Cultivating Orchids & Crafting Terrariums

 Best Wood for Mounting Orchids:
What Works and What Doesn’t

Some orchids do best when mounted instead of in a pot. In fact, we’re the ones that try to force orchids to fit inside pots to fit our own needs and wants, instead of letting them grow as they do in nature—mounted on trees.

When it comes to mounting orchids on tree bark, don’t pick up the first broken log you see. Some trees will hinder orchid growth while others will provide that extra security with nicks and crannies that orchid roots love to attach to.

The best wood for mounting orchids has long bark durability, is hard grain instead of soft, is rot-resistant, does not contain resins or aromatic saps, and isn’t smooth to the touch. These can include oak, hickory, pecan, manzanita, redwood, locust, lilac, and citrus, excluding pine, fir, willow, and birch.

Many other kinds of wood are appropriate for mounting orchids. In this article, you’ll learn about how to choose the correct wood to mount your orchid, depending on what is available in your natural environment. If you have nothing close to choose from that is natural, at the very end, I’ll include a list of what I use to mount my orchids and a few online sellers.

Bark Durability for Mounting Orchids

When you mount an orchid, it will stay mounted for extremely long periods. It can stay mounted for up to 10 years, depending on the type of mount. Cork has been known to last 10 years, but I haven’t seen other material that lasts that long besides natural wood.

When you place an orchid in a pot, forcing its roots to adapt to potting medium be it leca pebbles, orchid bark, charcoal, sphagnum moss, or others, the orchid suffers until it gets established. But the potting medium will naturally degrade and in two years of less, you’ll have to repot. Every time you repot, you’ll break a few roots, damage others, and the orchid suffers.
Orchid Mounted on Wood
Image Credit: "Orchid" by nosha is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0  
With mounting, you can bypass this entire repotting process. The orchid will live and thrive on a mounted tree log for extended periods, and the roots have time to establish themselves with grace. They naturally become longer and a tad bit thicker, too. The secret is to leave them alone.

Leave your orchid alone!!
Yes, we all tend to be too invasive with our orchids, pressuring them to bloom again, over and over. If we can cut out the dormancy cycle, we would. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. Yet on a mount, the orchid will be left alone, except for the daily dunking (watering).

The roots will be left intact and have room for the velamen to firmly attach itself in the furrows of the bark. This is why you need to choose a bark or wood that is durable. Grapevines, for example, are not. It’s beautiful, but it just doesn’t withstand the test of time when you attach an orchid to them.

A plank of good, durable wood will have to be able to get drenches constantly and not give way. It’s important to mention that hardwood and softwood are not determined by the density of the wood, but rather by the growing cycle. Hardwoods are deciduous, losing their leaves every year. Softwoods are mainly conifers, and remain green throughout the year. Because it takes a hardwood tree a lot longer to grow, the wood is denser. (Source)

A softwood mount will fall apart over time and your orchids will lose their “ground”.

Softwood trees include pine, redwood, douglas-fir, cypresses, and larch. Does that mean you can’t use these woods? No, you may if you find them in your area. But just note that your terrarium or mount will need to be remounted in a couple of years, which you could have avoided if using a hardwood.

Rot-Resistant Wood Is Best for Orchid Mounting

Since an orchid on a mount will be exposed to the household environment and relative humidity is extremely low (most homes range about 27-33% in rH), your orchid will dry out extremely fast.

You can add an extra layer of sphagnum moss to the mount to delay the evaporation around the roots, but in all honesty, you will be watering your orchid almost daily. If not, you’ll certainly be misting daily.

Orchid dunking (as I call it) is what works for me. I submerge the entire mount in a bucket of water every other day, or every third day. I have a humidifier in my home office—my orchid heaven, as I call it—but they still need that extra care.

Not all wood is best for being dunked every other day. Some wood is extremely porous, which you might think is a great thing (hey, it absorbs water!!) but it’s not. The water this wood absorbs will not evaporate in time for the next dunking and the wood will start to rot or mold.

Grapevine is notorious for rotting. Pine, fir, will, and birch also rot with a quickness that is disgusting. All the time making the mount and placing it in a terrarium for the wood to rot. It’s unnerving. Rot-resistant woods are oak, hickory, pecan, manzanita, cedar, redwood, and douglas-fir bark. If you use just douglas fir wood and not the bark, it will rot. The bark is rot-resistant; the wood is not.

Aromatic Resins on Wood Prevent Good Orchid Mounts

Some woods have a charming smell to them, and the aroma takes you to that log cabin in the winter by the fireplace. Cedar is especially known for its enticing fragrance, but your orchid won’t share the same opinion.

The sense of smell is essentially chemicals bound together to produce a reaction in our brain. These same chemicals signal to other plants if it’s secure to live around them, or not.

Some plants produce a chemical reaction in their fragrance that is a clear sign that nothing should even try to live near it. This aromatic battle is called allelopathy. This is also why not all orchids make the perfect pair when mounting together. Some might send out signals that they prefer to be alone.
Orchid Mounted on DriftWood
 Image Credit: Orchideria © 2020.
All Rights Reserved
If you’ve had the chance to see walnut trees, look under them—next to the roots. Walnuts also have a peculiar and soothing smell, but not to other plans.

Walnuts produce an oily sap that is toxic to other plant roots. That is why hardly grass grows near walnuts. The roots are especially overloaded with this sap, but the entire walnut tree has it.

Most aromatic cedars and pines will carry these toxins, and if you mount your orchid on a wood that does, the roots will battle for survival—eventually loosing.

Smooth Wood Makes Horrible Orchid Mounts

Orchid roots need something rough and porous so the white hair-like structures on the velamen can attach firmly. If the wood is so smooth it feels like a polished dining wood table, don’t use it for mounting. The wood should feel coarse, rough, and if it has flakes or grooves, better yet.

Manzanita wood is the exception. Even though it is smoother than most, orchid roots do well clinging on. You’ll need to tie the orchid down a bit more, using hose or twine to firmly secure them until they do. It will take longer for the orchid to attach, but it eventually will.

Cherry is also a smooth wood that is not suited for mounting. This came to me as an odd finding, because most fruit trees are perfectly suitable for mounting. Apple and pear are great, along with lilac and other citrus woods. Aspen, Sycamore, and birch all have smoother lines and not enough rough places for good root stability.

Because the wood is so smooth, you can mount the orchid onto the bark. Bark was made to expand naturally as the tree grows in width. Bark has three ways to adapt to that growth, 1) by peeling, 2) coming off in pieces (shredding), or 3) making furrows.

Don’t get a peeling bark. The roots will attach to that layer which peels. In time, that bark will peel, coming off like sunburned skin. Peeling bark is useless on a mount.

Shredding is also a sign to stay away from. Bark can either shred in flakes or strips, but either way, if the orchid’s roots have attached to the pieces that shred, then your orchid will fall off eventually. If we didn’t have to dunk the whole mount in water every other day, it might stand a chance. But in my opinion, it’s just too risky to try.

Choose the bark that has deep furrows. These “mini-valleys” have the perfect nesting places for roots and secure the orchid in place with safety. Furrowing bark develops these deep grooves so the bark won’t break, but expand to accommodate the tree’s growth. They won’t peel off the inner wood, making them stable and secure for mounting orchids. (Source)

What to do Before You Mount Orchids on Wood

Now that you’ve selected a list on good wood and wood that might not be the best, don’t just take it home and make a terrarium. First, you have to treat it. Seasoned wood is a piece of wood that has had time to sit outside in adverse weather for an extended time to make sure there are no living creatures or critters on your wood.

Let’s say you’re walking on the beach and find the absolutely gorgeous piece of driftwood. It curls and twists in several different ways that are just fascinating. It’s a taker! Yet, it came from saltwater. This is important to notice too if you pick up a piece of driftwood from a pet store in the aquarium department. Make sure it’s from a freshwater source and not a saltwater source.

To get rid of the excess salt from saltwater driftwood, or any other wood for that matter, you’ll need to soak it in a bucket of water. Change the water daily until the TSD count comes down to the same as the water you add to it. Unfortunately, this will be a two-day up to a week-long project. Just keep changing the water, testing the TSD levels, and repeat.
What are some good wood options from nature?

Let’s say you’re out on a trail hike and come across a beautiful limb that has fallen. If you’re in the continental USA, then most trees found in the northeast are suitable for mounting orchids. Petrified wood also works amazing well: cholla wood and saguaro cactus are great choices.
Looking for Freshwater Driftwood
Image Credit: Orchideria © 2020. All Rights Reserved 
 Looking for Freshwater Driftwood at
Pillsbury Crossing in Kansas.

And yes, that's me, Amanda Matthews, in the pic... I post a lot more pictures on Instagram of what goes on behind the scenes at Orchideria. Anyway...back to the article.

If you're wondering about cork, most cork is made from a variety of oak wood, which does extremely well with mounting orchids. When choosing oak, try to mount on the rough side, since they have two sides.

White oak is a bit risky since it soaks up a lot of water.

Sugar maple, mountain lowell, and weld plum wood work great, too. I’ve heard Mopani wood is good, but haven’t tried it myself.

You don’t have to soak that tree limb. Another alternative is to bake it. Yep…you read that correctly. Turn your oven on low and place the wood on a baking sheet. I prefer the cookie-style baking sheet. I bake mine for an hour, but I’ve read that longer is better, reaching up to 2 hours.

In my opinion, if bacteria can survive an hour in an oven, then it deserves to live. Kuddos for the bacteria.

So, I aim at just an hour. This will kill any creepy crawlers on the wood and make sure that there is nothing foreign that will invade your terrarium set up.

In addition to baking your wood piece, you can spray it thoroughly with ortho or Physan 2 or any other pesticide, fungicide, insecticide, or other –ide that you prefer.

If you want a list of good insecticides, this article I wrote about what works to kill little orchid pests is a good start. 

If you baked your log, this step is overkill, but always better to be sure than sorry. Once those critters make themselves at home in your terrarium, it’s hard to keep them back.

Choosing the Best Orchids to Mount on Wood

This part we hardly ever think of; at least I don’t. It’s natural to want to mount all the orchid in sight, but not all will do well with mounting.

Terrestrial orchids prefer to have their roots almost soaking in water, like the Phragmipedium and Paphiopedilums. Other orchids can easily be submerged in water because they live on rocks near waterfalls.

Any terrestrial orchid will prefer a pot than a mount. Don’t only go by the genus, but read up and research the species, too. Some have totally different climatic adaptations that do not transfer from species to species.

An orchid that prefers to have moister roots than to have that specific drying out period will not thrive on a mount. I have mounted many Phals, but they seem to work better for me in pots. Cattleyas, which have a distinct drying out period, prefer to be mounted. This is because they can easily dry off in between watering, and the mount allows that better than a pot does.

This is a short list of some orchids that do well mounted, but that doesn’t restrict others from being added: Brassavola, Cattleya, Coelogyne, Clowesia, Encyclia, Epidendrum, Laelia, Maxilliaria, Tolumnia, and most miniature orchids. Try, test, and keep aiming at what works.

The orchids I’d stay away from mounting on wood logs are Cymbidiums, Ludisia, Oncidium, and Sarcochilus. If you notice, these all like to have more humidity around the roots.

How to Add Humidity around the Wood Mount

There are two options for adding humidity around the orchid’s roots when it’s mounted. The first is to add sphagnum moss. In all cases, this layer will eventually fall off, but the roots will attach themselves to the sphagnum first, before the wood. This keeps the humidity higher and prevents dehydration until it’s time to water again.

The second option is to add live moss. This is amazingly awesome in a terrarium. Eventually, you’ll have to add a mister or drip system, but the live moss raises the humidity just by existing near the roots. The more plants you have in one place—houseplants included—the humidity levels rise.

If you are going for this option and adding the mister, then chose an orchid that prefers higher humidity levels. That changes the list above to an extent. This also requires a full terrarium set-up, but well worth the investment.
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Where to Buy Good Wood For Mounting Orchids

Below are a few links to sellers that have wood mounts. I'll add some more as soon as I test their products. The picture and the link will take you to the prices. Please note that these are Affiliate Links and I do get a tiny commission for recommending them, with no extra cost to you.
I hope this article brought you light to choosing the right wood for your orchid and how to treat it before you mount it. For every tree mentioned in this article, I know people who can prove me wrong by saying they’ve mounted it and it thrives. I'm not an expert by any means, but this article is what has worked for me.  If you want a few more opinions on mounting with wood, these articles are a good place to start:

  Choosing Different Types of Bark For Mounting Epiphytic Orchids   written by Chuck Sheviak and published in the Central New York Orchid Society Newsletter has a great explanation of how bark grows and how that influences which log to choose.

 ORCHID PORTRAIT Lending Support: Branches, Logs, Plaques and Slabs Can Be Home to Orchids written by Charles Marden Fitch and published in  the AOS magazine has great pictures and more options that just wood logs.

If you have used other wood, please comment below. What I mentioned above works for me, and everyone has their own environment. You need to test and experiment to see what works best for the terrain and environment near you. Everyone’s growing conditions are different.

Oh…and before you comment, please keep the wood jokes to an extreme minimum. I don’t want to have to shut the comments off. :)

Happy Cultivating!
Signature Amanda Matthews
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ABOUT ME 
Amanda June Matthews at Orchideria
Hi, there! I'm Amanda Matthews.

I write all the tutorials on Orchideria so unfortunately, I can't blame anyone else for all the spelling mistakes.   :)

By profession, I'm a theologian, author, and seminary professor, yet I  spend my free time enjoying nature hikes, building terrariums, and cultivating orchids. I also love to mountain bike on trails, dance, and play with my dog, Max.

When I'm not working on the next chapter of my book or online course, I'm exploring a new campsite to venture out into nature. Pitching a tent for the weekend with my two children while I fire up a barbecue is the best way to live.

Click here to go to my Author Page to check out my heart-wrenching memoir.

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