Orchid Media – Hidden Crap in White Bags

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Robert Pavlis

Growing orchids is popular now that plant prices have come down and people are starting to learn how to grow the plants. For orchids to do well they need to to be repotted regularly in a good airy media.

In recent years, suppliers of commercial potting mixtures have switched from clear bags to white bags. There are probably some good financial reasons for doing this, but it also causes a problem; you can’t see what you are buying. For regular soil that isn’t as much of a problem, but for orchid media it is a big concern.

Miracle-Gro Orchid media that is unsuitable fro growing Orchids
Miracle-Gro Orchid media that is unsuitable fro growing Orchids

Someone just posted a picture of the stuff they got when they bought Miracle-Gro, orchid media. It had the consistency of soil, which is terrible for growing orchids because it stays too wet and rots roots quickly, killing the plant. This material is suitable for house plants but not most orchids.

Historically, orchids were grown in bark chunks, but these are almost impossible to get in North America and if they orchid coconut chunks packageare available they cost a fortune. The most common media used now by orchid experts, including myself, is coconut chunks, also called coconut chips. These are at least 1/4″ chunks of coconut husks. You don’t have to add anything else to the pot.

Growing Great Tomaotes, by Robert Pavlis

Coconut chunks are usually sold in compressed bricks that expand to at least twice their size once the bags are opened. Don’t buy the finer coconut fibers for orchid growing. Only a few stores sell this product, Lee Valley being one of them, but you can usually buy it at orchid shows and orchid society meetings.

I strongly recommend that you do not buy any orchid media that comes in solid white bags unless you are very familiar with the product.

Coconut husk chips, after expansion, from Vgrove Inc
Coconut husk chips, after expansion, from Vgrove Inc

YouTube video

To learn more about growing orchids have a look at these posts:

Repotting Orchids

Watering orchids Correctly

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

9 thoughts on “Orchid Media – Hidden Crap in White Bags”

  1. it’s 3am and it appears I have purchased some coconut husk chips for my mother’s new cascading phals. Thank/darn you, I suppose I won’t know which one until later.

    But really, thank you for all the info! As an electrical engineering student trying to make sense of gardening for the first time, the anecdotal evidence mishmash has been confounding. It’s nice seeing you in the comments inviting ppl to share studies/research that contradict you

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  2. I love your facebook site. I find your comments and suggestions are so easy to understand and follow. I love the way you debunk garden myths with a good dose of common sense backed by experience. Thank you.

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  3. Miracle gro is terrible for this. They don’t even like to tell you what’s in the bag for most of their growing medium products so you have to buy blindly – so I don’t buy them.

    They also label their heavy non draining soil as outdoor potting soil, which is basically what you don’t want in a pot. Make your own mixes!

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  4. For my orchids, I use my standard, home made potting soil (equal parts compost, soil, perlite, and peat) to which I add an equal volume of wood chips. The wood chips are chippings local arborists dump at a designated location on my property, made from whatever wood they happened to be chipping.

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    • Different mixtures will work provided they are watered correctly. Problem is most people over water which would not be good in this type of mixture.

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  5. Hello Robert,
    Just read your older post on caring phaleanopsis. ( is there a plural ?)
    Mine just dropped its last bloom. The stem has demarcated about 5 inches under where the flowers bloomed. Where and when should I cut it off the stalk?

    Reply
  6. Thank you for this great information. I love orchids but always found it tricky to repot and keep them growing. I usually buy Miracle-Gro soil and fertilizer but have been hearing bad things about their products lately. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Thank you Robert. I’m always steering people away from pre-packaged ‘orchid mix’. The quality is always a crap shoot. Years ago I started making up my own mix. That way I know what goes into the pots and I can customize for individual plants if necessary. My supply shelf has bark, perlite and sphagnum moss….all good quality. I get my bark from orchid shows and meetings because, as you say, it’s very hard to find anywhere else, and costly if one happens to find it.

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