Visit your favorite nursery and you may just spot tropical plants mounted on bark slabs or other materials instead of in pots. Sure it looks really cool, but as it turns out, it's not just for show. Some plants, especially orchids, are epiphytic, meaning they live on a host tree, which in-turn raises them above nibbling predators and moves them closer to pollinating insects.
Next time you choose to bring an orchid home with you, consider freeing it from the confines of its pot, and grow it mounted instead, as it would traditionally be in its tropical habitat. Not only will it add tons of visual interest to your home or yard, but it will be easier to care for (and more likely to thrive) thanks to the elimination of some pot-centric issues (like wet feet or root rot).
Types of Orchids To Mount
When choosing an orchid to mount, take a cue from nature. Orchids that grow in the nooks of trees in their natural habitat are more likely to thrive mounted in your home than those planted in the ground. Miniature cattleya and phalaenopsis orchids are easy for beginner orchid growers and are suitable for growing on a mount. Brassavola orchids also do well on mounts, though they grow quickly and therefore may necessitate frequent remounting, which can be a pain.
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 structure (like a greenhouse), or even a tree. Cymbidiums are a great example of an orchid likely to outgrow its mount quickly. Additionally, orchids that don’t tolerate dry roots, such as the ludisia orchid or the oncidium orchid, would be difficult to keep moist enough mounted in order for them to thrive. Sarcochilus orchids and Phragmipedium orchids also demand consistent moisture that is hard to achieve with mount culture.
Choosing Material for an Orchid Mount
When choosing how specifically to mount your orchid, there are a few factors to consider: appearance, functionality, and durability. Each of these categories is essential to the overall success of your orchid mount (though appearance probably least so), and you'll want to make sure you consider them each time you go to mount a different orchid, as varietals will all necessitate slightly different mounts.
When it comes to mounting your orchid, there are a few supplies you'll likely run into time and time again. Coco husk fiber plaques are a popular choice for gardeners who won't be mounting their orchids directly on a tree. They hold sufficient moisture and are an attractive natural bronze color. Likewise, cork bar slabs and cypress bark slabs both feature many crevices that encourage orchid roots to explore and take hold—though keep in mind that cypress wood can decay quickly in humid environments and may be best suited for indoor use.
Driftwood is a popular choice for ornamental displays (you'll spot it a lot in hotels, stores, and restaurants), though it does little to enhance the humidity of your orchid so you'll need to be extra on top of that. Finally, tree fern plaques and tree fern totems are durable and moisture-retentive options that also offer more of a "miniature tree" appearance.
How to Mount an Orchid
Properly mounting an orchid is actually much easier than you'd expect. The best part: You don't even need to shop for a specially prepared orchid. Any varietal suitable to mounting that you buy at a traditional nursery or tropical plant store works just fine.
To start, begin by preparing the mount of your choice. Secure string or wire to the back of the mount with enough length to create a loop on which to hang it from. Soak the mount in warm water for a few hours to fully saturate it. In the meantime, soak your orchid in water for approximately 20 minutes (out of the pot) in order to make its roots pliable. Gently remove all potting media from the orchid’s roots, and snip off any roots the appear dead or rotting.
Pack moist sphagnum moss around the orchid’s roots to reduces transplant shock while the orchid gets established on the mount. From there, attach the moss-wrapped root ball to the mount using floral wire, fishing line, U-shaped metal clips, twist ties, or any other non-biodegradable string. It’s important that the string remains intact while the roots secure themselves onto the mount, but once your orchid is established you can snip off the string if it's bothering you (though chances are you won't even notice it).
Caring for a Mounted Orchid
Caring for a mounted orchid isn’t all that different than caring for a traditionally-potted orchid. On one hand, you don't have to worry about giving it too much moisture, and your orchid 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 but submerging the entire mount (if possible) to saturate it, which will increase ambient humidity through evaporation.
In general, orchids love sunlight so you should aim for at least 10 hours a day of bright, indirect light. If you're mounting your orchid on a permanent structure (like a tree), then the location is definitely something to keep in mind. However, if your orchid is mounted on a more mobile structure (like a plaque), then you can always move it around throughout the day to ensure it gets adequate light.
Over time, you will notice the sphagnum moss you applied to the roots of your orchid 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.