Orchids have an exotic mystique about them and may be intimidating to even the seasoned gardener. Though they were once considered too expensive and rare for the average homeowner, increased production of a few common varieties have made the orchid an affordable touch of luxury.

Orchid blooms

Left on the plant, the orchid flower stem will bloom over the course of several weeks.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Orchid leaves

The large, thick leaves are a characteristic feature of the Phaelanopsis orchid

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Orchid repotting step 1

Situate the plant in the new pot so the stem is in the center and the lowest set of leaves are nearly even with the top of the pot.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Orchid repotting step 2

Use an orchid potting mix to fill in the space around the roots.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Orchid repotting step

Use a plant stake to stabilize the orchid as it settles into its new home.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Except for humid, tropical climates where orchids can grow outdoors year-round, the orchid is a houseplant. Phalaenopsis and Dendrobium orchids are the most commonly available types. These are both epiphytic orchids, which means they have “air roots” – roots that don’t need a rich peat-based potting soil like most plants. Instead, they thrive in a moist-air environment. In nature, epiphytic plants are often found in rain forests growing on trees. The tree doesn’t provide nutrients to the orchid, it only serves as an anchoring location, and the orchid derives its water and nutrients from the moisture in the air.

Adapted for home enjoyment, epiphytic orchids are often grown in a bark-based media that anchors the plant in a terra-cotta pot. Unlike most plants, orchids like to be in a “too-small” pot. The roots should at least touch the sides of the container, and in all likelihood, some roots will even spill over the side. It may be a year or more before it’s necessary to repot (only when there are many long roots over the edge).

First of all, only repot orchids when they aren’t blooming. The shock of a new, though similar, environment may disrupt the plant’s shining moment. Remember, they like small pots. So if your orchid is currently in a 4-inch pot, a 5-inch pot may be enough extra room – and certainly don’t go larger than a 6-inch container. While a regular terra-cotta pot will do, there are specialty orchid pots that have slits around the base to allow more air movement around the roots. (These containers are usually available at your local garden center.)

Carefully remove the orchid from its original container. Sometimes the roots are “stuck” to the side of the pot, but they can usually be gently pried off without any damage. Orchid roots are thick, white and generally sparse. A bright green root tip is a sign of healthy root growth. Roots that are brown, mushy or dried up should be removed with scissors or pruners before repotting.

Situate the plant in the new pot so the stem is in the center and the lowest set of leaves are nearly even with the top of the pot. Use an orchid potting mix to fill in the space around the roots. If the plant seems wobbly, just use a plant stake to stabilize the orchid as it settles into its new home. Water as usual (once a week may be sufficient for this epiphyte), and be on the lookout for new flower buds. It may be two years before it’s time to repot again, so just relax and enjoy this tropical beauty.