Can You Reuse Orchid Bark?

Orchid Bark In Dish

Orchids are beautiful plants you can grow in your home or greenhouse, but taking care of these lovely flowers is a bit more complicated than other species. With a single orchid costing anywhere between $25 and $60, orchid owners will do everything they can to keep their flower healthy. Is it really necessary to use fresh bark mix every time you repot your orchid?

You can not reuse orchid bark because natural decomposition reduces the material’s ability to circulate air and drain water. These notoriously high-maintenance plants are not as difficult to grow as they are often made out to be; however, it is best to give them fresh bark for every repotting.

In this article, we will examine these beautiful flowers and take a look at the reasons why using fresh bark is your best bet for keeping your orchid alive, happy, and flowering. We will also take a look at what makes good bark and provide a quick guide on when to repot your orchid. Read on for all your orchid bark answers.

Why Use Bark in the First Place?

Orchids are known as epiphytes, meaning they collect nutrients from the air instead of the soil like most other plants. In the wild, orchids actually attach themselves to other trees, piggybacking high in the air to gather the sunlight and nutrients they need to thrive.

Because of this interesting evolutionary development, orchids in your home need continual airflow around their roots to absorb the water and nutrients essential to their survival. If you were to plant an orchid in the same way as say a rose, the plant would quickly wither and die from lack of nutrients.

This is why many orchid enthusiasts use some kind of bark as a growing medium, as these looser materials provide plenty of space for your orchid roots to breathe. 

What Can Happen if I Reuse Orchid Bark?

The biggest problem with reusing bark is the decomposition of these organic materials that naturally takes place over time. As time passes, bark breaks down, and the large, loose material that you started with eventually becomes more soil like in its texture and consistency.

When your potting medium loses its aerating capabilities, it will retain excess moisture, eventually leading to the root rot that is dreaded by orchid lovers the world over. Root rot is simply the oversaturation of plant material with water, leading to mushy roots that will eventually kill your prized plant.

If caught early enough, before the entire root mass has been affected, this problem can be remedied, but it highlights the need for fresh orchid bark when repotting.

Orchid Bark

What Is Orchid Bark?

Orchids require a far more specialized potting mix than other plants, and tree bark is an essential part of this mixture. It should be noted that practically every orchid enthusiast has their own ideas about what constitutes the perfect potting mix, so we will just go with a general examination.

A good potting mix should:

  • Drain rapidly
  • Retain moisture
  • Provide excellent air circulation
  • Decompose slowly

Air and Water

All orchids need air and water to survive, and a successful orchid bark mix should consist of two components: a water and nutrient absorbent material, and some type of bark to provide the space needed for air to move through the root system.

Several different materials can be used to provide your orchid bark with the absorbent qualities your plant needs to survive, but these are just a couple:

  • Perlite: While it looks like Styrofoam pellets, perlite is actually a form of volcanic glass. It makes for an excellent addition to orchid potting material thanks to its absorbency and the fact that it does not decompose over time.
  • Coconut Husk Chips: Another popular option, the husk of coconuts, absorb water and nutrients, which are slowly processed by the orchid. Coconut husks do decompose over time, but very slowly. 
  • Peat Moss: This is another ingredient that is found in many over the counter, pre-mixed orchid bark mediums. While it is popular among many orchid enthusiasts, it does tend to retain more water than other materials, so you should keep this in mind when using it for your orchid. 

Bark in Orchid Potting Medium

As we mentioned, there is a never-ending debate among orchid lovers about the best mix to promote healthy and happy flowers, and this is no different when it comes to choosing a bark. In fact, some orchid aficionados prefer sphagnum moss and skip the bark altogether. We will leave them out of this conversation, however, and continue with tree bark.

These materials come in three grades: fine, medium, and coarse. This grade determines the material’s water retention and aeration properties, with fine being the most absorbent and least aerating. 

  • Coastal Redwood: This is a popular choice both for its natural adsorbent characteristics and its unmistakable, red color. 
  • Douglas Fir: Another popular choice for its natural water retention and ability to aerate potting mix when properly utilized, Douglas fir bark is common in many pre-mixed orchid barks.

It is important to note that when choosing a bark mix for your orchid, you understand both your specific plant’s needs and your growing situation. Different orchid species have different requirements, with some being highly sensitive to decay and others being less finicky.

A slightly finer bark mix will retain more water, which may be appropriate depending on your orchid species, growing situation, and climate.

Finding a balance in your bark mix is essential for the longevity and health of your orchid.

Orchid in Pot

When Should I Re-Pot My Orchid?

Now that we understand the need for fresh orchid bark when repotting these beautiful flowers, how do we know when it’s time to rejuvenate our potting mix?

Once again, you have to research your specific orchid variety; however, repotting once a year is a general rule of thumb among many experts in the orchid community. There are a few other signs that you should look for to determine if your orchid needs to be repotted as well:

  • Tightly Clumped Roots: While many varieties prefer to be in small, slightly cramped pots if you notice your orchid’s roots turning into a dense mass, it is time to repot, and upgrade to a larger size container.
  • Exposed Roots: A sure sign that your orchid needs repotting in a bigger container is roots sticking up out of the potting mix. If you see fresh roots protruding out of the bark, it is time to upgrade your orchid’s accommodations.
  • Decomposing Bark: If you see that your potting mix is becoming compact due to decomposition, it means that it is time to repot your orchid. If you wait too long, you run the risk of your orchid developing root rot.
  • Root Rot: If caught early enough, the mushy brown roots of your orchid can be revived by repotting; if your roots are too far gone, your orchid is a lost cause, and it is time to start again. This is why regular inspection is important to keep your flower healthy.
  • After Flowering: Some specific orchid varieties prefer to be repotted after flowering. Cattleya orchids, in particular, can benefit from repotting after they flower. However, this is not the case for all orchids, so make sure you read up on your specific variety for more detailed information. 

Final Thoughts

Once relegated to elite gardeners with the knowledge and greenhouses to take care of these exotic flowers, orchids become more mainstream. Despite their growing popularity, orchids are still more demanding than most other plants, and using fresh orchid bark is just one element of the proper maintenance required for these unique flowers to thrive. 

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