For many of us, creating a garden is about creating an escape from everyday life. It's creating a little oasis where we can be surrounded by the beauty of nature and breathe deeply. But, as we build our garden getaway, we should consider the impact of our materials on the greater world. There are many natural and sustainable gardening alternatives to traditional plastic pots, netting, and mulch. You can mount orchids on cork bark flats and tubes, use a cork bark planter to house perennials, and cork granules can even be used as mulch.
Mounting Orchids on Cork Bark
A particular category of orchid in the wild grows on trees. So, when brought into a greenhouse or your home, these epiphytic orchids do not thrive when potted. The failure to thrive makes sense when considering their natural habitat of tropical and subtropical forests, where they pull moisture from the rich air and nutrients from moss and other lichens. Epiphytic orchids make up approximately 70% of the world's orchids. They can flourish for the avid gardener when grown in optimal conditions.
Ideally, when you bring home any orchid, you want to mimic the conditions it would find in its natural habitat. For most epiphytic orchids, this means mounting them on a material similar to the tropical trees of rainforests and other biomes. Our virgin cork bark flats are an ideal material for these delicate beauties to be mounted on as they retain the natural shape of the tree they are harvested from. In addition, Virgin cork bark has a rough natural surface with crevices perfect for retaining moisture. The grooved bark also provides excellent aeration and ample drainage, which is critical for keeping your orchid healthy.
Once mounted, your orchid can be hung or placed on a flat surface for easy viewing.
Caring for Mounted Orchids
Keeping their tropical roots in mind, you will want to ensure that you keep your space at the humidity and temperature optimal for your orchid. For most epiphytic orchids, you will want to maintain a humidity of at least 70% and a temperature of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit
When mounted, orchids will need to be watered more frequently than if they are potted. Most orchids will need to be watered daily. You can do this in two ways:
To dunk your orchid, you set the bark in a bucket of water and leave it for a few minutes. You can even add your orchid-friendly fertilizer to the water.
If you decide to mist, you will want to focus your spray bottle on the roots and the bark, as this is where your orchid will absorb most of its water.
Cork and the Environment
So, you might be wondering where cork bark flats and tubes come from?
The vast majority of cork bark is harvested from Portugal. Still, there are cork forests in many countries surrounding the Mediterranean - including Italy, Spain, Greece, Morocco, and Tunisia. The cork forests in the Mediterranean are one of the most diverse ecosystems globally. The cork trees play a vital role in keeping the ecosystem flourishing. The trees provide essential shade and shelter for animals from the Iberian lynx to the Spanish imperial eagle.
Cork trees are also instrumental in preventing and minimizing the impact of wildfires. The cork oak tree's bark is naturally resistant to flames helping buffer the spread of fires and providing crucial havens for wildlife. However, in the last several decades, the size of the cork forests has decreased as farmers turn to other crops like eucalyptus. The WWF has been working to undo this change and restore the cork forests to protect the ecosystem from forest fires. In addition, responsible harvesting of cork trees varies the year trees are harvested within a general area to ensure that some cork trees have a thicker bark layer. This practice helps protect the rest of the forest.
Using cork in various ways incentivizes farmers to keep cork trees on their farmland.
Learn more about the diverse ecosystem of the cork forests in our blog Living in the Cork Forest.
History of Harvesting Cork Bark
Does removing the bark harm the tree?
Cork trees are a part of the very fabric of Mediterranean history. We have evidence that cork bark has been harvested since 3,000 B.C.E. Around this time, the Greek philosopher Theophrastus spoke of "the ability that the tree has to renew its bark after it has been removed."
The cork oak tree has been revered for millennia for its ability to regenerate its bark after harvesting. However, the bark looks slightly different after the first or second harvest. The outer bark becomes less grooved, and the spongy part of the bark becomes thicker.
Due to this difference, later harvests are better for many traditional cork products. So - what do we do with the first or virgin harvest? The virgin bark has natural characteristics which make it ideal for gardening, use in reptile terrariums, and decor!
How Cork Bark is Harvested
Why do the cork bark's shape, size, and texture vary so much from piece to piece?
Harvesting the bark from the cork oak tree is an artful craft passed down from generation to generation. The harvesters use a machete to carefully separate the outer cork from the tree without damaging the thin protective skin under the bark. The bark is then peeled off the tree maintaining the curve and shape of the bark slab. Each tree can be harvested approximately every nine years once it is 25 years old.
From there, the bark is sorted by grade and thickness and left out to dry in the sun. The grade and thickness determine if the bark will be used to make wine corks or flooring. The virgin bark is easily distinguishable by its rugged outer bark. This bark will be used to make planters, decorative tiles, and cork bark flats.
Other Uses for Cork in Your Garden
The next time you need to mulch your garden, you can also use cork to replace traditional wood and rubber mulch. Cork granules are made from recycled cork material ground into small pieces perfect for use in your garden. Cork granules retain the natural properties of cork. This means the granules will help your soil retain moisture and will help to keep the soil temperate, minimizing the risk of a hot summer day drying your plants' roots.
Last summer, Pinterest was full of how to turn wine corks into plant markers, but they can also be used as mulch around larger plants like trees.