You’ve probably heard that all disease begins in the gut, but did you know that’s true for plants as well? Instead of a gut, the soil around a plant’s root system allows it to get the nutrients, water and oxygen it needs to survive. Like any other plants, houseplants need good root support in the form of media.
Also called rooting medium, potting mix, potting soil and growing medium, media refers to any substance that supports and houses your plant’s roots. This can include the standard potting mix you buy from the garden center, but it can also be rocks, moss and even bark.
Orchids have slightly different media needs than other house plants, but they are still easy to take care of when you know the fundamentals.
How Plant Media Helps Your Plant Baby Thrive
Regardless of the type of houseplant, all indoor plants need these benefits from appropriate plant media:
Note: Epiphytic plants, such as orchids, don’t need soil to survive in the “wild.” They even prefer to be soil-free. For indoor growth, a rooting medium to contain the orchid is necessary.
Finding your Ideal Orchid Pot Media
You can use a variety of materials as rooting media to grow orchids. There are several ways to categorize types of media, but the two main categories are:
Organic media: Comes from a living source and are often renewable and sustainable resources. Also, organic media tends to house beneficial microorganisms that constantly work to break it down and supply nutrients to the roots.
Inorganic media: Comes from a non-living source and are valuable because they don’t break down over time, preventing the loss of much needed pore space. The downside is that these sources are also less eco-friendly.
Types of Orchid Pot Media
Congrats! If you’ve reached this point, you’ve passed the Orchid Media 101 test. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the most popular orchid pot media:
Long-Fibered Sphagnum Moss
With a pH that leans towards the acidic, It can take several weeks to see this media dry out enough to require watering. While this seems like a great benefit, quick dry-down cycles are healthier for the roots of indoor plants.
Standard, Small Particle Peat Moss
This medium is easy to access and repot, but because peat moss mixes are designed for plants that have root hairs, this form of moss has small particles that hold moisture almost too well. When used for orchids and other epiphytes that don't have root hairs, they cannot access all of the moisture retained in the tiny peat moss particles. We do not recommend planting a Phalaenopsis orchid in a mix made entirely of peat moss. Instead, peat moss should be used sparingly as part of a media mix for exceptionally dry environments.
One of the most common materials used for interior orchids, pine bark has great drainage, allowing roots to receive moisture without drowning. By holding humidity–which tropical plants love– it provides consistent humidity to the roots for days at a time. Check your plant regularly as it can dry out quickly. This media requires repotting every one to two years depending on the rate at which it breaks down.
Pro Tip: The best pine bark has a 3-D shape and is less decayed. Bark with flatter pieces will decay more quickly and provide less pore space.
Safely Selecting and Storing Your Orchid Pot Media
How do you know if the media you purchase is safe to use? How do you keep it stored safely until your next use?
Although organic rooting media house beneficial microorganisms that break down the material over time, thereby releasing nitrogen and decomposing particles, they can also play host to harmful microorganisms. This can lead to plant issues like root rot down the road.
Older materials often have broken down into smaller particle sizes over time, decreasing potential pore space for orchid roots. This is more likely in bags of media that have been shelved for over a year at your local garden center, thereby containing a higher concentration of microorganisms.
Source your orchid pot media from a location with a freshness guarantee or find it during spring months when garden centers are looking to stock fresh materials for the upcoming growing season. Make sure you buy only what you’re going to use in the immediate future.
Always store media in a dry location. This will prevent or slow down the development of fungal spores inside the bag or storage container. By choosing the right media for your plant, you are giving it a healthy start in life, ensuring it produces beautiful blooms for many months to come. We’ve even created an orchid repotting kit that includes orchid potting media your plant baby is sure to love!