I often see orchids massively overpotted, some thrive in much smaller pots and baskets

Slippertalk Orchid Forum

Help Support Slippertalk Orchid Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

Ricardo Boricua

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 27, 2023
Messages
138
Reaction score
291
Location
Puerto Rico
I often see orchids planted in massively large pots, way bigger than what is recommendable for orchids. If you carefully supply the water and fertilizer needs of an orchid, some can be grown in surprisingly small pots in relation to the size of the plant. This adult plant of Dendrobium primulinum var. De Leon grew quite well in a six inch wide wire basket filled with two inches of potting material.IMG_4009-2.JPG
 
Ricardo, I agree with you. I see orchids that are suffering, slowly dying due to repotting errors. Either the media has broken down or it is way over potted.
What we may be witnessing is the idea that people over pot thinking that the orchid will grow best if you give it lots of room! The knowledge or experience is not there which would allow them to understand.

You also are seeing the results of a marketing plan centered around orchids are house plants! That is not true! They are not house plants rather they are “plants that can be grown in the house”. There is a big difference.
It is like “All poodles are dogs”. True but the reverse is not, All dogs are poodles.
 
Ricardo, I agree with you. I see orchids that are suffering, slowly dying due to repotting errors. Either the media has broken down or it is way over potted.
What we may be witnessing is the idea that people over pot thinking that the orchid will grow best if you give it lots of room! The knowledge or experience is not there which would allow them to understand.

You also are seeing the results of a marketing plan centered around orchids are house plants! That is not true! They are not house plants rather they are “plants that can be grown in the house”. There is a big difference.
It is like “All poodles are dogs”. True but the reverse is not, All dogs are poodles.
Sad to say, the internet is awash with misinformation and accurate, vetted information is often drowned by a deluge of absurd hacks and bizzare advice. The fact that there is a group of orchid that has been specifically bred for the house plant market has made some people think that all kind of orchids can be grown the same way. And don't get me started on the people who advice watering with ice cubes and rice water.
 
Just like damned near everything else in orchid growing, I don’t think there are any absolute rules about potting. However, one must understand what is going on in the pot in order to make it right.

The “big pot” concept comes from two angles - an epiphyte in nature is mostly unconstrained, and the desire to wait a longer time to repot. If that “longer time” lets the media go south, that’s a problem. Likewise, as evaporation occurs primarily from the top and pot wall interface, it can leave the center of the volume soppy and suffocating.

As far as the “unconstrained” logic, a plant wants to be mechanically stable. Loose, unstable media can damage roots and stop them from spreading. A plant in a small pot may get its roots to the pot wall and anchor itself more quickly than one in a big pot. In the wild, the plants can extend their roots broadly to provide decent anchors to prevent them from getting ripped off the host tree by windstorms.

I speculate that aerial roots in phalaenopsis, for example, in addition to being water and nutrient collectors, emanating from higher in the structure, act as “guy wires” to stabilize those big, broad, sail-like leaves that sit on a relatively small base. I once did an experiment in which phalaenopsis growing in semi-hydroponics - uniform, non-degrading mix with similar air/water ratios throughout, courtesy of the wicking ability - were potted in containers as big or bigger than their leaf span. The result? The plants grew fine and the “aerial” roots soon anchored themselves farther out in the container, and they didn’t produce more.

That brings me to another “it ain’t necessarily so” comment about the pitfalls of overpotting.

I used to travel on business around the US and occasionally Canada a lot. I averaged 13 flights a week for 3.5 years at one spell. That was why I worked on media and pot combinations to sustain my plants while I wasn’t there, leading to semi-hydroponic culture. It also afforded me the opportunity to visit a lot of nurseries around the country, and I often brought plants home.

When they were new to the market, I bought a 2” pot of Oncidium Sharry Baby ‘Sweet Frangrance” from Ellenburgers in NY. I brought it home, and as an experiment, stuck it directly into a 24” tall x 16” diameter florist’s cooler bucket I had converted to a semi-hydro pot. It took off and grew and grew and grew for about 3 years before it bloomed with more than a dozen spikes, each loaded with flowers. Later, I tripped in a hole in my back yard (thanks to two Irish Setters), dropped the container, breaking it. I hardly lost a single LECA pellets, as the roots enveloped the entire volume.
 
Just like damned near everything else in orchid growing, I don’t think there are any absolute rules about potting. However, one must understand what is going on in the pot in order to make it right.

The “big pot” concept comes from two angles - an epiphyte in nature is mostly unconstrained, and the desire to wait a longer time to repot. If that “longer time” lets the media go south, that’s a problem. Likewise, as evaporation occurs primarily from the top and pot wall interface, it can leave the center of the volume soppy and suffocating.

As far as the “unconstrained” logic, a plant wants to be mechanically stable. Loose, unstable media can damage roots and stop them from spreading. A plant in a small pot may get its roots to the pot wall and anchor itself more quickly than one in a big pot. In the wild, the plants can extend their roots broadly to provide decent anchors to prevent them from getting ripped off the host tree by windstorms.

I speculate that aerial roots in phalaenopsis, for example, in addition to being water and nutrient collectors, emanating from higher in the structure, act as “guy wires” to stabilize those big, broad, sail-like leaves that sit on a relatively small base. I once did an experiment in which phalaenopsis growing in semi-hydroponics - uniform, non-degrading mix with similar air/water ratios throughout, courtesy of the wicking ability - were potted in containers as big or bigger than their leaf span. The result? The plants grew fine and the “aerial” roots soon anchored themselves farther out in the container, and they didn’t produce more.

That brings me to another “it ain’t necessarily so” comment about the pitfalls of overpotting.

I used to travel on business around the US and occasionally Canada a lot. I averaged 13 flights a week for 3.5 years at one spell. That was why I worked on media and pot combinations to sustain my plants while I wasn’t there, leading to semi-hydroponic culture. It also afforded me the opportunity to visit a lot of nurseries around the country, and I often brought plants home.

When they were new to the market, I bought a 2” pot of Oncidium Sharry Baby ‘Sweet Frangrance” from Ellenburgers in NY. I brought it home, and as an experiment, stuck it directly into a 24” tall x 16” diameter florist’s cooler bucket I had converted to a semi-hydro pot. It took off and grew and grew and grew for about 3 years before it bloomed with more than a dozen spikes, each loaded with flowers. Later, I tripped in a hole in my back yard (thanks to two Irish Setters), dropped the container, breaking it. I hardly lost a single LECA pellets, as the roots enveloped the entire volume.

thanks for your input, Ray. Well-informed and stated.

Rather than a universal "rule,' though, I would say that there IS a universal principle. And that is that, as epiphytes, most orchids require the proper air/water balance at the roots. And I believe this is not the same for all genera.

I appreciate, in particular, the work you've done on Semi-hydro, which works well for me for many genera. Oncidiinae are among them. I believe that proper sifting out of "small stuff" is important in order to give enough air to the roots.

Containers, though, I think, are at least as important as the medium, in making this happen. This is very seldom mentioned in growers' advice, and most growers follow the "bark rule," which inevitable means a lot of repotting. In the old days, many growers helped get more air to the roots by using clay pots, sometimes short ones with extra holes on the side/bottoms called orchid pots. to get more air there. It still works, even with moss (though that seems to do even better with net pots. After all these epiphytes do not grow in pots in nature, but do have lots of natural humidity that most of us can't supply, so we use media to keep the roots "humid." So, I agree with you, Ray, that the media and pot need to work together along with the immediate environment wo keep the root zone happy. This is where most failures occur.

I appreciate your comments on "overpotting." I have a Cattleya that was grown initially in leca in a basket by Tony Wells. When it started going outside the basket, I just put the whole thing in a larger clay pot, which will keep the roots from attaching to the bench, etc, and also become a type of medium, with air between the basket and the pot. So helpful to understand the principle.

I've been working on a program on the use of inorganic media, which don't decompose. I'll put a link here and welcome comments, especially from Ray.

https://docs.google.com/presentatio...FUOVVM-PWi53y3Sh92PNMipb4/edit?usp=drive_link

Of course, I'm willing to give it as a Zoom talk to any interested society, as it's already been given to 5 Cities.

Harvey
 
Back
Top