Orchid substrate - what is in it? Instructions to do it yourself

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Orchid substrate - what is in it? Instructions to do it yourself: orchid

The orchid is probably one of the best known and most popular flowers that can be found in the German living spaces and gardens. More than 1,000 genera are found worldwide and of these, the Epidendroideae, occurring mainly in the tropics, the largest family of Orchidaceae dar. Due to the five primary subfamilies and the three growth forms different substrates for the rearing and the location in the bed or pot needed. Of course, there are a variety of substrates in the trade, but you can easily mix the appropriate substrate and provide your orchids with it. All that is necessary is to know which substances are suitable as a substrate for the orchids and in which ratio they are mixed.

Why is a substrate needed?

Because of the many species of orchids, there is no single substrate that is suitable for the rearing of all Orchidaceae. For example, tropical species need an airy substrate that dries quickly so that the roots do not rot and die off. Many European or Arctic orchids, on the other hand, tolerate very well-drained soil, as occurs in conventional gardens. In orchid management, it is important to imitate the original location of the species and this is done by the substrate. Since the roots are not underground, especially in the tropical species, they are exposed to much fresh air and take only as much water from the rain as they need. Each species determines its growth habit and therefore it is important to adapt to the exact needs of the plant. The following growth forms are found in orchids:
  • on plants (epiphytic)
  • on stones or rocks (lithophytic)
  • on or in the earth (terrestrial)
Tip: If you find out about the nature of your orchid before choosing the substrate, you will save a lot of time and money. So you can choose from the beginning the right substrate in the appropriate size and enjoy healthy orchids.

Components of the substrates

Orchids in the glass

The combination of organic and inorganic ingredients for the substrates is often found in the field of commercially available products. However, substrates are also offered purely from inorganic substances, sometimes even chemically produced, as well as offered in only a few cases as beneficial for the growth of orchids. A gentle alternative to the inorganic variants are substrates which consist exclusively or mainly of organic substances and are enriched with inorganic substances. These range from classic bark to charcoal and clay. Each substrate has its advantages and disadvantages and should therefore be precisely tuned so that the water absorption and delivery to the plants works effectively. The following ingredients are used for the substrates.


The bark of various trees has been used for decades for the cultivation and keeping of orchids. This is mainly because most of the orchids in the trade are tropical and subtropical species that grow on trees, so it seems reasonable to think that bark is good for the plants. The bark is offered in various grain sizes and is known primarily as a standard substrate for orchids of the genus Phalaenopsis, the moth orchid. For the bark is usually used pine and it comes in grain sizes of less than ten millimeters to over 30 millimeters. Here the principle applies: the finer the root of the orchid, the finer the grain of the bark substrate should be. Further advantages of the bark substrates are:
  • decomposes very slowly
  • Gives many nutrients to the orchid
  • increased water permeability
  • suitable for epiphytic growing orchids

natural fibers

The natural fibers include the following components:
  • Wood
  • Buchenlaub
  • coconut
  • cork
  • nutshells
  • White peat
  • Moose
These materials are all useful as an adjunct to the epiphytic species substrate and help in the absorption, distribution and storage of moisture. All of these components except for the white village decompose over time and release nutrients to the plant. Coconut fibers provide a good ventilation, especially in young specimens, as well as nutshells, which are a nutritious alternative to wood and coconut. The individual components can be mixed very easily and adapted to the individual orchid species, which makes them so effective in use. White peat should be given a maximum of 30 percent in the substrate, otherwise it stifles the roots. Weisstorf lowers the pH of the substrate and is very structurally stable, as well as beech leaves, cork and woods.


Orchidaceae dendrobium

Sphagnum moss is a unique moss that can be used for species that are particularly demanding, have very fine roots and need a lot of water. Since this moss is under protection, it is one of the most expensive substrates and is beneficial for the genera Phragmipedium, Disa or Dracula.


The minerals in the substrate include sand and lime, which help the orchids with their properties. Sand is a means to dry the substrate of terrestrial orchids if it has become too wet. Lime, on the other hand, is used as an important trace element and ensures effective water absorption. Nevertheless, lime-free water should never be used for the orchids. Tip: Lime can also be obtained from egg shells, mussels or other chalky shells, stones or food. It does not always have to be an additive from the trade.

Earth and compost

Classic garden soil is recommended for a small number of Erdorchideen. For example, Bletilla species benefit from the nutrient-rich soil. When selecting the soil should be paid to a good quality with high permeability, because even here may not develop too much waterlogging. In addition, humus, compost and needle humus are recommended for the substrates. They allow a higher nutrient uptake for species such as Pleione and especially the needle humus shines as part of the substrate. He is angry and does not burden the orchid with salts. In the case of humus and compost, pest infestation may be the cause, so it is important to pay more attention to the use of these substances.

volcanic rock

Pure volcanic rock is used as a substrate for the smallest group of orchids, the lithophytes. These species grow on rocks and therefore need the volcanic rock to select the necessary nutrients. Other stones can also be chosen, but coarse volcanic rocks are better. A well-known volcanic rock substrate is Perlite, which provides an efficient drainage of epiphytic species by foaming the stone. However, due to the processing, Perlite is an inorganic substance suitable for young plants with sensitive roots.


Charcoal is an effective material to fight bacteria in the substrate. It should be used in almost all substrates, as it disinfects, loosens up and acts against toxic substances. It maintains the vitality of the orchid, but because of its dark color, it is a little more unaesthetic than other supplements.

Inorganic substrates

The inorganic substrates comprise a large group of substances that should be used wisely. So styrofoam, foam or foamed plastic offer only limited, as they often store too much water or do not give water to the plant. Expanded clay, lavalite (for lithophytes), clay (for earth orchids), seramis, rockwool (Odontoglossum) and zeolite (it works against ammonium), on the other hand, are specialized in certain orchid keeping needs and are accordingly well suited. They have almost no negative properties, except the expanded clay can sometimes salt something. Before mixing in the substrate should be noted, for which species they are worthwhile. They ensure a good drainage and help to absorb the water without robbing the orchid of the air.

Advantages of self-mixed substrates

Orchidaceae phalaenopsis - Orchids substrate

Substrates for Orchidaceae from the trade are like sand on the sea and many of these formulations are only partially suitable for the plants. A typical defect of these substrates is the excessive use of peat, which however can strangle the plant and rot the roots. Likewise, it can come to infestation by pests, since the finished substrates are often the perfect breeding ground for insects. An example is the scary mosquitoes, which like to attack the plants and can damage them considerably. For this reason, a substrate from our own "production" is recommended, which is the amount ratio gentler and more effective for the flowers.

Substrate yourself - a guide

1. Once you have decided on the components of your substrate, the substrate can be mixed. All you need is the ingredients and the flowerpot, or the staked area of ​​the garden or garden shed, if you plant earth orchids.

Consider the pot or location you chose for the orchid. The dimensions and the volume decide how much of the substrate is needed. In this case: with small pots and young plants a finer substrate should be chosen, so that the roots can develop better. In addition, a finer grain fits better in flowerpots with less volume and makes it easier to switch to a larger flowerpot if the orchid needs such during growth.

3. Bark should be disinfected before addition to the substrate. You can either hold the bark for 30 minutes over steam, put it in the microwave for a few minutes or put it in the oven for several hours. This process helps to remove microorganisms and bacteria that could negatively impact the growth of orchids.

4. Depending on the type of orchid, a different mixing ratio should be chosen. However, for the majority of epiphytic species, pine bark is chosen as the main ingredient and refined with other ingredients. Epiphytes benefit from mixtures that consist of about 50 to 70 percent or five to seven parts of bark. The other parts can theoretically be chosen freely.There are individual recipes for every type of orchid that you can try.

Orchids Substrate - Orchidaceae cambria

5. First, place the bark in the flower pot, taking into account the amount that the flower pot can hold. Then add the individual parts of the other ingredients and mix well with the substrate by hand. Tip: Remove the individual components by hand from the bags. In this way, no dust gets into the substrate, which is mainly caused by transport and storage of bark and wood fibers, and you can also check most of the pieces for putrid areas or pest infestation.

6. Charcoal is added either directly into the substrate as a base in the flower pot.

7. Lime will enter the substrate as needed.

8. Now the orchid will be planted in the substrate, as well as the fertilizer and water, if necessary.

Erdorchideen and lithophytische kinds

The substrate for Erdorchideen consists for the most part of soil, humus or compost, which is enriched with other components such as Seramis. Like other flowers, the orchid is simply planted in the ground. A unique form of the substrate is found in lithophytic species. Here, a whole lump of volcanic rock is gladly used, on which the orchid with the open roots is attached via cords. It can rooted in the stone and is supplied with its nutrients. This shape of the substrate is becoming increasingly popular as it is a unique eye-catcher and corresponds to the natural habitat of the plant.

Video Board: My Home made orchid potting mixes. Orchid Potting mix to repot various kinds of Orchids.

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