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Old 08-02-2013, 10:08 PM
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Mixes for "drier" and "moister" orchids

OK, my brain hurts from reading all the types of medium and mixes for a variety of orchids.

Seeing some good reviews for both lava rock and coconut chips, I purchased both items. I also have sphag, fir bark, and horticultural charcoal. My question is: How do I mix all these???
  1. Are lava rock, coco chips, and fir bark basically interchangeable depending on whether you are growing a "dry between watering" or "always a bit moist" orchid?
  2. Add or a bit more sphag for the moist-liking orchids?
  3. What the hey does the charcoal do?
  4. Bottom line: Just tell me . . . equal parts of all? Charcoal in 4:1 ratio with the rest? All lava? (P.S. I already found out that "all fir bark" does not for me with Catts. Dries out too fast.
I'm an indoor grower with intermediate temps night and day; 60 - 70% RH summer and 50 - 60% RH winter.

Hope I don't blow everyone's mind . . . I'm just sort of paralyzed with fear because the only two mediums I actually know are sphag and fir bark!
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Old 08-02-2013, 10:46 PM
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Coco Husk Chips or CHC retains moisture well
Lava rocks (just started using this & love it b/c I tend to over water and you literally almost can't with this) not much retention, dries quick, much quicker than bark
Bark you know...
Sphagnum moss retains moisture well, but I can never seem to get it to dry evenly & end up over watering
LECA clay pellets retain some moisture, can wick moisture up from a reservoir (that's why it's used in Semi-Hydroponics S/H) but dries more evenly b/c it allows more air flow. I actually use it with bark & charcoal for my Catts & they like it lots
Charcoal is used as a sort of salt build up filter from what I can tell. It soaks up the baddies like in a water filter (I think, someone weigh in here). I have a bag, so I use it...

Hope this helps! I'm a newbie, so this is still partially an art to me :dunno:
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Old 08-02-2013, 10:53 PM
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Thanks, David!!! That really helps. How are the B. Nodosa babies doing?
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Old 08-02-2013, 11:04 PM
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If I have them all at hand, minus the sphag, I mix them all together. Sphag holds too much moisture..am not really a fan of it, would rather use CHC than sphag.

But if I want a really drier mix, lava rock, leca and bark alone or altogether should be enough.

And always soak and wash before first use.
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Old 08-02-2013, 11:09 PM
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Somewhere along the line, Jerry Meola of Orchids Amore, a poster here, wrote up a comparison of potting media. I have searched for it, and also searched his website, and I cannot find the original, but I printed out a copy and have it in a binder. So this is Jerry's work, copied and slightly edited by me.

"Lets start with the premise that orchids can grow in just about anything. It is just that the watering and care varies with the mix. So understand what the items are doing and chose the type that most approaches your watering habits.

Charcoal--the driest medium after bare root and seldom used alone. When mixed in with other medium it sweetens the mix, removes odors that may grow, and reduces the amount of medium that holds moisture.

Sphagnum--the other extreme it holds a lot of water. Many hobbyists findd they cannot resist over-watering in sphag.

Bark--The most common medium and the basis on which we compare drying charistics. I'd say to avoid pine bark. It is the cheapest but breaks down too fast. Find fir bark, it is not that much more expensive.

Coco--stays wetter than bark and drier than sphag

Coir--a bit wetter than coco and still a little drier than sphag

Perlite--often added to a mix for volume and to prevent the mix from packing down to fast. It has a very limited amount of water which it can retain.

Chose between Bark, Coco, Coir and sphagnum based on the amount of watering your plants receive. Add Charcoal and Perlite up to 20% if you wish.

Other things can be added. Osmond fiber, which is closest to charcoal. Use s/h pellets that you already have at about 10-15%. It keeps the mix open and moves water around the pot. It works much the same as perlite when mixed this way.

Chose the size medium--small, medium, large--based on the thickness of the roots. For example, small for Oncidium and medium for large Cattleya.

It is always cheapest to make your own mixture based on your watering habits."

Thanks, Jerry!
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Old 08-02-2013, 11:39 PM
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Thanks, David!!! That really helps. How are the B. Nodosa babies doing?

They're happy happy happy!
Several new growths coming up now, I'm stoked!

Last edited by dbroome; 08-02-2013 at 11:42 PM.
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Old 08-03-2013, 12:15 AM
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David - I'm so happy to hear it!
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Old 08-03-2013, 12:17 AM
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Fishmom & Trev - EXACTLY what I was looking for - thanks!
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Old 08-03-2013, 12:24 AM
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I will add a bit to David & Fishmom's good suggestions.

Charcoal - it is basically charred organic material (wood, bamboo) with the organic matter converted to a more stable form of carbon by the charring process. It is also porous and retains water and absorbed nutrients, yet drains well. Activated carbon (activated charcoal) does adsorb certain elements or compounds quite well; not all charcoal has received the treatment needed to be considered "activated", and plain charcoal probably has less adsorption capacity. I use plain old horticultural charcoal (which I make myself) to mix with other media to keep the structure open and free-draining, as it does not break down as rapidly as bark, etc. I use very coarse charcoal by itself as drainage material in the bottom of pots.

Bark in various sizes forms the base for most of the mixes I grow orchids in. This includes Cattleyas, Phals., Paphs., Bulbophyllum, Coelogyne, Brassavola, etc. If I am trying to grow a plant that needs to be a bit wetter at the root, I will add coco husk chips or coir, or use finer-sized bark. If it needs to be even wetter at the root, I may add a small amount (5 - 10%) of chopped sphagnum.

If I need to grow plants drier, I will use coarse bark or more charcoal. Some plants don't tolerate prolonged moisture at the roots (like Vanda, Rhynchostylis, or even some Cattleyas), and for some of those, I use whole wine corks as the base for my medium, sometimes with charcoal added in, or with charcoal at the base of the pot.

I agree with the prior comment regarding making your own mix; when you can, it is best to mix your own to adapt to specific watering requirements.
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Old 08-03-2013, 04:12 AM
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You have to choose what will work best for you and how you grow.
Personally, after years of growing, I've settled into the mediums that suit my growing conditions.
I love lava rock! Menards has bags of small sized rock, perfect for getting into and around smaller roots. It doesn't break down and I only need to repot when the plant out grows the pot. Even though it will retain small amounts of moisture, very hard to overwater. I use it for almost all my orchids with the exception of phals, paphs/phrags, and a few dens.
I know the German company that makes hydroton stopped making it but there are other forms of Leca to be found. Can be used as a straight growing medium or when growing S/H.
While Sphagnum is not one of my favorite mediums, I do use it for a few bulbos and of course my mounted plants. I might also use it as a top dressing on orchids with small roots that are out of the pot. I'd rather water more often than grow in sphagnum that keeps things too moist for too long. I also think this is a difficult medium for a newer grower to use due to the fact the most common error new growers make is overwatering.
Bark and CHC will retain moisture. I like adding perlite to keep it a bit more open and it won't compact the medium. Used charcoal for a while but found it didn't suit me. You're new to growing orchids so you have to experiment and find what works best for how you grow.
Still not sure why you won't try growing outside though. The growth orchids experience during these hot and humid months is just a preclude to the blooms you'll get come fall-spring. Surely there must be a place to put out a few plants to experiment with.
You might also try going to your local society meetings and talk to others and see what other growers are using, and how they grow in your area.
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Old 08-03-2013, 05:43 AM
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I suggest the book Understanding Orchids by William Cullina.. Mid 20's on Amazon. It will explain media and many other issues related to cultivation. That way you can avoid the diverse and often incorrect opinions obtained when throwing out a seemingly simple question on social media well known for its lack of accuracy and even deliberate deception.

There is little mystery about growing orchids of various kinds in various growing situations. It is all pretty well documented in easily obtained books.
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Old 08-03-2013, 06:05 AM
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JLu, I'm not sure the information given is incorrect. Diverse for sure. But those offering up info are merely stating what they do and use. Obviously everyone has their own methods, their preferred mediums and their own cultures. Doesn't make it wrong. Everything has to be tailored to the individual who is doing the growing.
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Old 08-03-2013, 08:08 AM
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Not to throw a wrench in your plans blackvine BUT didn't you mention you didn't want to be bothered w/multiple watering duties each week? More like, if possible, to be watering only once a week (or so)? If I'm remembering that correctly then lava is not going to be your friend. It dries way too fast to allow any lengthy periods between watering.

I know a lot of people like CHC but I have gotten away from it. I used it successfully for a several years but I just got tired of all the soaking so I've switched to redwood. But...that's not what you were asking so....if you want to use CHC...

CHC would be good for your catts...retains moisture w/out being soggy so it'll give you more time between waterings.

CHC w/a little sphag mixed in would be good for plants like phals that like to remain at least a little moist. I would start w/mostly chc (sm-med size) and then adding maybe 10% spahg that i chopped up into the mix for a bit more moisture retention.

Given your desire to space out your waterings and the fact that you've already ordered the lava...use it in the bottoms of pots. I like to always put some "filler" in the bottoms of my pots...even if I don't need to. This ensures I never have a dead, stagnant area in the bottom of the pot...which is where most trouble begins. Put lava in the bottom...even if the roots of the plant are in the bottom...and then use your other medium in the upper half-2/3 of the pots. Works great! I even have my phals potted this way...cork in the bottom w/redwood in the upper portion and a little sphag on the top for some extra moisture retention. Even w/all the rains we've had (think Monsoons)...not one bit of issue w/any of my phals roots so far this Summer.

JLu is 100% right w/the book recommendation. I bought that book my first year growing orchids and I learned a LOT from it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it was the best all-around general orchid book I have and/or have every read. Awesome book!
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Old 08-03-2013, 11:01 AM
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Quote:
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JLu, I'm not sure the information given is incorrect. Diverse for sure. But those offering up info are merely stating what they do and use. Obviously everyone has their own methods, their preferred mediums and their own cultures. Doesn't make it wrong. Everything has to be tailored to the individual who is doing the growing.
I'm not necessarily referring to the info in this thread. I'm referring to internet based info in general. However, since you mentioned it, many people do have their own ways and they work for them. There is no reason to think that they will work in someone else's circumstances especially when you have no idea what those are. So if you adopt even a "good" recommendation from another person when in fact neither of you know the others facts, it could be terribly wrong information for you.

More importantly there is totally wrong information on the internet every day. I see people who claim to be total novices one day giving out information the next week. Pretty quick learners I guess. This doesn't even address the outright lies that people tell about their experience and success.

This from John Dvorak on an ABC news website that you can find by searching "internet misinformation". John says in the opening, "It's becoming more and more apparent that the Internet is the biggest source of lies and bad information ever imagined." He goes on to cite a couple of simple examples where the info is so mixed up that an internet search returns virtual gibberish
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Old 08-03-2013, 12:46 PM
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All information you take in EVER must be weighed by the person receiving the information & placed in the context of that person's experiences, it's called life. History books change, scientific knowledge changes, cultural thinking changes, information as a whole changes constantly and to place overarching blame at the foot of the Internet is thin at best. I'm hesitant to even say it, because ppl usually get defensive, but I think mostly tone has to do with the reactions here that ideas and suggestions offered by the general public to someone with a question is somehow tainted. Clearly nothing proposed by anyone was meant as or taken as authoritative or somehow the final say in what must be done.

I'm a beginner and I offered my suggestions and I hope they help. I'm sure they will in one way or another, if only as a singular reference point, but that doesn't make it wrong for me to offer my perspective. I also don't think it's fair to the recipient of the information to presuppose they're incapable of making their own judgment calls with provided external and differing, sometimes even contradictory experiences and suggestions. What if they're just being nice, thanking us for our suggestions and laughing at their keyboards at what they read on the internet that passes for information :-) and go about their day already being the wiser? What if they take all our information, know it doesn't fit their style and come up with something completely novel that works gangbusters for them, turn around, share their experience, someone else takes that information, tries it themselves and kills their favorite orchid? Life happens... We're just sharing stories from our point of view and since we're all at least staring at orchids, it's a pretty good view.
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Old 08-03-2013, 12:57 PM
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I hear ya Blackvine information overload. It takes time to absorb info, the right ones for you, and to put it to practice.

So I followed advice from above and just ordered the book on Orchids. I have used my Ortho's Book of Orchids and it is still useful and good for beginners.

As for following someone else formula for growing medium, my example is Epi. stamfordianum "Belize" x Epi. stamfordianum "#1" . I have it in a 3.5 clay pot with coconut husk fibers and a tiny bit of moss around the base of the plant. I read a short while ago medium recommendation was something else, (if I don't make a written note, I forget!)

My Epi bought 2012 or 11 did nothing till I put it in this mix, now roots have grown, (superthrive used) water everyday, though not fertilized enough, it has produced a new growth 7.5 inches high. That's my humble story, just cuz there have been way to many failures over here
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Old 08-03-2013, 01:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dbroome View Post
All information you take in EVER must be weighed by the person receiving the information & placed in the context of that person's experiences, it's called life. History books change, scientific knowledge changes, cultural thinking changes, information as a whole changes constantly and to place overarching blame at the foot of the Internet is thin at best. I'm hesitant to even say it, because ppl usually get defensive, but I think mostly tone has to do with the reactions here that ideas and suggestions offered by the general public to someone with a question is somehow tainted. Clearly nothing proposed by anyone was meant as or taken as authoritative or somehow the final say in what must be done.

I'm a beginner and I offered my suggestions and I hope they help. I'm sure they will in one way or another, if only as a singular reference point, but that doesn't make it wrong for me to offer my perspective. I also don't think it's fair to the recipient of the information to presuppose they're incapable of making their own judgment calls with provided external and differing, sometimes even contradictory experiences and suggestions. What if they're just being nice, thanking us for our suggestions and laughing at their keyboards at what they read on the internet that passes for information :-) and go about their day already being the wiser? What if they take all our information, know it doesn't fit their style and come up with something completely novel that works gangbusters for them, turn around, share their experience, someone else takes that information, tries it themselves and kills their favorite orchid? Life happens... We're just sharing stories from our point of view and since we're all at least staring at orchids, it's a pretty good view.
Bravo, Dbroome!! Well stated! Let's toast life and all its succeses, fumbles and mysteries!!
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Old 08-03-2013, 02:54 PM
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I guess it is the tone of the writer that comes across as information is given that touches a raw nerve at times. We all mean to help and impart our individual growing experiences and failings, in the effort of improving and learning more. And I'd say I have met some in various forums that are just domineering, condescending know it all persons, I guess it is their way to pull their weight around. Well people do that too even in person.

This is a lovely orchid forum, albeit not the most perfect one, the world is such. Anyways, happy growing everyone! Always find the joy in it
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Old 08-03-2013, 04:36 PM
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You can never perceive someone's tone from what is written. I'm glad JLu clarified his comments. I too see and hear many known new growers try to come off as being knowledgable. Most of what's on the Internet needs to be taken with a grain of salt, there are a million experts out there on any given subject. Unfortunately, they seem more interested in hearing or seeing themselves in print.
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Old 08-10-2013, 10:55 AM
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ALL my orchids are potted in a mix of river rock and hydroton. Well, I shouldn't say ALL. A couple are potted in those egg looking rocks. The ones that are mounted are on cedar slabs and the roots absolutely love it.

Then again, I grow hot and warm growers: myrmecophila, grammatophyllum, vanda, aerides, Laelia purpurata, Laelia anceps, 2 dendrobium, cattleyas. And, I live in Miami, which is hot and humid 90% of the year.

As to full sun: my dendrobium moschatum is in full sun, so are my renantheras, my myrmecophilas, the lonesome brassavola hybrid, some of my grammatophyllum, my cyrtopodium, all my cattelya guatemalensis, and all my schomb babies. I bought a eulophia petersii and I plan to put it in full sun as well. Most of my catts are in very bright light, as well as my Laelias. They can't take full sun.
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Old 08-10-2013, 02:31 PM
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Synda, did I understand you correctly that Hydroton is no longer produced?
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Old 08-10-2013, 05:47 PM
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Quote:
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Synda, did I understand you correctly that Hydroton is no longer produced?
That is what my reliable sources tell me.
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Old 08-11-2013, 06:59 AM
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The place where I used to get my Hydroton now carries a LECA named Growcorn. It looks like Prime Agra with the different sizes and the wicking is much better than either Hydroton or Prime Agra.

I also have tried and used Growstone made from recycled glass but found it doesn't wick as well as the Growcorn but is fine for inert potting media. It is available to two sizes, larger chunks about the size of landscape lava rock and smaller about the same size as a LECA product.

Ejag check any hydroponic shop and you should find both or at least one of these products available.

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Old 08-11-2013, 04:56 PM
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Synda, Brooke - Thank you. Sure glad I tuned into that converaation.
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Old 08-11-2013, 05:17 PM
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I also find leca sold at reptile/pet shops..I guess it is used also for vivariums.
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Old 08-11-2013, 08:07 PM
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When we started growing orchids we were just as confused by what was on the net, use this use that don't use this or that, all very contradicting. The best thing is trial and error, the very best thing is talk to members at the local orchid club and pick their brains or better still visit an orchid nursery in your area if there is one. We are lucky as our local orchid nursery owners are members of our club.
We tried all the mixes suggested out there on the net but nothing was ever right, there was always an issue somewhere. It might work for them where they are in their growing conditions but it does't mean it will work for you unless your growing conditions are identical. We have tried all sorts of stuff and most failed. It wasn't until we asked the guru's in our area/club and mimicked what they do in relation to potting mixes and conditioned that we started to have success. In fact we are now challenging them on the show bench with very good results, we have a few worried i think. This is our 4th season of growing orchids and it is the last 12 months that we have got a handle on it all.
The best mix we have found for Zygo's, Oncids, Massies and Paphs after a lot of trial and error (should have talked to the guru's straight up) is 3 parts small bark, 2 parts coarse perlite and 1/2 part coco peat, best thing since sliced bread for us as it drains instantly and holds moisture but is not soggy. This works for us and a lot of the members of our club use a very similar mix with great results. Of course this mix would be no good for other genera such as Aussie Dens or Phallies but am sure it would be good for some others.

Talk to the people in your area that know what they are doing and you will be saved from a lot of heartache.
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Old 08-12-2013, 12:23 AM
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Black vine, I am using a mix of 4 parts coco coir/chips, 1 part charcoal and 1 part perlite all medium size. I live in the High Desert and only water my Catts every 10 days. I soak the whole 6" pot in a small container of water for about a half an hour then let them drip dry. This works in my microclimate both indoors and out. Good luck!

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Old 08-28-2013, 04:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Onleme View Post
When we started growing orchids we were just as confused by what was on the net, use this use that don't use this or that, all very contradicting. The best thing is trial and error, the very best thing is talk to members at the local orchid club and pick their brains or better still visit an orchid nursery in your area if there is one. We are lucky as our local orchid nursery owners are members of our club.
We tried all the mixes suggested out there on the net but nothing was ever right, there was always an issue somewhere. It might work for them where they are in their growing conditions but it does't mean it will work for you unless your growing conditions are identical. We have tried all sorts of stuff and most failed. It wasn't until we asked the guru's in our area/club and mimicked what they do in relation to potting mixes and conditioned that we started to have success. In fact we are now challenging them on the show bench with very good results, we have a few worried i think. This is our 4th season of growing orchids and it is the last 12 months that we have got a handle on it all.
The best mix we have found for Zygo's, Oncids, Massies and Paphs after a lot of trial and error (should have talked to the guru's straight up) is 3 parts small bark, 2 parts coarse perlite and 1/2 part coco peat, best thing since sliced bread for us as it drains instantly and holds moisture but is not soggy. This works for us and a lot of the members of our club use a very similar mix with great results. Of course this mix would be no good for other genera such as Aussie Dens or Phallies but am sure it would be good for some others.

Talk to the people in your area that know what they are doing and you will be saved from a lot of heartache.
Yes, I agree that the best ppl to ask are the ones growing orchids in your area. For instance, if I were to use Onleme's potting media (above) that would suffocate, and rot my roots quicker than I don't even know what! Lol, but it works wonderfully for them.... All about trial and error.

Speaking of good orchid books, and Onleme mentioning the words "4" and "seasons"... I found a treasure the other day, not sure where it came from, don't remember buying it, but I found it in one of my many stacks of books, and read thru it. It's by Greg Allikas, & Ned Nash, titled "Four Seasons of Orchids" it has wonderful information on potting all types of orchids, I think it just about covers every genera - how to pot & clean them up, and all the various ways to mount them (tying with fishing line, hot-glueing to the mount, etc.), how to divide diff. types - cyms, catts, dendros, etc. It is very informative, and gives all kinds of info on different potting media as well. As well as important info about culture in the home or in a greenhouse, under lights, and things to watch for and change during all four seasons. I learned a few things that I didn't know, I wish I had grabbed it before I left, otherwise I'd tell y'all a little more! Look at it on amazon, I think they have that book preview thing, where u can kinda thumb thru it before buying.
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Old 08-28-2013, 10:30 PM
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Thanks, Tiger - definitely gonna check that book out!
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