Some Orchiata related remarks

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Jun 10, 2006
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There has been a lot of questions about Orchiata here and there, so now I make a sum up, after all I am tech advisor :D

As to the background and to avoid any questions as to why I post here or my purpose, yes I am paid by Orchiata to offer advise, especially to large commercial nurseries, fine ideas to improve it. However I am not paid by pallet sold :drool: and the large nurseries make the major part of Orchiata trade in the world. It is currently the first bark used in Japan, and along with Sphagnum Moss, now from Pacific Wide as well, I woudl say that Pacific Wide supplies most of the nurseries in Japan, directly or indirectly.

To make a very short history, I used Dutch suppliers for my bark back when I was in Europe. I got many low quality batches, shards, woods, even pieces of clothes, rotten woods, one time grinded fern leaves. Some of the bark was old, some was very fresh, it was not exactly happy. Sometimes the truck would be fine, sometimes I would struggle to sell that damn thing at half the price paid to get rid of it for landscape and decoration purposes. I used and have been involved heavily in the coconut story in the early days, on the repressive law enforcement side.

I saw a couple of times when I was in Europe plants grown in 'New Zealand bark', usually smuggled potted plants from Japan, the bark was really nice, and so were the plants.

In the meantime, I got 'french bark', that was supplied from the Netherlands to... me in France. We got some severe storms that destroyed a lot of forests, as a result in the latest years the bark was harvested from way too young, and fed trees, as opposed to the older times where the forest would not get any fertilizers... So it was manual screening, soaking for days to get the pH to a proper level using potassium bicarbonate, then liming, and it was more or less ready to use. I think the cost per pot was tremendous in fact.

When I moved to Vietnam, I had to find a source, so first I bought from Thailand Orchiata. I was really impressed by the consistency and quality, as well as the grading. Then I became tech advisor for Pacific Wide for their products, because the quality was really high, and I knew how to use and fine tune the products and the cultures. It was similar, but much longer lasting, to the bark I was processing for me in France. It was cheap and ready to use as well...

Orchiata is processed since a year approximately with a new equipment to screen in a better way even, the size is even more perfect, the stones and wood even more removed, even if there were nearly none before. They try to improve the quality nonstop.

There are some remarks to do about using orchiata:

- All the 'pine bark' are not equal. As an example, using fresh Pinus maritimus bark will destroy the roots. Some famous nurseries in France lost thousands of plants because of 'too fresh bark', that's why some publications advised about composting bark, where some advised using fresh bark. They were from different tree species, and their behavior were different.

- Orchiata and fresh Pinus radiata bark (sold under the name Kiwi amongst others) are vastly different products. Orchiata has been aged, the structure has been made hydrophilic, the pores have been opened during the process, and lime is applied to raise the pH. Fresh pinus radiata is usually hydrophobic, so when it is dry and watered it does not take water immediately, where Orchiata does. It has a low pH as well ( and the competitor's grading is more primitive too to be honest). Fred Clarke use fresh pinus radiata successfully so far, I will comment on that later, because it has involvements in the feeding program as well.

- The tannins and terpenes in Pinus radiata are different from the ones of the Rexius, Sequoia, or European barks. They do not stunt the roots. The structure in general of Pinus radiata makes it very stable, because the bonds are different from others pinus species, as long as they are grown in specific environment. Too hot countries or too cold, and the bark either delaminates or collapses. That's why Chile at a point tried to supply orchid bark made from Pinus radiata, but the way it grows in Chile makes it unsuitable without any questions.

- It is impossible to give advise for 'bark' like that. Depending on the type, the species, the process, there are many different reactions to be expected. So I will limit to Orchiata in this post, though if anyone has specific questions about other types, feel free to ask.

Orchiata should not be soaked in water to remove the materials that falls down at the bottom. This was valid for other types of bark, to remove some unsuitable materials, rotted pieces, wood... However Orchiata has been made HYDROPHILIC, so a fair part will indeed fall at the bottom of a bin. This is normal​

Some people soak Orchiata anyway. I do so for some very expensive plants, just to have a peaceful mind, however the dust in itself is washed away after some waterings and I did not notice any difference, so I prefer to use it out of the bag. If it has been soaked, a part of the lime will be removed, and you may need to reapply lime, usually at 3kg/cubic meter. The rough surface of Orchiata chips ensures that the lime sticks well to the bark​

Because of the rough surface, when you repot, there will be more air spaces, as the chips will be blocked by each other. Smooth chips of other barks will indeed slip and settle, making a more dense packing.​

In the first days I used to mix it the way I did with the european bark, pumice or perlite, or sphagnum. Sometimes coconut products. I did not find any benefit at all, because orchiata by itself retains more water than the bark I was used to, at least in the first months. Orchiata after some years will still retain the same quantity of water per liter, where others barks tended to be hydrophobic at first, then suitable for root growth, then become spongy and deadly after some months or years​

Indeed, I found that the smaller grades of Orchiata, Precision and classic, replaced wonderfully well sphagnum in all of its use ( except mounting on slabs of course :evil:). So when I need to make a mix more water retentive, I use something like Classic + Power. For oxyglossum dendrobiums from Papua, I use exclusively the Classic grade.

Some remarks about Sphagnum. Many people have very good results with New Zealand sphagnum, that would be another post. However I do not like it for my plants at all. I found out that in many cases we used sphagnum because the roots are thin, and the plant needs a lot of water, regardless of the pH requirement of the plants. Such examples are Jewel orchids, many are growing on limestone outcrops, and becomes really massive in Orchiata, some of the Oxyglossum dendrobium like decockii, vexillarius... do grow either on rocks or as epiphyte on dead branches, hence the pH of their environment at their roots is neutral to alkaline, never acid. In sphagnum, when the sphagnum becomes sour, and due to the acidity of the sphagnum, the plants are wiped out. cuthbertsonii is way easier to grow in orchiata small grade than sphagnum...

Orchiata has been buffered with lime. As a result, there is a good amount of calcium and magnesium carbonate. The difference with a non processed Pinus radiata bark is essential. Orchiata can be used with both acidifying fertilizer (ammonium/urea ones) and nitrate based fertilizers ( though nitrate based fertilizers have some limitations, except if the plants are supplied with organic nitrogen or urea/ammonium periodically).

Fresh pinus radiata can be used safely for paphs (if it is not limed and aged) and quite a few other orchids only with nitrate based fertilizers such as MSU, because an acidifying fertilizer on an already acid bark would be a disaster.

Fresh pinus radiata bark is very resilient, and very hydrophobic, so it will stay acid for a while, no matter the lime applied outside. That is the main purpose of 'aging' orchiata, to make it hydrophilic, porous, and therefore very 'receptive' to the lime and the nutrient. It avoids too acid release from the bark, because the core of the chips take the water from the first day, where an hydrophobic bark will take the water layer by layer, releasing acid until the bark becomes hydrophilic...

It is very clear too that it is extremely difficult to use only nitrate based fertilizers and get nice plants of many specie. As for myself, I never succeeded, and the Dutches did not as a whole either. You need some urea, ammonium, or organic nitrogen. It has been supposed too that colonization by bacterias, years and fungi of the potting mix could convert nitrate into amino acids in a way, which would explain why some people can grow plants with only a nitrate based fertilizer and nothing else.

As to how to pot in Orchiata, I would say that the best is to mix the various grades ( I never mix it with sphagnum, the results of an Orchiata + NZ sphagnum mix were inferior to pure orchiata when I, and the Japanese tried it) to get the suitable water retention and particle size. Additions of perlite, etc... were unnecessary, perlite or pumice were used first to retain water, but orchiata does retain water already, then to improve the mix structure, but in this case the orchiata structure does not change, even after years of heavy feeding under hot conditions. Mukoyama orchids have plants potted nearly a decade ago in orchiata, as tests, and there are no structure problems.
Now, the reasons to repot or to make a change ( apart from the watering/feeding schedule).

- Repot when the plant is too big. Stupid, but that's one of the first reason.
- When the root system is too crowded, especially for multiflorals. Multis love to be overpotted, that's how Norris Powell and Val Tonkin got 30-50 growths rothschildianum and other multiflorals. Bigger bark grade, big pots, and the roots can run freely. The active root tips of a paph are one of the main assimilation paths, and it is supposed that they are the sole entry way as well for some micronutrients.
- When the root system has extended in such a way that the air spaces are filled. It can lead to too dense packing of the root system, which will dry the pot too quickly, and change the physical characteristics of the potting mix.

I tend for some paphs to apply lime on top of the pot every couple of months ( but I water very, very heavily, and with a lot of acidifying fertilizer). I found it beneficial especially for multis, brachys, hangianum, emersonii, and essential to get big plants of volonteanum (monthly).

When dividing, it is very important to know what you are doing.

Parvis, you can cut the stolons, or divide by breaking the growths. The same applies to complex paphs, except those too close to villosum ( if you try to manually break the growths, you can make a very big wound on the old growth). For the complex paphs that have a stringy rhizome, you can cut very sharply at the base of the old growth. The same applies to tigrinum, esquirolei...

For the mottled leaf, from sangii to callosum, I divide with a scalpel blade. As long as the plant is cut below any kind of node, it heals easily.

Rothschildianum, I tend to wait for a leafless growth to be there between the two parts I want to divide. I cut right in the middle of the leafless growth, not at the base.

For all the plants I remove all the old rhizome, leaving only the growths with leaves, and I cut the old rhizome in the middle of the last leafless growth.

Why cut there? Well, there are fibers that extend from growth to growth. If you break or tear off the growth, the fibers are naked, and are a very good entry point for diseases, especially in craps plants like intaniae, randsii... If you cut, you cut the strings, and those strings tend to die entirely from one side or the other. You end up with dead material in the active growth after some months, which is not really good.

If you cut the old leafless growth in the middle, the cut part will dry, the old growth will shrivel and die, and the live fiber from the next growth can heal and make a kind of protective layer. It is possible to check this by cutting the rhizome, in the wild the growths heal inside the previous dead growth, not at its base... I will divide some dianthum soon, so I can take a photo to explain how it works. It is the way too nurseries like Tokyo Orchid or Fuji Orchids divide their plants...

I was using a very complicated paste on the cutted rhizomes ( kasugamycin, metalaxyl, captan, etc...). more recently I started to use calcium hydroxide powder, from the chemistry shop, directly on the wounds. just a dust, let it like that for an hour or two, it is usually dry by then, remove the excess powder, repot...

It dries up nicely the wound, is safe, and I never lost a wild or cultivated plant after using it on the wounds. It looks very good as well against bacterial rot.

In Thailand, they make a sludge in water and use it ( their calcium hydroxide in Thailand, sold under the thai name for calcium hydroxide, for that purpose, is in fact burned dolomitic limestone, calcium magnesium and maganese hydroxide hence the pinkish color of the 'lime water' in Thailand) to paint any wound or rot starts.

I then cut off all the broken roots, use the old English standard for that too (broken roots cut at the breaking point, too long roots trimmed to about 5-15cm of the base of the plant, depending on the species). If you leave a big root system, you have half working roots in the potting mix, they are not dead, but not fully functional anymore. They supply the plant with water, and some nutrients, so the plant is 'lazy' and does not make new, active roots, at least that was the tough before behind, and I tend to agree with that. The second thing, if you leave too many roots, some will for sure rot, and it can eventually contaminate the whole potting mix, the plant, and that is the end. I am very careful not to break the new roots, and for some wild species, at the timing for repotting.

As an example, henryanum in Hanoi root only when it is exceedingly hot, and the root system extends in autumn. It is nearly impossible to root those things in spring...

For wild plants, the process is the same, cutting the rhizome, etc... however most wild plants do one new root first, then when that root extends and support the plants, they will make a complete root system. If you loose this first emerging root, the plants are very slow to recover, and for some species like sanderianum or ooii, most likely doomed.

After repotting, I use a mix of 10-52-10 at 0.5g/L with metalaxyl at 20mg a.i./L and 0.5g/L of aliette as a safety. I drench, and if the plant was sick, I do not stop watering it to 'restart' the roots. In fact letting a freshly repotted plant dry a bit too much is a sure way to have a lot of problems.

I never lost any plant, jungle, divided, or just repotted, with this schedule. I apply the same schedule for seedlings out of flask for about a month.

I tend to keep orchiata on the wet side nowadays, to extremely wet. As it does not break down, there is no risks of making the potting mix 'sour'

If there are any other questions, just ask :D
Yes! Why can't I buy it in Canada? If the bark has to be fumigated to enter the country, why is it not?
I understand we are a small market but even then, it is a market and it shouldn't be so hard to fill orders. And by the way, doesn't the US fumigate the product and if not, why not?
Nice explanation Xavier and thanks for taking the time to write this elaborate post.

Now one question remains, were to get Orchiata in Europe?
So what fertilizer do you use with Orchiata? concentration? How often? What is the makeup of the nitrogen source? urea? ammonium or mostly nitrate?
Thanks, Roth, for all this wonderful information! I look forward to hearing your answers to the questions posed.
as you describe it, orchiata is basically inert - near neutral pH, doesn't break down, easy to keep wet - so how is it different from lava rock or perlite or even aliflor-type stuff?
Where can you get it in Australia? We're close enough to NZ that it should be readily available.

I have not seen it available here stephen, fernlands in Nambour imports there shagnum. I talked to Sam Tsui when he was here and he said he thought the van shaiks barks was of similar quality
I have not seen it available here stephen, fernlands in Nambour imports there shagnum. I talked to Sam Tsui when he was here and he said he thought the van shaiks barks was of similar quality

Thanks Brad, where do you get the Van Shaiks bark? Is it sold under that name?

Still find it hard to believe that a NZ product isn't available in Oz given the lower quarantine restrictions.
Thanks Brad, where do you get the Van Shaiks bark? Is it sold under that name?

Still find it hard to believe that a NZ product isn't available in Oz given the lower quarantine restrictions.

Hi Stephen,

I get it from the orchid den on the gold coast, he usually comes to the ipswich show, I get him to bring me up a couple of bags, or I drop in if I'm going through the gold coast. It's a different bark, comes from south australia, but is treated similarly to orchiata.

I think youll find its more about cost than anything, local bark is easy to get and reasonably priced, so it would be hard to compete on the pricing, especially if they were to try just a container.

Thanks Brad, where do you get the Van Shaiks bark? Is it sold under that name?

Still find it hard to believe that a NZ product isn't available in Oz given the lower quarantine restrictions.

Howard mentioned that he spoke to Clive Washington ( MD Pacific Wide) regarding the availability of Orchiata in Australia and I believe Clive said there was a problem with AQIS at that time. Howard or Xavier may have more to add.

Regards, Mick
Thanks Brad, where do you get the Van Shaiks bark? Is it sold under that name?

It is funny. Our society orders the Van Shaiks bark by the pallet and it is stored at my place. I used it for a few years but my Paphs really struggled in it. I thought it was my culture until I spoke to Roy. He told me he had the same problem with it as well. So even though I have countless bags of the stuff at my place I now get my bark from elsewhere. My plants seem a lot better now.

Just to provide a "non-techinical advisor" viewpoint (although I'll acknowledge that as a reseller, I DO get "paid by the bag"), I find it to be THE BEST bark on the market. I am repeatedly amazed at how rapidly a plant takes to it, growing roots as if it was a new fad.

I do not mix sizes. With four, very uniformly-graded sizes to choose from, it is unnecessary.

I handle it a bit differently that Xavier's comments. I don't soak it, but at first, did pour boiling water on it prior to use. My experience with other barks taught me to do that to "open up" the structure to increase the hydrophllicity. I have used it straight from the bag too, without the absorption problems you see with other barks, so stopped bothering with that extra step.

Rick H: I use the MSU RO fertilizer with it, for all plants. Pretty much all of the paphs I get from Hawaiian growers are in it. It has been a staple there for quite a while.

Shiva: Fumigation is not the reason it's not in Canada. The folks who own and operate the US east-coast distribution operation are Canadian, and they would LOVE to be able to supply you. Even though it is fumigated before clearing US customs, according to what they told me, it cannot enter Canada because the bureaucrats up there have interpreted the importation of that bark to be against the economic interests of the Canadian timber industry.
Thanks for the info Ray!

But how really silly. We import our Rexius bark from the US... I don't even think there is a source of ''Canadian Bark'' for growing orchids. Meanwhile, Rexius is even hard to get.
Roth - thanks for taking the time on this thread, very interesting.
The OC I belong to uses Rexius in it's mix, so I tried that this spring, so far so good. Got a bag of Orchiata from Ray when he offered his sale, so will be interesting in comparing.
Roth, thanks for your voluminous knowledge of paphs and Orchiata! I look forward to seeing your illustrations of repotting the dianthum. I need to see what you mean by cutting certain places on the plant to be root pruned.

I've got all my paphs in Orchiata now, after following the lead of most growers here in the San Francisco area. I just have to be careful not to let myself overwater. I'm repotting lots of plants into baskets, now, too.
I agree with Ray about how rapidly plants seem to take to Orchiata. But I disagree that it doesn't need to be rinsed. With the first batch of plants I potted in it, I didn't rinse it -- and am still sorry I didn't because when I watered, a pastey mud coated my greenhouse floor, which was very hard to get up. Some of it is still in the cracks between the tiles. So my recommendation is to rinse it unless you can somehow catch the excess water and discard it outdoors.

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