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Old 11-17-2014, 07:04 PM
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Sphag and bag conditions

Hello all -

I've got a sad little phal, and I think his only chance is to sphag and bag. I read about the process and I read other posts soaking the entire plant in water + super thrive before going in the bag, and I wanted to get some more specifics.

I understand warmth and humidity will aid in new growth (as water is absorbed by the leaves) until more roots grow. What temp should I aim for? What percent humidity? Should I be soaking him every day...every other day...or not at all? Also I've read posts that use sugar in the soaking process. Would honey be a good idea given it's antibacterial properties? Should I add physan to this bath?

Thanks in advance everyone!

(Heres' the background of my sad little tale in case you were interested: My phals have been slowly dying under my care over the past 2 years of "ice-watering" - I finally resolved to save them. I researched, realized they were being underwatered, repotted them and then watered them appropriately. In just a few weeks, their leaves perked up nicely, even grew a few centimeters, and new roots started to grow! But I worried that I over potted them initially, and found some old roots starting to rot at the tips. I corrected the mistake and put them in smaller pots, but after a week from repotting, I found that my little one has only ONE aerial root left. His 3 roots in the potting media died (I think because I packed the media around his stem too tightly) So much progress down the drain...His brother is doing ok, and I think is progressing nicely. Help me save my little one!)

Last edited by mar8d08; 11-17-2014 at 07:17 PM.
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Old 11-18-2014, 09:19 AM
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First let's talk roots in general. As they grow, they "tailor" themselves to the conditions they are in. Once grown, they cannot change. When you move a plant into a different environment (as in repotting), you are changing the environment, so the existing roots, even those in excellent shape, may no longer be optimal for that new environment; we expect them to deteriorate and die. The greater the difference between old- and new conditions, the more rapidly it will happen, but it will happen.

In other words, the pot size may not have contributed to the root loss at all, but repeated "messing with it" might have played some role (although if they were in bad shape due to prior care, who knows for sure?).

Now concerning sphag-'n-bag:

Your plant, having an inadequate root system, cannot take up sufficient water to keep the its biological processes supplied, so it consumes the water within. Then, as if that wasn't enough of an issue, those respiratory process continue, and they involve the expulsion of gases through the leaf stomata, at which time more water is lost to the outside environment. So what you've got is a "ticking time bomb" trying to desiccate the plant to death, and you're trying to keep it alive long enough for the roots to grow and replenish the water supply.

I recommend soaking the plant for about an hour in warm water (I try to start at 80░-90░F; it will cool, but that's OK) containing about an ounce per gallon of KelpMax (or teaspoon per gallon of K-L-N or SuperThrive, but they're not as effective). They all contain rooting hormones that may stimulate the plant to begin growing new roots. If the treatment you use is fresh and active, that one soaking will be sufficient, and repeating it adds nothing.

Saturate a clump of sphagnum or even a wad of paper towels, and place it and the plant into a clear plastic bag large enough to contain both without making contact. Close the bag, and place it in a very warm, shady location. Wait and pray.

The plant will not take up sufficient water from the humidity to substitute for root uptake, but it will slow the loss of water through respiration, slowing the desiccation process, so sealing the bag gets the relative humidity to 100%.

The reason for keeping the plant very warm is to accelerate its metabolic processes. Yes, that will accelerate the potential loss of internal water, but it also can accelerate root growth. 90░ is not out of the question, but I wouldn't go higher, or the plant could end up being cooked. That's also the reason for shade - direct sunlight on that bag turns it into a "broil-in-bag" scenario.
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Old 11-18-2014, 01:19 PM
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Thanks Ray - Do I just leave it in there until I see new growth? I've read posts that say leave it in there for weeks! And there are others that take it out to soak every day or every other day. Humidity in the bag is anywhere from 40 - 60%, but mostly in the 40s. Does that sound ok?
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Old 11-18-2014, 02:48 PM
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If the bag is sealed, the RH will be 100%, and that's what you're shooting for. The lower it is, the faster the plant will lose water.

Folks sometimes say they got mold if they seal the bag, but if the plant is dry before sealing the bag ( or has been sprayed or dipped in a mild fungicide), and does not come into contact with the moisture source, that shouldn't be an issue.


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Old 11-18-2014, 03:33 PM
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Ok - I understand now. One of the other things I read recommended opening the bag once a day and/or cutting a hole or two in the bag. So I should completely seal w/o any holes and keep it closed... Guess I shouldn't be worried about air exchange?

Sounds to me like I need to just sit on my overly active hands

Thanks again for all your help! I'll keep you up to date. The website won't let me post pictures in the thread, yet. But I'll stick some photos in my album.
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Old 11-18-2014, 09:23 PM
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Holes defeat the 100% RH thing. Need I say more?


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Old 11-19-2014, 12:08 AM
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sphag n bag

Ray, I have tried this a couple of times, very much like you describe and have gotten mold long before they get a chance to grow roots. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, 'cause I've tried just what you've said. . . dry plant, damp moss, sealed bag, no sun . What am I missing ?
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Old 11-19-2014, 07:39 AM
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Mold spores are everywhere so there really is no 100% way to avoid it in that set up. Not unless you can figure out a way to sterilize everything before sealing the bag.

If the plant isn't expensive and/or has sentimental value...why not just chuck it and start fresh w/a healthy one? It sounds like you have a really good handle on what went wrong so you know what not to do next time. Trying to save this one is going to be a long haul and quite frankly...you may still end up losing it.
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Old 11-19-2014, 09:08 AM
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I don't know the answer, gingerhill, but in 40+ years of growing, I've only seen that happen when the plant was in contact with the wet sphagnum, or there was 'so-so" tissue on the plant. If there are wounds of any kind, I apply cinnamon to dry them up, and that includes broken roots - the break only, not the rest of the root.

Kat's right that spores are ubiquitous. maybe my dunking period is washing them off for the most part?
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Old 11-19-2014, 10:02 AM
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Warmth is the key for getting rootless orchids or cuttings to root and not mold. Heat speeds up the rooting process.
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Old 11-19-2014, 12:17 PM
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Any tips on getting the temp up for my little guy? I initially had him sitting under a desk lamp (while it was very overcast/rainy) and could get the temp up to the 80s, but since I now know that he should be kept in shade I worried that it would affect his root growth. He's not been in the sun at all - He's a few feet away from a southern facing window kind of against the wall adjacent to the window.

During the day without my desk lamp on, he's been at 75F with 90 -99% humidity on top of a makeshift heating pad.
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Old 11-19-2014, 01:11 PM
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ay carumba...after just a few days in the sphagnbag...my guy has mold growing. His leaves are starting to lose their turgor. I wish I had the heart to give up on him, but he's come so far, I feel like I should press on. In examining his stem, there are areas of nonviable tissue that I'll go ahead and excise off...I wish his one little aerial root could support him without the sphagnbag. Anyway...he might just be on his way out. I'll keep you posted.
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Old 11-19-2014, 01:22 PM
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The amount of light from a desk lamp is insignificant compared to sunlight. If that gave you warmth but not burning, it's fine, although 75░ is only marginally warm in this case. Another 10░ would be great.

Remove the plant from the bag, wipe off the necrotic tissue, dust the wound with cinnamon powder, , and return it to the bag, keeping it warmer.
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Old 11-23-2014, 10:26 AM
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I have put my bags of cuttings/rootless orchids above or near heating vents with good luck. Being in the bag, they don't dry out and the warmth gets them to root. The light would work well, too.
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Old 11-24-2014, 09:52 PM
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thanks for the responses guys. Unfortunately, I think I ended up (accidentally) killing him. In my effort to remove remove the mold and reduce the risk of it growing back, I dipped him in Physan solution. It wasn't until the following day did I realize that I mixed it incorrectly. In trying to make a smaller (16 oz) batch just for him to soak in, I screwed up the calculation. He lost his only aerial root, and his leaves started to pit. Still, I held out some hope, but I had to leave him in the care of my husband for 2 days. When I returned yesterday, the 2 remaining leaves that I started with fell off. I was left with only a stump.

Things couldn't have gone more timely though. While I was visiting my parents, I was telling my mom all about my efforts and my new obsession with orchids. She gave me a keiki that sprouted from one of her orchids. So, even though I was really sad I couldn't save my little guy, my mom unknowingly provided me with a replacement. I repotted him today. I initially found him in a huge pot sitting in soil! He only has 3 roots, so who knows...he might need saving too...at least my little one gave me a good learning experience.
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Old 11-25-2014, 02:01 PM
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Sorry to hear of your disappointment, but glad you have a positive 'live and learn' attitude about it. Using the helpful information on this forum, I'm sure you'll be able to get your plants to flourish. I look forward to seeing pics of your blooms. ^_^
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