Can Orchiata bark with lava rock replace sphagnum moss?
If you have followed my posts, you'll recognize that I do not need to repot any of the usual suspects. All of my Cattleya, Encyclias, Oncidiums, Dendrobiums and all other plants growing outside are either in the 'Pot in a Pot' technique, large rock or bare-root. Without going into great details, the bane of my existence are plants growing in sphagnum moss.
I have many Masdevallias, Pleurothallid, Dracula and all the other cloud forest plants in the cold house and many Bulbophyllums in the warm house. 3 years ago, all of them were in SM. Usually every January I replace all the moss with fresh stuff as it gets grundgy and prevents maximum plant performance if allowed to get old and slimy. That may take me all month and use up 2 or 3 bales of moss. Its tedious busy work to tease the old moss out of a large rootball and the new moss is not cheap at $65 to $70 a bale.
I have been looking for a way to escape that drudgery and may have found it. Read the thread entitled 'With a strong, robust plant, you don't have to follow the rules' if this subject interests you at:
What was not brought out clearly enough in that thread is that this mix may be a viable alternative to SM. I have since discussed it with some orchid notables and they agree.
The plants that love sphagnum moss like to stay wet but you cannot choke their roots. SM serves the bill but needs to be replaced yearly. What are the alternatives? Regular pine bark is out as it absorbes too much moisture and would strangle the roots in the middle of a pot in an airless, wet, compacted ball. Orchiata bark, twice as expensive, is hard and does not absorb too much moisture. If planted in it, along with some lava rock for moisture and air, (2 parts bark, 1 part lava) one can water this mix daily and not strangle the roots.
I have been experimenting with this for close to 3 years and have numerous Pleuros, Dracula, Odontoglossum and Masdevallia growing in this mix. These are all large, strong plants, the little, young ones stay in moss. They get watered either daily or every 2 days hence stay wet enough. The hard Orchiata does not compact into the airless mass that regular bark or coconut does.
Instead of repotting every year with moss, which is twice as expensive as the Orchiata, I need to repot every 5 years, the life expectancy of this type of bark. Growing in SM is therefore 10 times as expensive and at least 5 times as labor intensive. At this time I have every reason to believe that this is going to work and am in the process of switching all of my cold plants into this mix, as long as they are big enough. After that is completed, I'm going to attack the Bulbophyllums and see if they'll allow themselves to be grown like that.
If this works out as I hope, it could have a profound affect on the growing technique of plants now grown in SM. An alternative will be available. I was talking to the people at SBOE and there is great interest in this. A word of caution: No need to avoid SM if you have a small number of plants in it, it is a proven winner. If however, you have a goodly number growing like this and have the time for frequent watering, then this might warrant consideration as it will save you a ton of work and money.