Find the Right Soil Alternatives for Growing Orchids

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Choose the Right Orchid Growing Material

Gardeners new to orchid growing soon realize that healthy orchids don't grow in normal potting soil. It is very dense, does not drain completely, and most orchids grow in the air; the medium is there to give the roots something to hold onto. Also, the various options available in orchid potting materials can be confusing.

Many orchid cultivars can grow on a single ingredient medium and some varieties prefer only certain materials. You can make your own custom orchid mix, but you need to familiarize yourself with the needs of your particular plant first. And there are many high-quality orchid growing combinations that offer a variety of benefits, depending on the medium included.

With all of these options, cost, availability, and appearance can help narrow your choice. To help you decide, it is good to know the properties of each type of material.

Brick Pieces and Cobblestone

Chunks of brick add weight and stability to heavy orchid pots. However, you will want to find smaller parts as they can be very heavy. This material retains some water, which adds moisture to your orchids.

Cobblestone also works well as an anchor in the bottom half of an orchid pot. Small, jagged rocks are heavy, which helps heavier orchids, such as dendrobes, to stand upright. Paving stone does not hold water, so you will need help increasing the drainage properties of your orchid mix.

Coconut Coir and Husk Chips

You can use coconut husk, the fibrous core in the middle around the fruit, alone or as part of a custom orchid mix. The long fibers absorb moisture but also drain quickly, so orchid roots are moist but not soggy.

A renewable resource, coconut shell chips come in different sizes to meet your needs, either as a standalone growing medium or as a potting mix additive. The chips decompose slowly, ensuring maximum air circulation for the orchid roots. Many orchid growers also use cocoa husk fiberboards, which provide an excellent substrate for growing orchids in mounds.


Anyone with a bottle of vintage wine is familiar with the waterproof qualities of cork. You can mix cork to loosen the water with water-absorbent sphagnum moss or crushed bark for an ideal orchid mix. Larger cork chips offer plenty of crevices to explore orchid roots.

Expanded Clay Aggregate

Some orchids come in a potting mix that includes rocks that look a lot like Cocoa Puffs cereal. If you notice this, it is very likely that you have purchased a plant grown in an expanded clay aggregate, such as Aliflor or Hydroton Clay Pebbles.

Unlike normal rocks, these ceramic pebbles are porous, lightweight, and are neither acidic nor alkaline. You can use them alone, mix them with other growing media, or mulch all of your orchids to give the pots a uniform appearance.

Lava Rock

You will often see this inorganic growing medium used on imported Hawaiian orchids. Like other rock growing media, lava rock doesn't break down and is a good potting mix additive for orchids that don't like to be disturbed by roots.

Lava rock holds water and this, in turn, increases the humidity of your orchids.


Perlite, also known as spongy rock, is actually the end result of volcanic glass exposed to high temperatures. Although perlite does not contribute any nutrients to orchids, the substance has excellent aeration and water retention properties.

It is also a very easy medium to find because most nurseries and garden centers stock it as a general soil improver.


Pumice has many admirers for its potential to polish rough skin, but this volcanic rock is also a lightweight inorganic growing medium for your orchids. Rock is very porous and holds up to 50% of its weight in water. It is also quite light, so it will not weigh your plant.

Rock Wool

Rock wool (also known as rock wool) is fibers similar to chalk and basalt cotton that can be found at top garden stores or online. Its great advantage is that it will never break down in your potted orchid mix.

However, you will need to balance the alkalinity of the rock wool cubes with an organic ingredient such as tree bark or peat.

Shredded Bark

Frayed bark of trees such as fir, cedar, and cypress. It is one of the most common materials in orchid pots, especially those sold in florists and beginner nurseries.

The bark will acidify the orchid mixture as it breaks down. It is also favored for its natural appearance and pleasant fragrance. However, orchids growing in a bark medium may need to be replanted once a year.

Sphagnum Moss

Weed- and pathogen-free sphagnum moss maintains a moist environment for orchid roots. It won't get soggy though, making it a popular choice. Usually sold in compacted brick, you will need to rehydrate the moss and place it loosely in the orchid pot for best results.


Orchids that enjoy dry spells can thrive when grown in a Styrofoam medium. Plain styrofoam peanuts can act as a growing medium and are an eco-friendly option, giving you the opportunity to recycle common packaging material.

You can also buy special polystyrene granules, like Aerolite, that are made specifically for epiphytic plants like orchids.


Vermiculite is commonly found in garden stores that sell a variety of potting soil improvers. It is also often found in many ready-made potting soil mixes, appearing as gravel-sized particles.

This light brown mineral has good water and nutrient retention properties. Vermiculite also helps aerate the potting mix. It mixes well with sphagnum moss to create a lightweight orchid mix that locks in moisture.

Enjoy This Video Tutorial About Orchid Potting Mixes

Source: MissOrchidGirl

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