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Can You Grow Orchids in a Wine Cork Substrate?

 

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Pieces of wine cork make a great orchid substrate.

Question: Can I grow orchids in pieces of wine cork?

Guylaine Martin
Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada

Answer: Absolutely. In fact, orchid-lovers use cork in all its forms as a substrate for their plants.

Most often orchids are mounted on slabs of orchid bark, allowing them to grow much as they would in the wild (most orchids are epiphytes and grow on tree branches). However, chipped cork bark is an ingredient in many orchid potting mixes and can also be used alone as an orchid substrate. You’ll even find chipped cork sold commercially for that purpose on orchid supplier web sites.

Of course, none of the products above are made from old wine corks, but rather directly from cork bark as harvested from trees, but there is nothing that is toxic to orchids in corks harvested from wine bottles and no reason you can’t use them. Many home orchid growers do.

Making a Wine Cork Orchid Substrate

Break wine corks into pieces a quarter inch (5 mm) in size or larger. Discard any dust or finer pieces: they could reduce air circulation to the roots. You can use your “cork chips” alone or mix them with other products traditionally used as components of orchid substrates, such as osmunda, rock wool, sphagnum, conifer bark or lava rock.

To learn how to repot an orchid, read How to Repot an Orchid.

Orchids in Whole Corks

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Vanda growing in intact wine corks. Photo: OrchidTalk Forum

Some orchid hobbyists use intact wine corks as a substrate, especially for orchids that require a great deal of aeration around their roots, like vandas (Vanda). Why not?

Red or White?

There remains one question for which I could not find an answer: do the orchids prefer white wine corks or red wine corks?

Carry out your own tests and see! (I suspect drinking your way to the conclusion could be just as enjoyable as carrying out the test!)

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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