August 16, 2016

Repotting An Orchid, Mistakes To Avoid

I couldn't delay any longer. My cattleya hybrid was in serious need of repotting. The roots were fused together and growing outside the pot. The pot itself was miniscule, only meant for a seedling I imagine. The plant looked altogether droopy. The main reason for my hesitation is lack of orchid potting medium.  Here in Kinshasa you can't just walk into the local nursery and buy fresh potting mix. You have to get creative and make your own.

Fortunately a few weeks ago I found a dried coconut husk on the ground which I saved for future use. I visited a nearby construction site and collected up some wood chips. After cutting the coconut husk into small pieces I soaked it along with the wood chips in water for several hours. I took my orchid out of its tiny pot, washed the roots then began stuffing the roots with coconut husk. I layered wood chips on the bottom of the pot then set my orchid in the pot while squishing in more wood chips and coconut husk. I can hear the experts gasping in horror. This is NOT the way to repot an orchid and they no doubt can guess the disaster that followed. Within a couple of days the potting medium was moldy and mold was starting to grow on the roots. Now my little cattleya was in a state of emergency!

What were my mistakes? 1. Wood chips instead of bark chips. 2. Too much water-retaining coconut husk. 3.  Waterlogging the mixture and 4. Packing it too tight in the pot. These are mistakes to avoid when repotting an orchid.

Back to the drawing board. This time I went and collected bark from the felled trees at the construction site.  I chopped them into small pieces, washed them with disinfectant, covered them in cinnamon and let them dry out for a few days. I gently removed the orchid from its pot and washed and disinfected it. More drainage holes were added. Meanwhile I carefully washed the roots and snipped off everything that looked dead or rotting. I adjusted the ratio of bark chips, coconut husks and miscellaneous dried seed pods to about 60/30/10. This time I did not presoak the mixture. I simply gave it a good watering. A few days later I watered and fertilized.  Now, after two weeks my orchid is looking perky and is growing new roots. Orchid repotting crisis averted!