Cultivating Orchids & Crafting Terrariums

Fact or Myth: Orchids Prefer Clear Plastic Pots to Grow

Clear plastic pots seem to be the preference when growing orchids. But does it really make a difference? To determine if the pot makes a difference in growing orchids, I put together a comparison and weighed out the factoring determinants of whether clear plastic pots were the best choice for the orchid.

What are the best pots for Phalaenopsis orchids?

Clear plastic pots with large drainage holes or slots are the best for Phalaenopsis orchids, inducing healthier orchid roots. Healthy roots mean a healthy orchid. Other pots had negative factors that weighed down their ranking.

Terracota, ceramic pots, and wooden-slatted containers all had negative influences, which in the long run, hindered orchid growth.
To better understand why this happens, think about how orchids grow in nature. The orchid (epiphytes) attaches itself ⅓ up the height of the tree trunk in order to get fresh air, adequate sunlight, and abundant rainfall.

Since there is no soil in the tree bark, so it had to adapt to getting its nutrients through the air. To do this, it adapted its roots to also provide some photosynthesis from sunlight.
Humidity and moisture are kept tightly around the orchid by the closing canopy of leaves above it. High temperatures promote evaporation from the soil under it. The orchid is in its biome surrounded by air, light, humidity, and water, and clear plastic pots provide the best resemblance to the orchid’s natural habitat.

What to Look for in Selecting Your Orchid Pot

Size - Don't Overdo the Size

Do orchids need bigger pots?

A Phalaenopsis orchid pot needs to be large enough to grow one 1 inch (2.5 cm) in the coming year. For a faster-growing orchid or a sympodial orchid, you can add two inches for each pot. A miniature orchid can stay in the same size pot, just refresh the potting medium.

The pot has to imitate Goldilocks to an extent. It can’t be too big…or too small; the pot has to be just the right size. The roots in the pot need to be tight, but with room to grow. An over-packed potting medium will suffocate the roots, and a pot that is larger than necessary will make the orchid feel “insecure”, while it desperately looks for a side of the pot to grab onto.

Imagine the pot like tucking a small child into bed. The covers need to be tucked in all around them so they feel safe, but they still have to have some wiggle room to move their toes. This tight, safe, and secure feeling comes from the right sized pot. The room to grow means the roots aren’t jammed up around the sides of the pot but have about an inch to grow.

Every time you repot, make sure you only go up in size a pot 1 inch larger than the initial pot. This also helps the orchid know that the sides are there, and they aren’t floating around aimlessly in the pot.

Ventilation – Keep the Air Flowing

Why do orchids need pots with holes? Ventilated orchid pots with slots, holes, and slits in the side are a necessity for proper air circulation for orchid roots.

Pots that are totally confined will not work. Orchid roots are mostly areal in nature. They adapt into the potting medium just to have something to hang onto, providing stability. Slits in the side of the pot allow air to freely enter the pot, remove the extra humidity, and keep fungus away from the roots.

Drainage – Keep the Water Flowing

Do orchids need pots with drainage holes?

Since orchids need to be watered differently than houseplants, they need pots with large drainage holes, allowing water to exit quickly.

 Drainage is probably the most important item to think of when considering orchid pots. If you do want a closed bottom pot, select a terrarium set-up and don’t water the orchid, but close the terrarium and create a separate biome with active mist.
Orchid Identification
Since this isn’t the case that most of us are going for, select a pot with more than enough slits, slats, holes, and slates to allow water to drain.

Why Clear Plastic was the 1st place

Do orchids need special pots?  The best pots for orchids need to be made for orchids, since houseplants don't need ventilation, allow for light to penetrate the material, and have large drainage holes. In this sense, orchids need special pots.

The secret to keeping an orchid happy is providing adequate growth for the roots. To stuff an orchid into a suffocating, dark, dry container and expect it to be happy is asking a lot. The main reason clear plastic is the number one choice for orchids is because sunlight can penetrate the pot, and orchid roots can aid in photosynthesis along with the leaves.

Clear plastic not only helps the orchid, it aids the grower, too. In most household plants, you can judge the orchid by the leaves. With an orchid, the health is judged by the roots. Clear plastic is an easy way to see if the roots need watering or if they are dry. Transparent materials also aid in judging whether the orchid needs repotted or not.
clear plastic pot
Many orchid growers keep their orchid double-potted. They maintain the orchid in a smaller, clear, plastic pot with abundant slits or holes, but to hide this, they place the orchid inside another pot, which is more decorative and exhibit-worthy.
This is a good way to keep the orchids that are not in bloom or the shelf of your study or office, while the orchid that is in bloom gets to be displayed on the living room table. The switch is easy, and stress-free. Just pull it out of the bigger pot, and return the orchid that has bloomed to the back shelf for its dormant period.

The only downside with double-potting is the time that the orchid is hidden in a dark pot. This, of course, will not aid in photosynthesis. Not all is lost. During the bloom, the orchid is not actively producing roots and growing new leaves. There is no need for the extra light (which means extra energy).

Actually, since the orchid is not actively doing anything besides showing off all it’s year’s effort in the flowers, you can lower—or cancel altogether—the fertilizer, too. Once the flowers fall off, you can return the orchid to the shelf it was growing on earlier, upgrade the fertilizer, and help the plant recuperate from blooming. This all translates to: clear pot.

Terracota Pots or Clay Pots: 2nd Runner-Up

TIP: If you're looking for suggestions of orchid pots, this purchase (Affiliate Link) is worthy of the price, since each pot comes out less than 2 dollars. For new orchid growers, it's not always easy to decide on the size of pot you need to choose, so in this bundle, you get 2 pots in various sizes (3, 4, 5, and 6  inch pots), that fulfill every condition listed above.

They are from RepotMe, a reputable brand and sold on Amazon, so if you're interested, click here (Affiliate Link) to see their description. 
Are terracotta pots good for orchids? Terracota pots are excellent for orchids since they maintain humidity and soak up extra water. On the other hand, if you have a heavy watering problem with orchids where you tend to over-water, the terracota pot will retain some of the humidity, and might not be the best option for you.
Another positive side to clay pots is that they “breathe” better (when double-potted and if they had sufficient air holes).

Airflow is actually aided in clay pots, since the surface interacts with the environment more than other materials, such as plastic.
terra-cota orchid pot
If you have a heavy orchid with a long flowering spike, the clear plastic pot will fall over in time. The weight of the flower is just too much for the weak pot to handle, causing it to tip over. A terracota pot will keep the roots sturdy and since they are quite heavy themselves. Nothing is going to tip over the clay pot, unless it’s a cat, dog, or small child.

If you live in an excessively warm climate, using a clay pot is a simple trick that comes to your benefit. Clay will lower the temperatures inside the pot, keeping the area cool, dry, and with a cool draft of air circulating from its slots.

The down-side to clay pots is that the porous material in the clay will make the roots attach to it. When it come s to repotting, it’s almost impossible to remove the orchid without either breaking the pot or massively ripping off the velamen form the roots. This promotes more root damage than can be justified by all the former benefits.

Another downside is that since the terra-cota pot does retain more humidity if given too much water, the pot itself can mold. Given adequate time and no drying-out times, the pot will create the perfect place for bacteria to build up, which then calls mold colonies to come feast on the clay.

The last downside is that these pots are mostly handmade. This does raise their cost.
TIP: If you're looking for suggestions of terracotta pots, this purchase (Affiliate Link from Amazon) is excellent.

I suggest drilling a few holes in the side, just to make the pots more rustic-looking. Yet, for terracotta, you don't need to do so since they are more breathable. In this bundle, you get 6 medium-sized pots (5 inch). 
Orchid Fertilization
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Wooden-Slatted Containers: A Hefty 3rd Place

Are wooden pots good for orchids? The wooden containers, all though very decorative, have one major concern when dealing with orchids. With the constant watering, (usually once a week) the wood may break down. In a year, you’ll have to repot the potting medium and buy a new pot for your orchid. the picture below is one of many examples of this type of pot.
The second downside of this pot is that the slit in the sides may be a bit too big, and you can end up losing potting mix every time you water. A solution to this is using a wire mesh before adding any potting medium and completely cover the bottom.
This way all the medium is held inside the mesh. If you don’t have wire mesh, you can substitute the plastic woven bags that grapefruit or oranges are sold in. This provides ample ventilation and still do their job quite well.
TIP:  If you're looking to purchase a wooden basket, there are several on Amazon that would work. In all honesty, I thought they were too small though. Only this one from Sun Bulb (Affiliate Link) was worth the price for an 8 inch basket.
Now that you know all about picking the right orchid pot for the best occasion, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Check out some of our articles on using sphagnum moss as potting medium, or another article about adding charcoal to your pot.  If you aren't convinced that a clear, plastic pot is the best for orchids, try out a terrarium vase. In this article about orchid vases, I talk about the different kinds of glass pots for orchids.

If this information was of any help or clarified any doubts you had, please mention so in the comments. We love to interact with other orchid enthusiasts and can share from our experiences.

Share this page with a friend who has an orchid, comment, or give us a thumbs up 😊 in the comments below.

Happy cultivating!

Signature Amanda Matthews
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Amanda June Matthews at Orchideria
Hi, there! I'm Amanda Matthews.

I write all the tutorials on Orchideria so unfortunately, I can't blame anyone else for all the spelling mistakes.   :)

By profession, I'm a theologian, author, and seminary professor, yet I  spend my free time enjoying nature hikes, building terrariums, and cultivating orchids. I also love to mountain bike on trails, dance, and play with my dog, Max.

When I'm not working on the next chapter of my book or online course, I'm exploring a new campsite to venture out into nature. Pitching a tent for the weekend with my two children while I fire up a barbecue is the best way to live.

Click here to go to my Author Page to check out my heart-wrenching memoir.

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