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Growing Orchids on Mounts

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Growing Orchids on Mounts
Photo © Scott Wilson

Have you ever seen tropical plants mounted on bark slabs or other materials at your favorite nursery? For some epiphytic plants like orchids, this is more about just a cool presentation; this exploits a natural adaptation of plants that live on a host tree, raising them above nibbling predators and towards pollinating insects. Consider freeing your orchid from the confines of its pot, and grow it on a mount, as it would in its tropical habitat.

Which Orchids Grow on Mounts?

When choosing an orchid to grow on a mount, take a cue from nature. Orchids that grow in the nooks of trees in their natural habitat are more likely to thrive on a mount in your home. The miniature cattleya and the moth orchid are two orchids suitable both for beginning orchid growers and for growing on a mount. Brassavola orchids also take off on mounts, although they will outgrow small mounts quickly.

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Some orchids are challenging, if not impossible to grow on mounts. You should not grow large orchids on mounts, unless the mount is a permanent outdoor or greenhouse structure, or perhaps even a tree. Cymbidiums are an example of an orchid likely to outgrow its mount quickly. Other orchids that don’t like dry roots, like the ludisia or the oncidium orchid, would be difficult to keep moist enough when growing on a mount. Sarcochilus orchids and phragmipedium orchids also demand consistent moisture that is hard to achieve with mount culture.

Choosing Material for an Orchid Mount

You don’t need to chop down a tree branch to create an orchid mount; there are many commercial choices available through orchid supply companies. When choosing a mount, you should consider appearance, functionality, and durability. Some popular orchid mount surfaces include:

  • Coco husk fiber plaques: Holds some moisture but not too much; attractive natural bronze color
  • Cork bark slabs: Many crevices encourage orchid roots to explore and take hold
  • Cypress bark slabs: Ideal for mounts that are kept primarily outdoors, as the wood resists decay in humid environments
  • Driftwood: Unusual shapes add character to the mount, but does little to enhance humidity
  • Tree fern plaques: Soft, shaggy, and moisture retentive, yet durable
  • Tree fern totems: Mount multiple small orchid specimens for a miniature tree trunk look

How to Mount the Orchid

Follow this five-step process to successfully mount your orchid:

  1. Attach a string or wire for hanging the mount.
  2. Soak the mount in warm water for a few hours.
  3. Carefully remove all potting media from the orchid’s roots.
  4. Pack sphagnum moss around the orchid’s roots. This reduces transplant shock while the orchid gets established on the mount.
  5. Attach the moss-wrapped root ball to the mount using floral wire, u-shaped metal clips, twist ties, or another non-biodegradable string. It’s important that the string remain intact while the roots find a purchase on the mount.

Caring for a Mounted Orchid

Caring for a mounted orchid isn’t much different from caring for a potted orchid. On one hand, you can relax about too much moisture, knowing that your plant will never experience wet feet. On the other hand, you need to be more vigilant than ever about providing a humid environment for your orchid. Water the plant at least three times a week, submerging the entire mount if possible to saturate it, increasing ambient humidity through evaporation.

Over time, you will notice the sphagnum moss you applied to the roots drop off. In its place, new orchid roots will be exploring their mount, developing the characteristic flattened shape that helps the plant live out its epiphytic life in nature.

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