Orchid Potting Mix

The choice of fertilizers is nothing compared to your choice of orchid potting mixes. Anything is fair game for a potting mix, even old socks according to Phalaenopsis guru Bob Gordon. If one ingredient doesn’t make you happy, add another and another and another…

Most orchid potting mix is a combination of several ingredients. You’re striving for the proper combination of water retention and aeration.

The Orchid Potting Mix for Beginners

If you’re new to orchid growing or haven’t had a lot of success let me recommend a potting mix for you. Try fir bark. If you’re not sure what size to use, go for the medium size.

Why? It’s cheap and available almost everywhere. But use it because it’s the most forgiving mix you can obtain.

The Secret Ingredient

You’re growing your plants well not having problems with root rots. Now you want to grow the plants a little lot bigger and a little faster. You think you’re ready for the secret ingredient.

Well it is a secret. Ok, I’ll tell. Add something fine, something that holds on to water a little better. Some fine bark or a little peat moss…What! You expected something out of a bottle? Hey, I’m not a snake oil salesman (I do have some little seedlings…).

If you’re a good grower you can push the envelope. If you cut down on the drying cycles and keep a little more water and fertilizer around the roots you will get faster growth and large plants (and flowers). But remember you’re walking on the edge. One mistake and the plant is gone. Oh, but you should have seen it before it died!

The Right Orchid Potting Mix

There is no right potting mix. You have to find the potting mix that matches your growing practices. If you water heavily or have a humid growing area use a well draining mix that dries out quickly.

If you under water (na nobody under waters). If you can’t water as much as you should, use a more water retentive mix.

Putting it all Together

If you’re new to orchids start out with a basic mix like fir bark. Don’t think of it as only a beginner’s mix, some of the best growers out there still use it. Why, because it fits their growing practices. If you get bored, experiment, kill a few plants. Hell, I have lot more to sell (sorry, it must have been the snake oil comment). I’m sure you get the ideal.

Orchid Potting Mix: A Few Choices from Hundreds

  • Fir Bark: Medium size fir bark is a great potting mix used alone or as part of a mix. The biggest disadvantage is that it breaks down quickly and really requires repotting about once a year. Make sure you wash and screen the fines out of the mix, also soak thoroughly before using. Fine fir bark holds more water and breaks down more quickly.
  • Sphagnum Moss: Can be a blessing for nursing a failing plant back to health. Fantastic for small seedlings. Because of sphagnum’s great water holding capacity it can rot quickly taking the plant with it. This is especially true in areas of cold wet winters. How tight the moss is packed determines how much air and water are held by the Sphagnum, tight equals lots of water and little air, loose wrapped means lots of air and less moisture. Know what you’re buying as there is an abundance of inferior moss in the marketplace today.
  • Peat Based Mixes: If your growing conditions are right this can be a miracle mix. Most are made with course peat and perlite. Fast growth and fast death if you don’t know what you’re doing. Again watch this mix in areas of cold wet winters. To succeed with this mix you will have to use fungicides on a regular basis.
  • Rock Wool: Comes in two basic types, water absorbent and water repellent. Most growers use the absorbent type or a mix of the two. The dust can be a health hazard. Not easy to learn how to use.
  • Coconut: Two types, chips and fiber. The chips can be used like fir bark and give excellent growth. There are two disadvantages with coconut chips. One the chips are usually loaded with dissolved salts that must be leached out. Second the product can breakdown very quickly in its second year of use. I would repot on an annual basis. Coconut fiber can be used just like peat moss and its long lasting. The only disadvantage is the high salt content in new coconut fiber that must be thoroughly leached out.

In Closing

Remember it’s the grower that makes the difference not the potting mix. Just find the orchid potting mix that matches your growing abilities and watering habits.

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