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Can You Use Regular Potting Soil For Orchids?

People new to growing orchids often ask can you use regular potting soil for orchids? The answer is it depends on the type of orchid you have.

Most of the orchids we grow are epiphytic orchids. They use their aerial roots to absorb moisture and nutrients. Epiphytic orchids can not be grown in potting soil because it will suffocate them.

Terrestrial orchids are less common and have more regular roots or grow from a rhizome and they can be grown in potting soil.

Can You Use Regular Potting Soil For Orchids? No! Wild orchids on bark

Orchids Growing On Trees Without Soil

In the picture above you can see how orchids grow in the wild. They attach themselves to tree bark.

They are not growing in soil in fact they are not even growing on the ground and certainly not in potting soil.

What Type Of Potting Soil Is Used For Orchids?

Most orchid potting mixes primarily contain fir or redwood bark.

There are other ingredients mixed into the bark. Usually, sphagnum moss is included. Perlite and charcoal are also added to orchid potting mixes.

The goal is to create a mix that can retain some moisture and yet provide good air infiltration throughout the mix.

Epiphytic orchids like the phalaenopsis orchid you probably got at the supermarket or florist are air plants.

These plants do not have regular roots like other plants. They are air plants that use their aerial roots to get food and water from the air.

If you put them in potting soil the roots will not be able to breathe and will eventually start to rot. So please don’t use potting soil.

Can I Use Cactus Soil For Orchids?

You cant use cactus soil or succulent soil for your orchids. They are basically just potting mixes with additional sand added to them.

They are going to result in root rot just like regular potting soil. Orchids need a mix that allows good aeration.

It is important to remember that orchid roots need exposure to air to thrive.

Homemade Orchid Potting Mix

You can make your own homemade orchid potting mix if you want to.

You will probably find it makes more sense to buy a commercial potting mix at your garden center or online.

You would need to buy and mix all the ingredients together and you will need to buy larger quantities of these ingredients than you need.

Orchid potting mix is not really that expensive so making your own might only be worth it if you can’t find any locally.

If you have a lot of orchids to repot or run a commercial greenhouse it might make sense to mix your own.

Can Orchids Grow Without Soil?

Can Orchids Grow Without Soil? Yes!

Yes, orchids can grow without soil. In the wild, they grow attached to tree bark but they don’t feed on the bark and are not parasitic.

Some orchid growers keep Vanda orchids bare toot in slatted wooden baskets with no grow medium whatsoever.

Remember epiphytic orchids are air plants. They feed and get moisture from the air and not from soil.

This is the reason orchids need higher humidity than most other houseplants.

There is another popular method to grow orchids that uses no soil. It is often called water culture.

How To Grow Orchids Without Soil

To grow orchids in water culture you will keep them in a vase or jar instead of in a pot.

The water slowly evaporates and the vase helps maintain a humid environment for the roots.

It works great provided you remember to change the water and give the roots some dry time. Here is an article I wrote about it.
Growing Orchids In Water Culture – Hydroponic Orchids

This is a video that shows some orchids in full water culture. However the term full is a bit misleading because the roots are not underwater all the time as you will see.

YouTube player

Water culture is a great way to grow orchids without soil. But it is not a totally hands-off method of growing orchids.

If you are growing a potted orchid and want to try this method there are a few things you should know.

Water Culture Tips

  • Water culture can work for any epiphytic orchid but works best for a new orchid.
  • It will typically be in sphagnum moss and should be repotted anyway.
  • Orchids in bark media may take some time to adapt to this method.
  • You will need to thoroughly clean all grow media from the roots before using water culture.
  • Then you will want to examine the roots and remove any that are dead or feel soft.
  • You should use rainwater, distilled, or RO (reverse osmosis) water for your orchids.
  • Your tap water probably is too alkaline and contains chloramines or other things orchids don’t like.
  • If you leave media or dead roots on the plants they can rot and contaminate your water with bad bacteria.
  • Give your plants time to adjust to growing in water culture before deciding whether they like it or not.

Can You Use Regular Potting Soil For Orchids? Final Thoughts

So using regular potting soil or cactus soil is a sure way to hurt and maybe kill your orchids.

Orchid potting soil is made primarily with fir or redwood bark. Most people grow orchids in an orchid potting mix.

If you want to grow orchids without soil you can. Water culture works very well for epiphytic orchids so give it a try.

If you want some more information on water culture you can find it here.

Read more: Are Orchids Hard To Take Care Of? Easy Growth Formula


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