The 5 Best Orchid Potting Mixes And Where To Buy Them

How do Orchids Grow?

Growing orchids can be easy, believe it or not! The key to their diversity lies in the ability to adapt to any given environment. If you successfully imitate a plant's environment it will thrive and bloom.

With the widespread geography of orchids, there’s bound to be one you can grow in the conditions you are able to provide.

Dendrobium delacourii

Dendrobium delacourii

Some orchids can be almost impossible to keep alive, let alone bring to flower, even for trained professional growers. However, there are dozens of orchid varieties and many hybrids which will be happy growing on your window ledge or in a greenhouse.

Recreating the orchid’s natural environment will involve the use of light, temperature, water and a good quality potting mix.

Monopodial or Sympodial?

Before you decide on which is the best potting mix, you need to understand the type of orchid you intend to grow. Orchids can be split into two broad categories, depending on their growth habits. These are the monopodial orchids, like the phalaenopsis or vandas, and sympodial, like cattleya and dendrobium varieties.

Photo copyright, American Orchid Society  newsletter

Photo copyright, American Orchid Society newsletter

The most common growth method in the orchid family is sympodial. Orchids that grow in this manner will grow horizontally, while sprouting out shoots from the old rhizome.

Leaves and flowers will grow at the top of the new shoots, like many other plants. Some sympodial orchids may form swollen shoots in the style of bulbs, which will store essential nutrients and water to help the plant survive in drier periods.

Monopodial orchids grow a single upright stem with leaves arranged up either side of it. Flowers will usually appear at the base of the highest leaves. The “moth orchid” or phalaenopsis variety, which many growers start with, exhibits this growth style.

The following YouTube video from Garden Answers gives some tips on growing a moth orchid, which you will often find in your local store.

The Importance of the Potting Mix

The right potting mix for orchids will provide plenty of drainage, a good level of air circulation (AFP) or moisture, depending on the type of orchid. Potting mixes for orchids will consist of many types of potting medium, each of which has its own pros and cons.

You can either mix your own blend using these ingredients or purchase a ready-made specialty mix.

For many people, a potting mix may just mean dirt. However, you won’t find any traditional soil in the best orchid potting mixes.

Most orchids are epiphytes, or air plants, which means they need a better air circulation than tightly packed soil offers. Orchids will also need a mix which retains moisture, yet drains rapidly to simulate the dry/wet cycle.

Another factor to consider is how quickly the potting mix will last before decomposing. Many orchids will often go at least a year, if not longer, without needing repotting. You should never repot an orchid when it is in bloom, which can be several times a year.

The Best Potting Material Ingredients

Although some terrestrial orchids, like paphiopedilum and cymbidiums, can grow in soil, most tropical orchids prefer more air to the roots. Many orchids will often be found growing on the bark of a tree trunk, which can be recreated with a vertical mounting.

A simpler option, however, is to recreate that habitat in the pot, with a potting mix.

Fleshy roots of the orchid are covered with layers of white cells. These are known as velamen and absorb water and nutrients. This outer surface also protects the roots from heat loss and moisture loss.

It’s important to allow the roots to “breathe,” while draining away excess moisture, to stop them breaking down.

Fir Bark

Fir bark is one of the most common ingredients in potting mixes. It comes in three types: fine, medium and thick. The finer bark chips will hold more moisture and are more suitable for younger orchids.

The more coarse the bark is, the quicker it will dry and the more air flow it will allow. Epiphytes are well adapted to fir bark, and other tree barks, like Orchiata, are also popular.

New Zealand Sphagnum Moss

sphagnum moss.jpg

For orchids that aren’t used to drying out, and this can include our favorite, the moth orchid, using moss tends to retain more moisture.

Many of the terrestrial orchids will grow in sphagnum moss in a bog, while air plants will grow on moss-covered limbs or mossy rocks. Moss, unfortunately, has an acidic pH which can break down a potting mix, meaning that some orchids won’t grow well in it.

Other ingredients used include coconut husks. These are similar to fir bark, but hold more moisture and break down much slower.

Sponge rock or perlite provide good aeration and water retention, while styrofoam is an inexpensive form of drainage which is readily available. Gravel can also be used as a drainage provider, with hardwood charcoal a good additive to absorb contaminants.

The 5 Best Orchid Potting Mixes

After looking at many commercial mixes, the following products are, in our opinion, the five best orchid potting mixes you can buy today.

We’ve tried to select potting mixes that are versatile enough to suit any type of orchid, although you should always consider what your orchid requires the most.

5. Orchiata New Zealand Pinus Radiata Bark

 
 

As the name suggests, this is a specialty orchid media from New Zealand. It comes in a choice of five convenient sizes of bark, from ⅜ inch to 1 inch, and a choice of bag sizes of one gallon, 2.5 gallons or 10.5 gallons.

Only the larger 10.5-gallon size comes in the original factory bag, with the smaller quantities having been repackaged.

The 100 percent pure New Zealand Pinus radiata bark has been sourced from renewable man-made forests, which ensures its future availability. Although it is a hard and stable bark compared to other species of fir, it has to be processed from a raw state.

You can use this substrate directly from the bag for potting and repotting orchids.

One of the biggest problems with some bark potting mixes is the constant need to add more moisture. This product’s unique and natural processing results in a growing substrate of high quality, which is both long lasting and toxin free.

This process enables the Orchiata to hold on to water and essential nutrients on the outer layer of the bark. Pathogens are killed by the processing treatment, while beneficial microorganisms remain.

The range of different size chips with this mix is suitable for every stage of orchid development. Many people have commented that once past the initial seedling or young orchid stage, they haven’t needed to regularly re-pot the adult orchid.

Some even said that their orchids have been in the same mix for 10 years

PROS

  • A sustainable form of bark which isn’t going to run out like previous fir barks.

  • Retains moisture without going moldy.

  • The finest mix is ideal for young orchids and seedlings from a flask.

  • Good consistency of growth of roots and longevity.

CONS

  • Can still need more moisture added or mixed with moss for best results.

  • The size of the chips tends to be on the small side, so order the next size up from the one you need.

  • Expensive, although orchids shouldn’t need repotting too often.

4. rePotme All Purpose Orchid Mix

 
 

Created in response to demand for a more economical mix than the Classic or Imperial ranges, this multi-purpose, value mix is ideal for many different orchids. It is lower in price, as it only uses two ingredients, coconut husk chips with added Perlite.

The mix is offered in a choice of junior or mini bag sizes, and is handmade daily. It will allow for better water retention and more air flow to the roots of your orchid. The lack of soil in the potting mix allows for even greater aeration of the plant.

I have often bought those cheaper store boxes of “miracle” potting mix, just to get it home and find it full of dried out bark, laden with dust. For about the same price as many of the fancy box potting mixes, you can get this fresh mix.

Sometimes it will have been made by rePotme just prior to dispatch, and customers have often noticed the moisture it exhibits. Suitable for use straight from the Ziploc bag, this mix is ideal for any type of orchid.

PROS

  • 100 percent organic soil-free potting mix.

  • Excellent value for money with just two ingredients.

  • Coconut husk and perlite combine for maximum water retention and airflow to the roots.

  • Hand-made and dispatched fresh ready to use.

  • Suitable for all types and ages of orchid.

CONS:

  • Lacks many of the nutrients found in the more expensive Classic or Imperial mixes available from rePotme.

  • This mix won’t drain as fast as the Imperial mix which has difficult to find ingredients.

  • The mix can be too soggy for some orchids.

  • Can raise the acidity of the soil too much. Add alkaline compounds to correct the pH.

3. Sun Bulb 5002 Better-Gro Special Orchid Mix

 
 

This Special Orchid Mix from Sun Bulb is a mixture of western fir bark, sponge rock and hardwood charcoal. It’s a great multi-purpose mix and is suitable for all epiphytic orchids. The versatility of this mix means it is used by both orchid hobbyists and professional growers.

Formulated by a team of specialist highly trained orchid growers, it will ensure healthy and long-lasting plants. The mix has been designed to meet the unique needs of an orchid for retained moisture, drainage and nutrition.

The charcoal and perlite are essential for the good drainage your orchid roots benefit from.

Larger particles in the mix may cause trouble for younger orchids and this product is definitely better for repotting developed plants. Some users have noticed there are too many wood chips in the mix, making the orchid more likely to fall over.

The mix is not suitable for smaller rooted plants, like Miltonia orchids, which demand a lot of moisture and a finer mix. Also, sometimes it can go moldy if left too wet.

This is the kind of orchid potting mix that would be excellent for rescuing struggling plants. Recently, a friend at my workplace gave me two orchids which were close to death, and a mix like this would have been ideal.

Sun Bulb recommends you repot your plant every 12-18 months with this Better Gro mix.

PROS

  • All natural mix using organic ingredients designed by orchid growers.

  • Multi-purpose and ideal for all epiphytic orchid flowers.

  • Great for repotting and breathing new life into an orchid flower.

  • Sponge rock or Perlite allows for superior drainage–many orchids don’t like getting their “feet” too wet.

  • Can also be used for succulents.

CONS

  • Expensive for something you could maybe mix yourself.

  • Darker colored mix and can heat up quickly in hotter climates.

  • May be too chunky for smaller orchids, or plants with finer roots.

2. Phalaenopsis Monterey Dark Imperial Orchid Mix

 
 

The Moth orchid, or Phalaenopsis, is one of the most common orchids, due to the ease of production and all-year bloom. “Phals” are one of the easiest orchids to grow at home, and love being repotted when using the right mix.

The Phalaenopsis orchid generally likes to be moist but not soaking wet, and must always be kept in a well-drained pot.

This potting mix from rePotme is of a darker color than most, due to the main ingredient of Orchiata Monterey bark. Often you will buy an orchid which is stored in moss to keep it well watered in the store. But potting in fir bark at home doesn’t always agree with the plant.

Moss can be an excellent potting media but is usually packed too tightly for the home growing conditions of orchids. With this mix, a superior grade of fluffy moss is loosely mixed with Orchiata bark for an improved airflow and drainage.

Remember, Phals are air plants (epiphytes) which would rather be hanging off a tree than sat in a pot. This unique mix of Orchiata Monterey pine bark, Sphag Moss, Hydroton and large sponge rock, recreates that environment on your windowsill.

A generously stuffed resealable bag with handle allows you to see exactly what’s in the pack. Many of the mass factory produced mixes will contain bugs or larvae, but this one is hand inspected before it leaves the factory.

With rePotme products, you are getting a quality potting mix for your orchids at a reasonable price.

PROS

  • Holds just the right amount of water content for Phalaenopsis.

  • Also ideal for the Doritaenopsis, “Just Add Ice” orchids, Doritis and Sederia varieties.

  • Available in a choice of sizes, from 1.5 quart mini bag to large cube of 60 quarts.

  • Made in small handcrafted batches for better quality control.

  • Very clean potting mix without any dust or crumbly bits of bark.

  • Medium-sized pieces of bark are easy to pot with.

  • No need to soak before using. Just repot your orchid and water.

  • Good for people who over water as it drains so well.

CONS

  • May not be suited to drier climates, where the orchid actually needs more moisture. A window ledge in Arizona will be very different to one in New York.

  • Terrestrial orchids like Paphiopedilum or cymbidiums which grow in soil will need more moisture than this mix provides.

1. Besgrow Orchiata Orchid Bark Classic

 
 

Our favorite potting mix is again one made with Orchiata from the sustainable source of New Zealand Pinus radiata bark.

With many of the air plants or epiphytes growing on trees in their natural habitat, wood chips or bark has long been used as a potting medium. Traditionally, fir bark has been used, but supplies have become erratic recently and the quality varies wildly.

Orchiata is now the premier orchid growing medium that you can use directly from the bag. There’s no need to soak it, like fir bark, and it is pH balanced, which eliminates the natural acidity of many other barks.

The processing retains beneficial microorganisms, which can protect your orchid against pathogens.

Other benefits include the fact that the bark doesn’t accumulate salts, which reduces the need for flushing out. Being aged rather than composted, breaks down the outer surface while leaving the inner surface hard and stable.

This allows for water and nutrients to be retained without the bark breaking down.

Preferred by orchid growers worldwide, there is less need for repotting when you use Orchiata bark from the New Zealand Pinus radiata.

This Classic size from Besgrow is between ¼ to ⅜ inches, although it is also available in Power and Power Plus larger sizes. The Classic is ideal for repotting young orchids, with the Power size suitable for both young and mature orchids.

Power Plus is best when used with mature or larger orchid plants.

PROS

A sustainable form of bark, with no supply issues, with consistent quality guaranteed.

  • Harder and more stable than fir bark.

  • Doesn’t decompose, meaning less need for repotting.

  • Can be used straight from the bag with no need for washing.

  • Consistent hydration with an ideal wet/dry cycle for any orchids.

  • Very difficult to over-water due to the hard inner core of the bark.

  • Microorganisms in the bark, including Penicillium and Trichoderma, will protect against plant pathogens.

  • Will last longer than most other potting mixes, although you should not remove and reuse it to pot younger plants.

CONS

  • Expensive, compared to many other mixes but can last for some years.

  • Not suitable for mixing with other materials as improper mixing can lead to watering inconsistencies and wet or dry spots in the pot.

  • Pathogens found in other substrates could infect the Orchiata and cause problems for your plant.

Our Choice

The ultimate choice of the best orchid potting mix will rely on what type of orchids you grow. You could even try buying the many known ingredients and making your own potting mix. A much simpler way, though, is to purchase a premixed potting media from a reputable brand.

For its high quality and versatility, our favorite orchid potting mix has to be the Besgrow Orchiata Orchid Bark mix. Whether planting new orchids, repotting one bought at a store, or simply repotting a mature orchid, there’s a mix of this product which is right for you.

It’s an all natural product, used by professional orchid growers and, best of all, it comes from a sustainable man-made forest in New Zealand. You care about your orchids so why not consider the rest of the environment too?


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