Dealing With Overgrown & Specimen Plants

The most challenging orchids to repot are the ones which should have been repotted years ago. These plants can be growing over the edge of the pot, through pot hangers, and in many different directions and angles that make getting them back on track a daunting task. Typically, the oldest pseudobulbs, which are usually in the middle of the pot, are rootless and leafless. The only actively growing part of the plant may be outside of the pot and those roots may be too long or in some cases entrenched in a neighboring pot. If it is a desirable or rare orchid then it is certainly worth saving as much of the plant as possible. Like many things, once you actually get into it, the task is not so bad and the feeling of accomplishment afterwards makes the effort worthwhile for both you and the orchid. Once you have tackled a few orchids like this you will probably make an oath to keep your repotting under control.

The first step is to unpot the orchid. If the roots have grown into a nearby pot try to remove them without damage. If you cannot, then you will have to cut them. Use sterile shears. If there are long roots over the edge of the pot, soaking the plant in water (either before or after unpotting) will make them more pliable. Often, these roots will branch once they are in a new pot of fresh media. Cut away any brown or dried growths. Leafless pseudobulbs may also be removed unless you are desperately trying to save a weak lead. As always, use repotting as a chance to give the orchid a thorough clean-up and inspect for pest and disease problems.

A specimen orchid is a plant that is left to grow undisturbed for several years, in some cases indefinitely. The goal is to allow the plant to grow to a large size and produce a bounty of blooms. Often, mounted orchids can grow to specimen size without any special attention. When we are potting orchids that we want to grow into specimen plants, we have certain considerations that are unique. Unless the orchid is a miniature, we will probably be using a large pot. An eight-inch or larger pot will stay moist in the center of the pot far longer than a five or six inch-pot with the same media. Plastic pots will retain moisture longer than clay pots. This means that the potting medium in the center of a ten-inch plastic pot may never even get close to drying out. Under these oxygen-deprived conditions, orchid roots don't stand much of a chance for long term survival. We must tailor our potting materials and practices to provide perfect drainage and ample oxygen to the roots.