It’s a well-known fact that orchids are particularly picky about their soil. If you’ve ever experienced the misfortune of tossing a dead orchid, chances are the problem was in the soil. Most orchid illnesses start in the roots as a result of soil, drainage, or watering issues.
Considering that most of an orchid’s misfortune starts below the soil, it’s important to make sure that said soil is up to the job of taking care of the roots, which need special care and attention. Since orchids are epiphytes, their soil should reflect their natural habitat.
Most orchids grow on the bark of trees or vines, using their roots for stability and for absorbing moisture from the warm, humid, tropical air. They gather nutrients from the bark they attach themselves to for food, and they rarely see full sun.
Now that you have an idea of what it looks like to grow in a tropical rainforest as an orchid, you can better understand what the soil should replicate. We’ll walk you through a step-by-step guide on how to create your own orchid soil mix to keep your orchids happy.
Materials for Making Orchid Soil
Before you can make your own DIY orchid mix, you’ll need to gather up everything you need. These items will include the components of your soil, as well as some other tools that will help you put your soil together. Here’s what you need.
Here are a few soil components that you’ll need before moving forward:
This is the big entity in your soil mixture. Orchid bark comes in a variety of types and sizes, but try to choose large chips of pine, which is what works best for potted orchids. The individual pieces should be no more than two inches at the largest, but smaller incorporated bits are great.
Another very important component of a good orchid soil is perlite. The size of the perlite doesn’t matter much, so long as it isn’t infused with fertilizers or other additives. Organic perlite is best, but don’t break the bank for this one component.
Coco Coir Chips
Coconut husk is a material that allows for excellent drainage, while also retaining some moisture, which your orchids can draw upon as they need it. Seed starting mix isn’t what we’re after here; look for chips, rather than coco soil.
This stuff, although uncommon in most basic houseplant soils, works wonders for orchids. Horticultural charcoal helps the soil stay breathable, prevents bacteria from growing in the soil, and provides many micronutrients that orchids need.
Organic, dried sphagnum moss is the best option here. Avoid any mosses that have been dyed or otherwise preserved in any way except drying. If you’d like, you can even break up the sphagnum moss so that it’s in smaller bits, and therefore incorporates better into the soil.
There are a few different tools that can help you make soil without the mess and dust of having to mix the soil components in your home. While some of these are optional, it’s a good idea to read through to see if you might need them on hand.
A plastic tote, a large flower pot, or even a clean, empty soil bag can serve as your mixing container, although it’s easiest to work with an open-top, wide and shallow tub. An advantage of mixing in a tote, however, is that you can slap the lid on to retain the soil’s moisture.
Although it’s best to mix soil outside or with plenty of ventilation, sometimes we simply don’t have that option. Thus, the spray bottle; use it to mist your soil mixture as you add to it to keep harmful dust particles in the bin and not in the air.
Measuring Cup or Scoop
It helps to be able to measure out “parts”, which are essentially just the same measurement throughout the soil making process. One part can be equal to whatever form of measurement you have around, and how much soil you want to make.
Orchid Soil Recipe
For this orchid soil, which works well in all climates and for most common orchid species, include these components in the following measurements:
- 4 parts orchid bark
- 2 parts perlite
- 1 part coco husk
- 1 part horticultural charcoal
- 1 part sphagnum moss
As you can see, the primary components are orchid bark and perlite. You can adjust the measurements of each component depending on your climate, level of experience and, of course, the preference of your orchids.
Now that you have the recipe, it’s time to mix everything together. Make sure that you hydrate any components that come in compressed brick form, such as coco husk, if necessary. Try to get the measurements as close as possible, but don’t worry if they aren’t exact; we aren’t baking a cheesecake!
Here’s a step-by-step guide on exactly how to put your soil together, as well as how to use it and store it once you’ve repotted your orchids.
Step 1: Gather your ingredients
Make sure you have everything ready to go in one place so you’re not running around trying to find your tools or soil components. It helps to run through a mental checklist to make sure your workspace is fully set up before you start.
Step 2: Measure the soil components
Before you mix your components together, make sure you have the right measurements. It helps to add them to separate corners of your bin in case you measure out too little or too much; you can also easily gauge if you need more of something.
Step 3: Spray, spray, spray!
Use your spray bottle to cut back on the dust created by perlite and horticultural charcoal throughout the process of measuring and mixing. If need be, use a face mask to prevent yourself from breathing in these dusts, which are irritating to the respiratory system.
Step 4: Mix the soil
Once you have all of your soil components in one place (hopefully the bin!), you can start to mix them together. First, spray everything down well with your spray bottle to avoid kicking up tons of dust. Then, mix together using your hands or a trowel.
Step 5: Store it
To keep your orchid soil safe from lingering bacteria and fungi, let it dry nearly all the way out, then place it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Try to use your soil mixture within six months; for longer storage, allow it to dry completely before sealing.
How to Use Orchid Soil
Orchid soil is great for orchids, but it can also be used for other epiphytic and aroid plants, including philodendrons, anthuriums, and even monsteras. However, for the purposes of teaching you how to pot an orchid, we’ll stick to them!
Step 1: Unpot your orchid
The first step to repotting your orchid with the new orchid mix is to unpot your orchid. Make sure that you pull out the orchid gently without damaging any roots. If your orchid won’t give up its pot, you can try soaking in water for a few minutes, but you may need to trim a couple of roots.
Step 2: Remove the old orchid soil
This part can be tricky; if it’s been a while since you last watered your orchid, the bark may want to cling to the roots. Try soaking the roots in warm (not hot!) water to help the bark and the roots become more malleable and easy to separate.
Step 3: Trim the roots
It’s a natural part of an orchid’s life to give up on a few roots here and there. However, if you don’t remove them during repotting, they’ll eventually rot and cause other problems. Make sure that you trim dead, rotting, or mushy roots away, no matter how many good roots are left.
Step 4: Clean the roots
To be sure that root rot isn’t waiting just around the corner for you to overwater, be sure to give your orchid’s roots a little spritz with some 50/50 diluted hydrogen peroxide. Let this sit for a few minutes, then rinse off the mixture in slightly warm water.
Step 5: Fill the pot
Fill an orchid pot about halfway with your orchid soil. Arrange the roots in the pot so that the orchid’s primary roots are under where the soil line will be, yet the aerial roots (if any) will sit above the soil line. Fill in the open space with orchid soil, then gently tamp it down.
Step 6: Water thoroughly
Now that your orchid is potted, water it thoroughly with water by either soaking in water for five minutes or allowing water to pour through the pot for the same amount of time. Allow all of the excess water to drain away until no water is coming through the drainage holes.
That’s it! Your orchid can sustain itself in this soil for much longer than traditional bagged orchid soils, but be sure to check the roots by moving some soil aside every month to make sure your orchid doesn’t have root rot or shriveled roots.