It’s finally time to repot and you realize that your supply of orchid bark is low. Just a quick search on Amazon and you’ll soon find out that there are so many different types of potting media (and I’m referring only to the bark types), that you’re tempted to go with the cheapest.
Please don’t do that.
Orchid bark has ranges of best to worst and not always will you get what you pay for. In most cases, the price is the main indication of good orchid bark, but not always. I decided to buy 5 of the highest-selling orchid barks and test them one by one.
The best orchid bark is not going to be the same for all orchid growers. If you have a cymbidium orchid, then Repot-me Imperial Orchid Mix Especially for Cymbidiums is the best orchid bark. For a Phalaenopsis orchid, the Orchiata was best. There is a brand of Orchid Bark that I will not ever buy again, and I’ll get to that at the end of the article.
The Best-Selling Orchid Bark Companies
I chose 4 companies that sell orchid products including orchid bark, and I’ll go over their products one by one. I’m not sure what is available near you, but these are the brands that I find most often near me. (I live in Kansas.) The contestants in my test were:
(3) Better-Gro, and
I also decided to compare the quality of these mega-brands to something cheap and not known, to see if name-brands and dollar value were any indication of variances. The 5th company, a no-brand bark, just had “orchid bark” on the bag. Nothing else. So, this is contestant number 5, an off-brand that of which I honestly don’t know the name. I think it’s Sun Seed.
Repot-me Orchid Bark Potting Mix
Repot-me has the most variety of orchid bark potting mixes you can find, totaling 19. At the time of this article, they have 17 in stock, since 2 are sold out. There are so many types of orchid potting media that if you’re new to repotting, this can be daunting.
You must read the description and see what works for your climate.
I chose the Phalaenopsis Monterey Dark Imperial Orchid Mix. It is a mix of medium monterey pine bark, hydroton, large sponge rock, and AAA New Zealand sphagnum moss.
Like any brand of orchid potting mix, your climate and growing conditions will interfere with what is officially the best. If you live in a hot and dry climate, this potting mix is not the best for you. There is hardly any sphagnum moss (about 5 lonely strands in the entire mix, which means it doesn’t hold much water). If you live in a colder, more humid climate, then this might be the perfect orchid mix. It drains fast yet retains some humidity.
The main con with this product would probably be the price. I bought mine off of Amazon, but would have been better to buy it directly form the store. You can go to their website by clicking here. If you are already an Amazon customer, you can find Repot-me by clicking here (Affiliate Link).
The bark chips tend to be smaller, and you can crush the sponge rock together with your fingers. I suspect that is why they suggest to repot every 12-18 months.
If you look at their site, they often have the same mix listed twice, one as Classic and the other as Imperial. Their explanation of the difference was very well explained, so I’ll quote them by saying,
“We have two mix lines, Classic and Imperial. The Classics were the first mixes we made when our business was formed many years ago. They are great mixes and remain a bit less costly than the Imperial mixes which we created a few years ago. The Imperial mixes are made with some ingredients that are harder to find, tend to be more complex, and are more costly to make.
“For example, the Phalaenopsis Imperial mixes (AAA, Monterey Gold and Monterey Dark ), are all made with ultra-pure New Zealand AAA Sphagnum moss and other listed ingredients.
“The Gold version also includes virgin cork chips from Portugal. The Dark Version contains special aged bark called Orchiata from sustainable forests in New Zealand.
“The Classic mixes are made with more familiar materials like coconut husk chips from Sri Lanka, and Fir Bark (often known as “orchid bark”), typically from the west coast of the United States. In general, the Imperial line of mixes tends to be faster draining and drier while the Classics tend to hold more moisture.”
Orchiata Orchid Bark Potting Mix
Orchiata orchid bark is 100% New Zealand Pinus radiata bark that has been treated and processed. The treatment used is to reduce the number of bacteria and mold in the bag due to higher humidity along with the higher temperatures.
They come in 3 sizes*, so if you are buying online, make sure the size you want is the one that is recommended.
* I want to thank Ken Barlette from Orchid Supply Store for making a correction on my original post. He said there are actually 5 sizes. You can check out the barks sizes available on their website by clicking here.
The smallest, called Precision, is for the extra small bark chips, Extra Small (1/8″ 4-6mm). If your orchid has extremely tiny roots, or if you want a bark that holds more moisture (the smaller the bark pieces the more time the middle of the pot takes to dry out) then this is the bark you want.
The next size up but still very small, called Classic, is ½ – 3/8” (6-9 mm) large. It is the best for seedling and tiny rooted orchids.
The second size up, is called the Power, which has 3/8 – ½” (0-12 mm) and is great for those second-year orchids that aren’t quite mature enough for bigger bark.
The last size is called Power Plus + and has ½ – ¾” (12-18 mm) pieces, large enough for bigger orchids.
I wasn’t aware, but there is a larger size after Power Plus, which is called Super, with extra-large bark chips (18-25mm), their largest chip size. I haven’t tried this personally, but have already added it to my list to buy in the future. This bark is perfect for those larger rooted orchids that have thick roots.
If you are in doubt of the size, go with the bigger one. Smaller orchids adapt better than bigger ones to the large chunks. It’s not ideal, but doable.
As for the size, you can either buy 2.5 gallons (9.4 liters) or 10 gallons (37.8 liters). I paid US $ 22.00 for my bag and I bought it on Amazon. You can check out the current price here (Affiliate Link).Once again, thanks to Ken at Orchid Supply Store, I found their prices cheaper than what I had found on Amazon. So please check them out here. You can also find huge bags, which saves money in the long run.
This was the best brand overall, in my opinion. I’m still looking for bigger bark pieces, but Orchiata Orchid bark was—still is—my top choice.
Better-Gro Phalaenopsis Orchid Potting Mix
Better-Gro has 4 different types of pre-mixed potting media, all of which contain “specifically sized and graded grower’s choice” western fir bark. (Their words, not mine.) I will give them this: their bags are resealable. Isn’t that awesome?
None of the other brands are except Repot-me, so once you open the bag, it sits there, wide open.
The simplest of all orchid barks from Better-Gro is just the plain bark, and nothing else. If you’re wondering, the background colors on the bag are yellow and orange.
If you are traveling with orchids, then this might be the best solution for potting before you leave. Since it is only one ingredient, western fir bark, then crossing state borders inside the continental USA is easier (if you move or travel on an airplane, for example).
If you want more information about traveling with orchids, check out this article I wrote, (link) since the specifications for potting media are very clear.
This simple orchid bark is also excellent if you like to make your potting media from scratch, adding your sphagnum, charcoal, and perlite. It also is the cheapest since it’s only bark.
The second orchid bark by Better-Gro is an all-purpose mix for any type of orchid and contains western fir bark, hardwood charcoal, and sponge rock. This bag tends toward the red color, and the label reads “Special Mix”.
My only concern with this one is that the instructions say to repot every 12 – 18 months. Does this mean that the media breaks down at that time? Most orchids prefer to not be repotted every year, and this can damage the roots.
The orchid bark pieces in this bag are larger than the other ones, which can be good or bad, depending on what your objectives are. If you have a larger, more vertical orchid, like a dendrobium, these large chunks of bark don’t provide much stability and the orchids tend to fall over.
It’s great for drainage and airflow, but the larger roots just can’t hold on. If you have a smaller rooted orchid, that has very fine roots like a Tolumnia orchid, then this bark just doesn’t work. It’s too big and holds too much moisture. Even though the bark is well-drained, it does hold moisture a lot longer.
The third one isspecific for Phalaenopsis, even though both the options above will work perfectly well for Phalaenopsis orchids. This mix is a rich mixture of Canadian chunk peat blended with western fir bark, hardwood charcoal, and coarse perlite.
Sometimes, labels are hard to read, so if you’re searching, this bag is purple.
I usually have a hard time with peat moss. I hate it. It doesn’t matter how little I water, the peat just clumps up and retains so much water that it attracts root rot. Maybe you’ve had a different experience, but I stay away from peat moss (unless it’s for a terrarium, which you can read here, or see this video where I have part of my terrarium in the background).
Yet, Phalaenopsis like to be more on the humid side of life, much more than Cattleya or Dendrobiums. If you don’t like to water that much, maybe this orchid bark will work for you. Since I tend to overwater, then I had terrible luck with this bag.
The last orchid bark by Better-Gro is for Dendrobiums, containing porous lava rock, western fir bark, hardwood charcoal, coarse perlite. Their aim here is for quick drainage and good airflow. (The older version of this bag is blue, but the recent one is different from the rest. It’s still mainly blue though.)
The orchid bark in this bag is a little smaller than the others, which may be good for smaller rooted Dendrobiums.
You can see the current price here (Affiliate Link). I bought mine for US $ 6.98, but it was on promotion. The regular price at the time of this article was $ 14.16.
Miracle-Gro Orchid Potting Media
Miracle-Grow seems to have had better days in the past. It use to be a decent brand, but if you go to their website and read the 1-star reviews, they all say the same thing: fungus gnats, mold, little black bugs, severe mushroom smell…and the list goes on.
That can happen to any orchid bark, but in all honesty, it shouldn’t.
To these complaints, the customer service department replied, “Composted soil and mulch by nature can develop mold and fungus. These organisms help break down the organic material so that plants can use the nutrients. Neither fungi nor molds that break down dead organic matter harm growing plants.
Sometimes in the moist and dark environment of the package, there will be an overgrowth of these fungi or molds. While it may be unattractive, it does not pose a risk to plants. Once the product is mixed into the existing soil and/or is exposed to sunlight and allowed to dry out, the mold should not be an issue.”
Uhm… May I politely disagree?
Fungi can be a horrible problem. There are beneficial fungi in the world, but I don’t believe that inside the orchid pot is where they should be. If you want more information on the white stuff that could be mold or not, this article I wrote could help.
About the problem with fungus gnats, I also disagree.
Upon one customer’s complaint, Miracle Grow politely responded, “Our soils are made of composted forest products to produce a courser material for air to reach the roots of the plant, which improves plant performance. We do not sterilize our growing media, as microorganisms are an important component of growing media.
The mold only becomes a problem if there is an overgrowth that occurs when the soil is too wet. Fungus gnats also come from too much moisture in the soil. Allowing the plants to dry out a bit between watering will not hurt the plant and will dry the soil to eliminate any mold growth and gnats, which thrives with the extra moisture.”
I will give them positive points for answering back because they are very polite and very cordial—but their product needs to be improved. If you have fungus gnats after opening the bag of orchid bark, then I suggest reading this article I wrote on how to get rid of them.
Personally, I have never had a bag of Miracle-Gro open up to have bugs inside of it. I did encounter one problem though… I bought Coarse grade, which in my mind, consists of larger pieces that are not smooth. To my dismay, this bag of orchid bark is mostly fine dust. It reminded me of peat moss. The bark had degraded so badly that the dust was everywhere. This is not healthy for your orchid.
The positive side of this orchid bark mix is that it is cheap. It is the cheapest of all of them, even the unknown brand that I bought. I definitely do NOT want to recommend this brand, but if you want to check out the price, click here (Affiliate Link).
If you are on a budget, then go ahead and buy it. But there will be preparations before you use it.
Sift the media into a container and throw away the fine dust.
Once sifted, rinse the media off thoroughly. I suggest even soaking it in Physan 20 or another product that kills bacteria. If there is visible mold, a quick boil should kill it. No need to boil for over 5 minutes.
Lay it out in the sun to dry completely. Once dry and pest-free, then you can use it. If you have the time, this turns out to be very beneficial financially.
If possible, just stay away from this brand.
One more side note: of all the brands listed, the suggested repot time for this brand was 6 months. They didn’t technically say that in those words, but “Feeds up to 6 months” is kind of the same thing. What happens after 6 months? Since there are no additional nutrients or fertilizer in the bag (or none that I could find listed), what exactly happens in 6 months? I need answers.
lso, (yes, one more point) this product doesn’t ship to all states in the continental USA. It only ships to CT, DE, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, ME, MI, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WI. No wonder I can’t buy it online… I live in Kansas. Oh well…
Mystery Brand Orchid Bark
The fifth brand had so much moisture in it that when I opened the bag, the smell was more than I needed to verify my suspicions. It was humid. Wet. Even the dust wasn’t dust—it was a type of mud.
The bark pieces were quite small but surprisingly good in terms of holding their shape when I pressed down on them. If I had to use this brand when repotting, I’d just it for small seedlings or very tiny immature plants that need three to four years until they bloom.
I guess I shouldn’t have picked a no-brand, no-information bark because I don’t know if it’s treated or not. I don’t even know what tree it’s from. In all, I wouldn’t put a costly orchid in this orchid bark since it’s too risky.
Final Conclusions for Best Orchid Bark
I don’t think that it’s worth paying as much for Repot-me orchid bark to justify its price. There’s not much more in quality, either.
My choice before going into this experiment had always been Orchiata Orchid bark, but after comparing them side to side, I will still be using Orchiata. Please note that I also add sphagnum moss, charcoal, perlite, and sometimes other simple ingredients to the mix. It’s never plain bark because my climate is too dry.
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In all, I hope you find the bark that you need in your area. If there is a brand name that you want, then please write it down in the comments below and I’ll try to find it, use it, and evaluate it. I wish you the best in orchid care and Happy Cultivating!