Learn how to repot orchids, and you'll have a much better chance of keeping these notoriously high-maintenance plants alive much longer. If your orchids keep dying on you, it's very often due to the fact that the unique needs of these exotic plants have not been met, and that includes root care.
Some orchids do grow in soil, but the vast majority that are sold in garden centres and supermarkets are epiphytes, which means that in their natural growing environment, these plants do not grow in compost but simply attach themselves to tree branches or rocks with their roots.
Dense, compacted soil will make your orchid unwell, and a root-bound orchid in a pot of regular compost mix will almost certainly die. It is therefore necessary to repot your orchid every once in a while to keep the root system healthy. If you need more information on what to use instead of regular house plant compost, read our advice on how to care for orchids.
How to repot orchids
Firstly, you need to determine if your orchid needs a new pot, or if the current pot can be reused. Carefully lift your orchid out of its pot – if it's stuck, it's root-bound and will need cutting out. If it lifts easily, then you may be able to reuse the current pot.
Carefully inspect the root ball, cutting away any roots that are damaged or rotten. If reusing its current pot, wash with warm water and soap and rinse – orchids are prone to disease and like a clean growing container. This is also a good opportunity to give your orchid a nice soak – simply soak the roots under the tap (lukewarm water is best), let drain.
Now, position the root ball in the empty pot and then fill the gaps between the roots with orchid growing mix (we like making our own from moss, bark, and perlite). This is much kinder to plant than drying to ram it into a densely packed pot of compost. If the orchid is not very steady after you've filled the pot, support it with a bamboo cane, rather than packing it in with too much mix.
Some people also like growing their orchids using just lava rocks, with quite a bit of success. You just need to remember to water and drain it regularly (about once a week).
Many people use a plastic pot with drainage holes as a holding pot for their orchid, as this makes watering easier. This isn't strictly necessary, and you can use any pot with drainage. If using a planter without holes, you'll just need to make sure you tip out any excess water after watering – this is best done over a sink, as it can get a bit messy.