We are used to seeing orchids in pots. But, can orchids grow without a pot?
Epiphytic orchids can grow bare-rooted, without a pot or even growing medium, as long as they receive enough moisture around the roots. They can be grown hanging under a tree, mounted on wood, or placed in water culture. It depends on one’s space restrictions, time, and personal preference.
This topic is particularly interesting if you are running out of sphagnum moss and bark, or simply you like the look of aerial roots hanging down like medusa’s hair. Growing orchids bare-rooted, in fact, could even save a sick orchid with rotting roots. In this article, we will show you how you can be creative with your orchid setup.
1. Do orchids really need a pot or growing media?
Epiphytic orchids, which are the majority of the orchids we grow, do not need a pot or growing media like moss, bark.
The natural habit of epiphytic orchids is attached to tree trunks and rocks.
Orchids do not really care whether it has or has not a growing medium. It can do both, as long as its three needs are met:
- The growing medium is not toxic or damaging to the roots, either by being abrasive or leeching substances or being too acidic to the roots
- It needs moisture around the roots to be hydrated.
- Apart from moisture, it needs to be balanced with the need for airflow around the roots. A certain air to moisture ratio should be kept so that the medium is moist yet well-ventilated.
2. Is growing bare-rooted suitable for you?
Growing media is something we use for our convenience so that we can water them in a pot a couple of times a week instead of several times a day. There is a limit to the amount of water an orchid can absorb, after that point time spent in the water is not beneficial, or even damaging.
Whether you want to pot your orchids depends on:
- Your lifestyle and the time you have to care for it: a mounted bare-rooted orchid would require multiple misting a day. If grown in a water culture (more details below), you would need to remember which day the orchid has been soaked because it requires a rotation of roots soaking and roots drying.
- Your growing space: It can be inconvenient to hose down or mist bare-rooted orchids if they are grown indoors.
- Personal preference: some people may not like the look of sphagnum moss, while others do not like to look at bare roots like medusa’s hair.
- The climate or season: a bare-rooted orchid is not very suitable in an environment that is dry (under 40% humidity) and hot. It would require heavy misting multiple times a day and be grown in a spot without direct sun.
3. Which orchids can grow bare-rooted?
The majority of orchids that are grown at home are epiphytic, i.e. they can grow bare-rooted on other plants, trees, for example: Cattleyas, Vandas, Phalaenopsis, many Oncidiums, etc. Some orchids are lithophytes, meaning plants that grow on bare rocks or stones, for example: Bifrenaria orchids, some Laelia orchids.
4. Which orchids cannot be grown bare-rooted?
Two types of orchids cannot be grown bare-rooted.
Orchids that require a growing medium are terrestrial orchids, or ground orchids, meaning that they need to be grown in soil in the ground. Examples are Bletilla orchids, Jewel orchids, Calanthe.
Aqueous orchids, such as Spiranthe, need to be grown submerged underwater, like their natural habitat in swamps.
5. Growing orchids bare-rooted: 6 creative setups
You should know by now that you can grow your orchids without a pot. Here are 5 creative ways to do so:
- Hanging bare-rooted outdoors: You can hang orchids to appreciate the magnificent root system. You can hang them outdoors on a tree branch, under a rain roof, on a balcony, etc. If you hang them outside, remember they should not be in direct sunlight. Use a shade cloth, if necessary.
- Hanging orchids indoors on a wall like a painting: You can hang them indoors in a bright shaded spot, or even in the shower.
- Hanging, covered with moss: You can put decorative moss over it, such as Spanish moss, or even live moss.
- Mounted on a tree, a piece of bark or even rocks
- Placed in a wooden basket: Wooden basket provides good drainage and are good for growing orchids bare-rooted. Line the wooden basket with sphagnum moss. Use a string and stake to tie it to the basket to support the orchid.
- Placed in a glass, a vase indoors. You can give it some water at the bottom (see the “water culture method” below)
6. Mounting a Phalaenopsis?
Phalaenopsis orchids in their natural habitats are mounted on a tree branch. So you can definitely mount them.
Stabilizing: It is recommended to mount them on a tree, a piece of wood, etc. upside down so that the water will not accumulate on the crown leading to crown rot or stem rot.
Watering: They need to be misted or watered using a hose multiple times every day. Alternatively, you can dunk the roots in a bucket of water and let soaked for 15 minutes every day and then hang it to dry.
Growing a mounted orchid does require a humid environment and multiple times of watering every day. Those living in dry climates can wrap some sphagnum moss around the roots to mitigate moisture loss.
7. The “water culture” method
The “water culture” method is a popular way of growing bare-root orchids. Many people have reported success with this method for years, with new roots forming and flowers blooming. With this method, the orchid is placed in an empty tall container, which can be a transparent vase or a decorative pot without drainage holes.
Stabilizing: Generally, no other materials need to be introduced into the vase for stabilizing the plant because the leaves of a Phalaenopsis are generally wide enough that the plant can be set on top of a narrow vase.
In case the plant is too small that falls into the vase, make support using two chopsticks tied with a string with the plant stem sandwiched between them.
Watering: for a “full water culture”, about one inch of the roots are soaked in water (rainwater or soft water, if available) for 15 minutes every day. Then, the water is then dumped to let the roots dry until the next watering.
The length and frequency of soaking depend on the humidity of the environment. Some have also reported success by soaking it once a week.
8. Can I grow orchids bare-rooted in dry climates?
For dry climate locations where the humidity drops under 50% or even down to just 10% and is hot up to 100F or above in the summer, the “water culture” method is more suitable than mounting or hanging them because a tall container can trap moisture around the roots.
Growing orchids without pot, in other words, bare-rooted is perfectly fine. The orchid does not care as long as it receives enough moisture in the roots. Growing bare-rooted would however require more outdoor space and time in watering them multiple times a day.
The possibility of growing orchids bare-rooted can up your home décor with creative ways of placing your orchids: they can be hung outdoors under a tree, under the rain roof, hung on a wall in the bathroom; or they can be placed in a wooden basket or in a transparent vase.