Note that whenever I plant things, regardless of whether it’s in a grow bin or a pot or anything else, I customize the substrate to the needs of the plants in question.
Since most of these plants are relatively new to hobby, compared to more common vivarium plants, there isn’t a lot of information available about their culture preferences.
In this case, I decided to make an experimental custom dirty sphagnum substrate mix. Dirty sphagnum is just sphagnum with some potting soil mixed in, but I wanted to make this batch with a lot of different ingredients for improved aeration, drainage, pH, and other attributes.
The ingredients I used are partially based on a bit of research, and partially based on my gut instincts and experience with plants over the years.
Sphagnum is a great acidic substrate base for a lot of tropical plants.
It’s fluffy and moist, which promotes good root growth and keeps moisture loving plants hydrated.
Soak it in distilled water until saturated, then firmly squeeze out as much water as you can, so it’s fluffy and slightly moist.
Some people prefer to spend more and get premium Sphagnum, but i’ve always used medium quality and haven’t had any issues.
Pinus radiata bark / Orchiata (small grade)
Pinus radiata bark is an acidic substrate.
Just a couple of its many benefits are that it contains beneficial microorganisms, and is quite long lasting.
Monto Clay is a calcined clay, which means it is fired at high temperatures to harden it.
It has an acidic pH, increases friability, and can improve a substrate mix’s nutrient retention.
Lately I’ve been adjusting my substrate mixes to be freer draining and more airy. Perlite is excellent for this, but for the best results I recommend spending more to get a better quality, more coarse grade.
Perlite has a neutral pH.
Happy Frog potting soil
Happy Frog is an outstanding potting soil which has beneficial microbes and fungi, and lots of other great ingredients and nutrients.
In this case I’m mixing willow oak leaf litter into the substrate which will slowly release nutrients as they decompose. They’ll also temporarily improves aeration and promote micro fauna colonies to flourish.
I added all of those substrate ingredients onto the initial Sphagnum base, without measuring them.
I just guessed what I think will work well for these plants, partially based on a bit of research, and partially based on my gut instincts and experience with plants over the years.
Next I thoroughly mixed everything together, ensuring all of the substrate ingredients are equally distributed, and then I leveled everything out in the bin.
For more instructions and tips for grow bins, check out my detailed grow bin tutorial series.