Is orchid bark worth using?


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Hi,

I am looking to re-pot my Nepenthes into a more airy and free draining mix. Currently they are all in pure live sphagnum, fine when the plants are indoors but this holds way too much water when they are outside and has in the past caused the leaves to start to rot.

So, the options for a new media are either live sphagnum to perlite in a 1:1 ratio, or live sphagnum, perlite and orchid bark also in a 1:1:1 ratio. Is the bark worth using? Will it do anything special the perlite wont - other than putting it into a Nepenthes mix I will have no other use for it. I tend to get myself a bit paranoid that the bark mixes will be soaked in some kind of fertilizer or nutrients or whatever else, and I am torn between the two options. There was one orchid bark mix in a local garden centre that didn't mention anything about added nutrients - it was apparently composed of just bark and coconut chips, but then I wondered if the coconut chips might contain too much salt thus rendering the mix inappropriate without a good soaking.

Thanks.

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hello!

i use "orchid focus" (same ingredients as you have listed) i also mix in a little peat & perlite as well as sphag moss, im no expert

but it works well for me! ive also noticed some growers add

"chunks" of sponge to their mixes.

hope this is of some help to you

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The one big problem using bark is that within 2-3 years it will have broken down into mush, you will then need to repot your nepenthes and remove the mush which means distubing the roots. Its ok for orchids as generally they have thick robust roots and repotting is no big deal, but with nepenthes it can mean a lot of dead roots and the more sensitive species may never recover.

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A lot depends on the size of your plants.

I have been using a mix for the last 2 or 3 years containing orchid bark.(and I am currently trialling an improved version using top quality ingredients)

results have been pretty good I think and if the best quality bark is used, it actually has a very good life.

The important thing with all mixes and indeed plants, and tests have shown, that it is always best to use an appropriately sized pot and pot on at the appropriate time.

Regularly moving plants on into the next size pot encourages root growth. A good mix could last 5 or 6 years so if you pot on every 3 or 4 years and use the right grade of mix, you should not encounter many problems.

Edited by Dicon
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Unlike quite a few ingredients, Nepenthes roots seem to have somewhat of an affinity for orchid bark, as I have seen them attaching themselves to it many times. It's a very good soil component, in my opinion.

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I've started to use coir with some of my CPs recently, including Nepenthes and I find it to be far more open and free draining than peat - especially the coir that has fibrous bits in it. I purchased mine from Ikea and the block that I have tested has an really low conductivity - so suggesting it has not been washed in sea water or had any nutrients added. I've only tested one block though, so don't know if this is typical batch-to-batch.

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The one big problem using bark is that within 2-3 years it will have broken down into mush

This has got me thinking. I keep a few orchids some of which are potted in bark only and some in bark, large perlite and bits of sponge. When I've repotted them, although I have found that the bark pieces are not as firm (for want of a better word) or structurally sound as my newly purchased material, I have never seen them broken down to mush. I have seen this stated before in posts though so it must be happening.

So, I wonder, is safe to assume that it is the extra water a lot of CP's get, compared to orchids, that is breaking down the bark faster? After all my orchids are usually only sprayed every few days and then dry out almost completely which of course would not be suitable for your average Neps. Or, as Dicon suggests, could it be down to the quality of the bark?

If the bark does break down to mush, would it not then resemble some of the debris Neps grow in in their natural environment?

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This has got me thinking. I keep a few orchids some of which are potted in bark only and some in bark, large perlite and bits of sponge. When I've repotted them, although I have found that the bark pieces are not as firm (for want of a better word) or structurally sound as my newly purchased material, I have never seen them broken down to mush. I have seen this stated before in posts though so it must be happening.

So, I wonder, is safe to assume that it is the extra water a lot of CP's get, compared to orchids, that is breaking down the bark faster? After all my orchids are usually only sprayed every few days and then dry out almost completely which of course would not be suitable for your average Neps. Or, as Dicon suggests, could it be down to the quality of the bark?

If the bark does break down to mush, would it not then resemble some of the debris Neps grow in in their natural environment?

To be fair i do have one nepenthes potted in bark / orchid mix and its doing ok, but another really didnt like it and much preffered the perlite its in now. I think we all tend to over generalise when in reality many neps come from quite diverse habitats. As it happens i just repotted a gongora and all the bark was pretty much mush, but its probably been in that pot for several years.

Yes i suspect if the bark is permanently wet, its going to break down quicker, and the warmer it is also, the faster it will break down.

As to whats in the natural environment its hard to be certain, for epiphytes and cliff dwellers, one could imagine the roots are not penetrating very far into much at all, whereas for things like mirabilis, maxima, merriliana, the roots will penetrate far into and completely fill a large (20L+) tub of pure, wet, peat.

I've also had some species growing happily in what was basically clay, but others that love woodland moss. Neps are often opportunists after all. Im sure some species would be ok in the mush, others wouldn't, and to get many species to a decent size is a long term deal where distubing the roots is probably a bad idea.

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hello!

i use "orchid focus" (same ingredients as you have listed) i also mix in a little peat & perlite as well as sphag moss, im no expert

but it works well for me! ive also noticed some growers add

"chunks" of sponge to their mixes.

hope this is of some help to you

Hi, thanks for the reply. Orchid Focus was exactly what I saw in my local garden centre, but I was a bit unsure as to whether it contained hidden additves as I have never used such an ingredient in Nepenthes mixes before. So does it appear to be fertilizer free, and did you soak it before use?

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From my experinece (limited as it may be) bark breaks down in a mix far too quickly and UGLY! I have become fairly sworn on coco husk chip as a general media, as is or with added Perlite. It lasts long and most Nepenthes love it, both Lowland and Highland. For Lowlanders I just add a little Sphagnum Peat. Cheap, and easily obtained, you can't go wrong with CHC.

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What grade do you use?

I use the large grade Rough Coco Husk Chips. I find that Nepenthes do not like Coco Peat too Much, but Coco Husk chip (Large Grade) is another matter entirely. I have my whole collection potted in CHC/Perlite, but you can go without the perlite...(I'm not sure why I use it) I have never seen such uniformly performing media before, it does not break down with fertilizer and you can only really pot the plants on, as the roots colonise the Media so well that its impossible to separate the old Media at re potting time on some plants.

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I use the large grade Rough Coco Husk Chips. I find that Nepenthes do not like Coco Peat too Much, but Coco Husk chip (Large Grade) is another matter entirely. I have my whole collection potted in CHC/Perlite, but you can go without the perlite...(I'm not sure why I use it) I have never seen such uniformly performing media before, it does not break down with fertilizer and you can only really pot the plants on, as the roots colonise the Media so well that its impossible to separate the old Media at re potting time on some plants.

I have to completely agree. All the thai growers/nurseries i've met have been using very coarse coir with the pots stood in water (in fact thats the only difference between how they grow orchids and neps, coir dries out very fast), i coudnt find anything similar in the uk and brought a bag back from thailand, it worked fine in uk conditions. Until very recently it was hard to find anything similar in the uk, although very recently i noticed coarse mixes for orchids are becoming available on ebay and elsewhere, not tried them yet and not sure if theyre coarse enough.

I have a boschiana growing in coco peat, slightly smaller than those growing in peat/perlite but ok, but i had mixed results otherwise with other neps.

Peter do you keep yours stood in water?

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Hi, no I dont. my greenhouse has an Irrigation system that waters the plants every second day in Summer. CHC retains water quite well if wetted well the first time. and it seems to perform better as time goes on. only one or two like N.Rokko, Ampullaria and other Lowlanders Might sit in water in Mid summer, but not as a rule, I have some of my smaller plants in Coco Peat and they Grow, but they much prefer the Husk Chip.

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Mark - It's been widely available from the UK on ebay for quite a while.

Search for Coconut husk. As well as for orchids, it's used for reptiles & amphibians as a substrate in vivariums. It comes in various grades and comes as compressed dried blocks.

I've been using it for just over a year. I bought the large grade and for seedlings or in small pots, I just cut bits smaller.

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One of the ebay sellers sells various blends of orchid compost consisting of coconut husk of different grades, coconut charcoal, heat treated rice husks etc.

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Mark - It's been widely available from the UK on ebay for quite a while.

Search for Coconut husk. As well as for orchids, it's used for reptiles & amphibians as a substrate in vivariums. It comes in various grades and comes as compressed dried blocks.

I've been using it for just over a year. I bought the large grade and for seedlings or in small pots, I just cut bits smaller.

Phil the stuff ive bought in the past was never coarse enough for what i wanted, i was looking for chunks upto and around an inch cubed as thats what ive seen used in asia. I have been looking at some of the stuff sold for orchids but it still looks rather small from what i can see on ebay.

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Manders you are correct in wanting a rougher larger grade of CHC, this is what the plants want. The only thing you need to be careful of is that they treat the orchid CHC with Chemicals to negate the Salt content in some cases. I Get a Grade of CHC that is leached in the rain for a few Monsoon seasons, and this one does not contain much salt, but there are other brands that come from Coastal areas and are very high in salt, you just need to shop around I guess.

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Yes some of the stuff from ebay has had very high tds content, it takes several rinsings to get down even to a still very high but just about useable level. Hopefully the stuff sold for orchids is better quality, not tried it yet.

I had a longifolia potted in coir and the leaves turned dark red, they went back to green after beng potted in peat/perlite!

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I've been trying to avoid joining in on this controversial subject... but a repotting exercise made me want to share my experience about the pure evil of orchid bark. One of the first Neps I got about 5 years ago was a burbidgeae... I started it off in a mix with quite a high proportion of orchid bark. The plant is now around 18" across and in an 8"pot. It had a pile of roots poking out of the top of the pot, so I thought it needed repotting. What I actually found was a dense mat of roots in the top 4" of the pot, where roots had emerged from the stem and grown into the decorative top layer of moss and down into the perlite round the edge of the pot... meanwhile, the core of the pot compost (what had been orchid bark) was now a solid mass of brown mush- where all the original roots of the plant had died.

Orchid bark is brilliant for a couple of years- but when it breaks down, it takes all the Nep roots with it.

More and more, I'm noticing that plants love the top dressing of live moss, and roots grow happily into that. This might make us think that moss is the perfect potting medium- and some growers have outstanding results in pure live moss. Then again, over time, moss becomes compacted and again becomes too dense for Nep root survival.

I've been an advocate for a mix containing mainly perlite, but recently I've noticed just how much plants love that top layer of moss. So now I don't know what I think - apart from that I don't like orchid bark.

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Heres an unrooted cutting someone sent me last year now potted in the coir i brought back from thailand, so this is the sort of stuff the thai growers have been using with great success. Its been permanently stood in water and the cutting, (probably both) seem to have taken, one has a couple of new leaves and a flower.

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Gareth, the more we learn the less we know, there are neps i grew from seed 30 years ago with no problems and today i just cant keep the same species alive even, go figure, advanced senility probably.

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What species are you have trouble with Mark?

My low point of my Nep growing career was this winter- I managed to kill not one but TWO alatas (BE's Sibuyan clone, which of course isn't available any more.) Anyone who can't grow alata shouldn't be allowed to be in charge of a decent northiana.

I've started rooting cuttings in a pocket of moss, placed in a hollow scooped out in a pot of perlite, now. Works for me. Coir works for you. My worry is that we then move our new plants to their future homes, and in 5 years time, we find the moss/ coir/ orchid bark has turned to compact mush and all the roots are dead.

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