Read how an experienced paphiopedilum grower’splants grow vigorously and beautifully, well ahead of the others, planted in pure Fernwood Tree Fern Fibre. He explains how fiber (in most cases) grows orchids best, and that there is no need to mix it with bark

Recently, I came across an excellent post from Greg Barnes, describing the happiness of some Auckland orchid growers who are mixing fern fiber with bark.  They are getting better roots and growth than they did with bark.  Furthermore, they find that the bark breaks down more slowly in the presence of fiber in the mix.

My congratulations to the Auckland growers on trying fern fiber, and enjoying its benefits.  However, I do have a question for those growers. I will ask it at the end of this post.

In the 1990’s I used a bark /fiber mix for my paphiopedilums with outstanding results.  I noticed that instead of requiring an annual repotting when bark was used as a medium, the bark/fiber mix extended the life of the mix to about 18 months.  My next step was to pot my paphiopedilums into pure fiber.  Unfortunately, the company who harvested the fiber at the time sold their business to an overseas concern who had no interest in supplying fiber to me.

Just over three years ago, I met the guys from Fernwood who supplied me with fern fiber (Dicksonia fibrosa). I conducted growing trials with paphiopedilums (seedlings of one grex) and found the following:

  1. A 50/50 mix of bark and fiber gave better growth than pure bark.
  2. Pure fiber yielded significantly better growth than the bark/fiber mix.
  3. Furthermore, after one year the paphs. in bark showed signs of being very overdue for repotting.Those in the bark/ fiber mix were better off, but their growth was beginning to stall.  However, the paphs growing in fiber continued to grow vigorously.

The paphiopedilums growing in bark and those growing in the bark/fiber mix were re-potted in fiber.  They are growing well now, but it did take them a while to recover.  Those growing in the pure fiber were potted on (without disturbing the root ball) into larger pots.  These plants kept growing vigorously and are well ahead of the others.

All of my paphiopedilums are now grown in fiber. The first ones were potted 3 years ago this month, and haven’t been re-potted since.  The fiber remains in excellent condition.  Plants that have outgrown their pot are potted on, not repotted. This requires very little fiber.

Here is my question for the Auckland orchid growers: Since fiber (in most cases) grows orchids much better, and outlasts bark, why would you want to mix bark with your fiber?  Bark is the weak link.  It is a bit of a “head-scratcher” for me that they would do this!

If you get your watering and fertilizing right (which is very easy to do) good results will follow.  Water on demand, not at the same rate that you were used to when potting in bark.  For paphiopedilums, I use Dyna- Grow “Grow” + Pro Tect at CF3 dilution.  In lay persons language, it is only 30% of recommended strength.  The fertilizer is applied by watering can over the leaves and into the pot immediately following watering.

For more detail on growing orchids in fiber, consult the Bio Leaf website www.bioleaf.co.nz

~ With thanks to Selwyn Hatrick for providing this guest blog post and the photos.