Which Potting Media Should I Use to Grow my Orchids?

This has got to be the most common question we are asked at orchid shows, but unfortunately it’s not always so easy to answer.

“What types of orchids do you grow?” “Where do you grow them?” “What type of pots do you use?” are only some of my common replies.

No I’m not trying to avoid the question, but all these factors need to be taken into consideration before that question can be answered. Many orchids have different growing conditions and therefore they are not always adaptable to the same orchid media. Those with pseudobulbs such as Oncidiums and Cattleyas can generally store water for longer periods of time than those that store water in thick fleshy leaves like a Phalaenopsis. For that reason a typical medium size bark mix used for a Cattleya would require the addition of chunky peat moss or other moisture holding ingredients if it was to be used for a Phalaenopsis.

Healthy roots are needed for an orchid to grow well, and improper media (or infrequent repotting) is one of the biggest contributors to poor root growth. In nature Phalaenopsis typically grow with their roots exposed. A potting media that’s too tight or constantly wet could possibly damage the roots that prefer not to be buried in a pot to begin with. Paphs and Phrags on the other hand grow with their roots in the ground. For that reason I use a potting media made with fine pieces for my slipper orchids. Unlike Cattleyas or Phals that prefer a more open bark mix, the roots of a Paphiopedilum actually benefit from the tighter more compact conditions that the fine mixes create.

Many other factors influenced by the grower also determine the best media to be used. Growers that spend more time with their orchids can water whenever it’s needed but those that have less time to spend might want a media that holds moisture for a longer time before watering is needed. Orchids grown in terracotta pots will dry quicker than if the same orchids were grown in plastic pots. Someone that grows under high intensity lights which produce a lot of heat or on windowsills might want a media that holds more moisture than if the same orchids were grown in a humid greenhouse.

In conclusion there is no single potting media that can always be used. Not all orchids have the same requirements, so one type of media may not be enough if your collection has a variety of orchids. Not all growers can provide different environments, but sometimes by using a different media you can successfully grow an orchid that doesn’t normally do well within your favorite growing area. By understanding what your orchids need to do well, you can then select the proper media to help them grow and flourish under the conditions that you provide.

Find out more about the common Orchid Media Ingredients.