Want to know how to mix your very own orchid soil? Then you’ve come to the right place! In this post, I’ll introduce several ways to mix orchid soil and substrates yourself.
In addition, we will go over which mix is suitable for which site conditions and type of orchids.
What kind of soil do orchids need?
Orchids belong to the group of epiphytes. That means that they grow on other plants. In this case, their roots have no contact with the soil.
That should be taken into account when choosing a substrate. The chosen substrate should be airy and structurally stable. In addition, it should retain moisture for a short time. The pH value should be between 5.5 and 6.5.
Therefore, pine bark is often chosen. You can find it in almost all orchid soils.
What is the orchid potting mix made of?
If you look at the list of ingredients of conventional orchid soil, you will often find the following information:
- Pine bark
- Raised bog peat
- Various fertilizers
Pine bark gives the substrate the necessary airy structure. Peat, on the other hand, serves as a temporary water reservoir. You can learn more about the properties of the ingredients in our extensive substrate article.
Alternatives to orchid soil
Pure pine bark
Keeping orchids in pine bark* is especially suitable for beginners. Pine bark is structurally stable and allows enough air to reach the roots. In addition, it hardly holds any water.
However, this may mean that you have to water them often.
As pine bark slowly decomposes, it begins to hold more water. At this point, however, it is often too acidic for the orchid’s roots. Therefore, you should replace the bark every two to four years.
The properties of pine bark are particularly suited to cold locations or those with high humidity.
Pine bark is available in different sizes. The smaller the pieces, the more moisture they can hold. Larger pieces provide better air circulation.
Learn more about pine bark here.
Experienced orchid keepers primarily use sphagnum moss*. As the name suggests, this is a (peat) moss. It can absorb many times more water than it weighs. At the same time, it maintains a somewhat airy structure.
The absorbed water is released over a more extended period. In addition, the water is evenly distributed throughout the moss.
Therefore, Sphagnum moss is particularly suitable for warm or dry locations.
Since this is an organic material, it will decompose over time. Thus, you must renew it about every one to three years.
When using Sphagnum moss, ensure you do not compress the moss. This way, you eliminate voids, and the roots can suffocate.
You can learn more about sphagnum moss here.
In terms of their properties, coconut chips* are between pine bark and sphagnum moss. The shredded coconut husks have a coarse texture. However, they retain more moisture than pine bark.
Since this is also an organic material, it will decompose over time. Therefore, it needs to be replaced about every two to four years.
The main problem with coconut chips is their salt content. There is often too much salt if you use coconut chips, which are not explicitly declared for orchids. The salt can damage delicate roots.
Read more about coconut chips here.
With perlite* , we move away from organic materials and enter the world of mineralic substrates. Perlite is a volcanic glass. It has a large surface area, which allows it to retain some water.
As a mineral, it does not decompose. However, algae may grow on perlite.
It is often used as an aggregate in various substrate mixes. Perlite alone is not suitable as a substrate for orchids.
You can learn more about perlite here.
Expanded clay (LECA)
Expanded clay* consists of very porous clay. That gives it a large surface area and allows it to store water. Due to its structural stability, small air cushions form between the balls. This ensures that there is sufficient air circulation.
Since expanded clay is very alkaline, you must prepare it before use. This preparation varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, the substrate often needs to be in an acidic solution for a while.
You can use expanded clay alone in so-called passive hydroponics. But it is also suitable as an aggregate in substrate mixtures.
Learn more about expanded clay here.
Lava granulate* is lava rock. Due to its irregular shape and porous structure, it is structurally stable and can store some water. It is usually not used on its own but serves as an additive in substrate mixes. There it provides an airy structure.
Before use, you should rinse lava granules once to remove dust.
Read more about lava granules here.
Mixing orchid potting mix yourself
Often, the materials described above are only ideal for a specific location. Therefore, many orchid lovers mix their very own substrate.
A simple mix for many orchids may look like this:
- 7 parts pine bark*
- 2 parts Sphagnum moss*
- 1 part perlite*
This mix ensures that the orchid soil remains loose and airy. At the same time, it retains enough water to keep the orchid moist until just before the next watering.
Depending on the location and conditions of your orchid, you can adjust the mix or add other ingredients. For example, you might choose a mix with high perlite content for a jewel orchid.
Let me answer your questions!
What can I use as orchid soil?
Pine bark, coconut chips, and sphagnum moss are all suitable as orchid soil. Perlite, expanded clay, and lava granules can be used as additives.
Can orchids be planted in ordinary potting soil?
No, regular potting soil encloses the roots too tightly and holds too much water. It is unsuitable for keeping orchids.
Can bark mulch be used for orchids?
Bark mulch is not suitable for orchids as a substrate. It is often too fine and too acidic. It can also hold too much water. Pine bark, on the other hand, is suitable for orchids.
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