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In this third part of the three-part series, we will cover potting mediums and sources for real orchid professionals whose methods and recommendations I trust.
At this point, having read Part 1 and Part 2, you should have an orchid that has been released from the “death swaddle”, roots have been cleaned up, and it is repotted in a new pot with new soil that has a ribbon of sphagnum moss to help maintain moisture throughout the pot. You have learned more about the common issues of browning and/or dropping leaves, the difference between a healthy and a dead root, and the serious issues that require you immediately look to resources online for more professional and lengthy information. I hope you have found these helpful.
I’ve tried a LOT of different mediums for my orchids – from no medium at all to combinations of many different soils, mosses, and additives. The following is what I have found to be decidedly unhelpful – and what has worked well for me. The resources in the following section can give you more information and options to explore in caring for your orchid(s).
When I bought my first nursery-grown orchid, all of their orchids were growing in hanging wood slat holders that had just a tiny bit of moss at the bottom. Roots were fully visible and I just loved the look. Tried it with one orchid and ditched it after a few months. I do not recommend for the average orchid owner. It requires very close attention to the moisture level around your orchid and, frankly, I don’t want to do that with the 20 orchids I now nurture. Even with one it was a complete aggravation (for me). Unless you just want to experiment and enjoy fussy processes, I would nix this as an option to explore.
For most of the orchids I grow, this has been similar to no medium. It is challenging to keep the moss “just right” – not too wet/not too dry. In a few rare cases, it has been a necessity as I brought an orchid back from the brink of poor root growth. In those rare cases, using just moss and lots of attention, I have been able to revive a couple of plants that I especially love. I would recommend you read up on this before trying and make sure you have the time and supplies. I would not recommend this as a repot option for already healthy established plants. I DO use moss in my orchids – but only in a very specific way. This is the Sphagnum Moss I use and instructions for how I use it are included in Part 2 and also below in the “Bark and Soil Mixture” section.
Mixture of Moss and Soil
The title may sound like what I recommended in Part 1 for repotting your new orchid – but it is not the same. That option is to use just a few strands of moss that go the depth of your pot but are surrounded by soil/bark. The 50/50 mix is again one that works well for some orchids but is much too time consuming for the average Moth orchid owner. Again – I recommend you read up on this before trying and be prepared for some disappointments. I found it led more readily to root rot – but that was just my experience, and some orchid professionals use this method with great success.
I would recommend this ONLY if you add the strands of moss that I mention in Part 1. Otherwise, it is much too easy for the new/inexperienced orchid owner to underwater. Once you have the hang of what your orchid likes, this is a workable option. Bark degrades over time. You must keep an eye on your pots to be sure the degraded bark is not compacting and harming the roots of your plant. If it is, repotting is easy (consult the resources listed below for extensive repotting information). You may need to fertilize a bit more often with this option. Again, read up before going this route.
Some people go this route quite successfully. I personally found that the soil compacted too much on its own and I had more issues with roots rotting or strangling. If you only have this option available, be sure that you do not let your pot sit in water too long (you should be careful of this anyway) and poke your finger into the soil from time-to-time to be sure that it is not getting compacted.
Bark and Soil Mixture
This is what I use almost exclusively. This is the Orchid Potting Mix I prefer. Using my strings of moss in the pot to ensure that moisture runs through the whole mixture, I’ve had great success with all my various orchids. It will dry out quicker than just soil and requires you find and maintain a good watering cycle for your orchid. For me, that means once weekly is usually sufficient.
I tried these in one of the rare instances when a professional I trusted strongly recommended them. I still trust that particular professional – but this recommendation did not work well for me. The idea was that the beads retain water and release it slowly. I found that moss was less expensive by a LOT and did a better job.
Again, recommended by a professional I trusted (and no longer follow). The idea was that you could put these in the bottom of your pot and they would allow roots to get more air while remaining moist. Instead, I found that these were just additional “spaces” on which fungus and mold grew, creating other root problems. I would recommend bark over these peanuts if you need to “prop up” your plant a bit inside your pot.
These sometimes work well on other types of plants, but I have found them useless for orchids. Orchids use air and moisture to “take in” nutrients. The sticks just get hard and don’t seem to do anything. Liquid fertilizers (water soluble) are much less expensive and work much better.
If I think of/try other things, I’ll list my thoughts. But now that I’ve found what works for me, I don’t have to fuss around with experimenting too often. That’s one of the great things about orchids. Once you find their happy place, they truck along nicely, are very minimal in terms of upkeep, and reward you with lovely exotic flowers on a regular basis.
The age of the internet is amazing for orchid owners. What once required a trip to the library and the hope that you could find a book on orchid care (often had to wait for interlibrary loan), is now just a click, swipe, or voice command away.
Following are the VERY LIMITED resources that I use often. It’s a short list: an organization, a professional, and a company. I am confident these three will get you off to a good start.
American Orchid Society (This will take you to their page on additional resources; this is a great resource for any stage of your orchid journey. They have over 400 chapters – one may be near you!)
MissOrchidGirl (The BEST orchid advice/information on YouTube. She has a whole category on just the Phalaenopsis (Moth) orchid. I strongly recommend that you subscribe to her channel. She goes at a pace that is easy to follow and provides much more in depth information than any other video-based resource that I have checked.)
rePotme (This is a company that sells all types of orchid care products (along with other products). They have a very good selection of care videos and I’ve found they are very helpful if I contact them to ask questions about their products. I am NOT an affiliate – I just find them very helpful. Their prices can be a bit high so I do not buy my standard care products from them (bark, soil, pots). I do, however, purchase my fertilizer and other care products from them. They can do a bit of “care overkill” in terms of urging purchase of all types of self-watering and moisture care products. Depending on where you live, you may/may not really need any of those things. As with any company, they want to thrive, so just look at purchasing with a practiced eye.)
That’s the end of the series. One final disclaimer: If something I recommend does not work for your orchid or lifestyle, PLEASE change course immediately and get help from some of the preceding resources. I have offered up the methods that work for me (or didn’t work in some cases). I am NOT a professional orchid grower or horticulturist – nor do I aspire to be. I just have a bunch of orchids, have managed to keep most of them alive and growing, and have learned from the problems that are inherent in tending any living thing.
Above all, enjoy the beauty of your orchid and don’t be afraid to try again if your first – or second – or even third – isn’t successful. With practice and attention, you will be rewarded with an extraordinarily easy to manage plant that displays incredibly exotic and beautiful blooms!