have gone around the pseudobulbs with the plant-tie and have returned to the bamboo stake, twist the plant-tie securely to the stake. Your plant should be anchored enough so that gentle movement doesn't send the plant toppling, but the wire should not be wrapped so firmly around the plant that it cuts into it.
Repeat steps 5 and 6 for each division you have made.
Step 7: Congratulate yourself!
If necessary, write out new plant labels for your divisions, making sure you write the name and any awards given exactly as they were written on the original. Don't forget these labels! Prize orchids are like championship show dogs: without its "papers," your orchid is just another mutt. Insert the label firmly and deeply into the pot.
Keep your newly potted plant out of strong light for two weeks, and withhold watering. Mist the leaves lightly every other morning. After two weeks have passed and your orchid is over any repotting shock, resume the plant's normal care.
If you made it to this point, you did a fine job, and your orchid will thrive for you!
Learn more about caring for your orchids by visiting the River Valley Orchidworks - Orchid Forum.
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