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Old 05-09-2014, 09:15 AM
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Questions about using lava rock

I have a Dendrobium spectabile, an Encyclia cordigera, and an Epc. Charlie Brown that I want to re-pot into lava rock this summer. I would like a bit of feedback from users experienced with using lava rock as a medium.

It seems like red lava rock is the most commonly used type. However, the only kind that I was able to get locally is the black variety. The only difference between the red & black that I have read is that the black tends to get hotter in the sun; I think I can take care of this problem by using a layer of white quartz pebbles on the top of the medium (white reflecting light, etc.). Are there any other differences between the red & black that I should be aware of?

Preparation of the lava rock. My understanding is that the lava rock in the bag is unsorted & will need to sorted into very coarse, coarse, medium and fine grades. Also, it should be washed and rinsed to remove fine materials. Anything else? I was thinking that mixing styrofoam packing peanuts in with the lava rock in the bottom of the pot might be beneficial from a weight standpoint.

I have read that long-term care will need to include a monthly clean-water soak and rinse to remove salt build up.

Are there genera that do really well (or really poorly) in lava rock?

Any and all suggestions or advice would be appreciated!
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Old 05-09-2014, 09:37 AM
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I haven't used the lava rock exclusively before, but I have had heavy mixes with it. One thing I did for the monthly flush was to add some vinegar to the water (about 1 tbsp/gal) to breakup any mineral buildup. Then flushed with clean water afterwards. Also, apple cider vinegar can help give the plant a boost if it's sulking.
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Old 05-09-2014, 01:08 PM
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I use the red type but have received a number of plants (often dendrobiums!) in the past planted in the black type from Hawaii - they seem to do just fine in it. When I purchase a bag of it I take it out to my garage and go through the entire bag with a hammer and size reduce portions as needed - a little tedious, but you'd be surprised how quickly you can go through a few gallons of media and make certain it is the size you want/will suit your needs......I mix it with my media for paphs and prefer it maximum 1/2" for them.......If/when I use it for catts (or large dendrobium) I usually use as obtained and mix with orchiata - seems to do well there....
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Old 05-09-2014, 01:51 PM
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One of the experienced growers in my OS grows in rock exclusively. He uses "any old thing"--lava, granite, pea gravel-- whatever is available at the time. He grows in a greenhouse, and brings in terrific plants for the show-and-tell tables. Last night he had two renanthera that were just amazing--huge plants with long, elegant spikes. It looked like they were grown in mostly pea gravel.
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Old 05-09-2014, 04:41 PM
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You can't find red lava rock from you box stores? Both HD and Lowes carry it here but Lowes has larger chunks in their bags which I prefer.

I am switching all my plants to lava rock now. I used hydroton, stalite, and aliflor for years but they cost too much and lava rock is cheap. I put in chunks of charcoal when I can also but that's it. Encyclias grow fine it it but spectabile have always been tough for me because they end up getting rot at some point. I have one spectabile alba left that is growing fine so far and its in the same medium as everyone else.

I am growing my plants like this now to avoid rot issues:





The ones that are too big and needs puts I just use the biggest chunks of lavarock I can find and fill in a bit with charcoal. If they are going to be sitting outside on a table the extra weight helps so the wind doesn't blow them over.

HTH
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Old 05-09-2014, 05:36 PM
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Shann, you've had rot issues with spectabile? What was it potted in at the time?

I've got my spectabiles (3 of them) in inorganic media, 2 in Hydroton, one in mixed types of rocks including lava rock. All are in clay pots too. I haven't had any rot issues, quite the opposite here, have to water them a lot in that media/pot combo despite the high humidity here. However, maybe that's why I haven't had rot issues, dries out by the end of the day.
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Old 05-09-2014, 05:54 PM
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Quote:
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Shann, you've had rot issues with spectabile? What was it potted in at the time?

I've got my spectabiles (3 of them) in inorganic media, 2 in Hydroton, one in mixed types of rocks including lava rock. All are in clay pots too. I haven't had any rot issues, quite the opposite here, have to water them a lot in that media/pot combo despite the high humidity here. However, maybe that's why I haven't had rot issues, dries out by the end of the day.
I battle with black rot since my plants are outside exposed to rain. The spectabiles are all in hydroton, lava rock type mixes. When they get black rot it's game over. D:

I had a bad black rot outbreak a couple years back and have it crop up randomly from time to time since then, horrible stuff.
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Old 05-09-2014, 08:20 PM
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I love red lava rock. When I first started growing orchids, I was able to find bark at one place that was pretty far from where I lived but it was expensive and my vanda and cattleya did not do to well in it (perpetually rootless) so one day, at my garden center, I saw the red lava rock for landscaping and thought...'hmmm, it looks like bark but won't rot.' Ever since, my orchids have had roots! I even have a haraella rectrocalla mounted on a larger chuck of the stuff!
There are a few orchids that I could not grow in straight lava rock: Burr. Nelly Isler, zygos, Angraecum leonis, Angraecum distictum. I have to spring every year for NZ sphagnum moss for these guys. I grow my species phals, too, with a layer of red lava rock on top.

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Old 05-09-2014, 11:28 PM
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Thanks for the help everyone! I posed the same question on Orchidboard. So, the advice I am seeing, compiled from both forums, is:

There is not too much difference between the red & the black. The black could get hotter, potentially, in strong sun.

Prepare lava rock by rinsing thoroughly outdoors to remove dust and other fines (don't rinse in a sink).

Lava rock is probably best for plants that can tolerate drying between watering (Cattleya alliance, Epicats., Encyclia, some Dendrobiums, etc.), works well for plants that like to be mounted. Unless I can water daily, or even twice daily, it might not be the best choice for Miltonias, Paphs, and others that don't like to fully dry out.

Daily watering is needed as lava rock dries in hours. A top dressing of sphagnum may let me skip a day.

Use low TDS water (RO, rain, etc.), fertilize weakly/sparingly to avoid fertilizer/salt build-up, rinse and soak regularly to rinse out salt build-up.

Shannara, our big-box stores used to have the red lava rock, now I am only seeing the black. Maybe they will get more in later? I saw your problem with black rot. Are you supplying calcium? I remember you posting about this when it first happened, hope you can get it under control.
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Old 05-10-2014, 04:04 AM
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Wow that looks great Shannara. I must admit I had never considered it but I can see the benefits of using it.
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Old 05-10-2014, 06:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bolero View Post
Wow that looks great Shannara. I must admit I had never considered it but I can see the benefits of using it.
I quite agree! I'd meant to ask if those flats were your creation? They look like a great choice for plants that like to dry completely between watering.
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Old 05-10-2014, 07:39 AM
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I use a lot of lava and in the winter I don't water every day. Even under the drying HO T5s. I don't grow anything smaller than a 4" pot in lava only but the 4" and larger do not get watered every day in the winter. On average I try to water every 2-3 days but sometimes life gets in the way of my desired schedule and I've gone upwards of a week between waterings. I don't make that a habit but even the mounts have been fine when I've had to do it. [I tell the orchids it's a dry winter spell...shhhhh don't tell them. ]

In the summer though...yep, every day. Although...now that I think about it...there have been a few occasions when we were gone that I skipped a day or two here and there. It's not a big deal though...even the moisture lovers can handle a bit of dryness once in awhile.

BTW - I know some people talk about the mineral/salt build up issue w/lava but I've never experienced it. I've been using lava since '08 and when I repot/up-pot I simply knock off the loose chunks and the rest goes into the new/bigger pot. In all this time I've never had a problem. Maybe it takes more than 5 years? I buy my lava in the landscape area at HD...outside next to the pea gravel. Cheap!
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Old 05-10-2014, 02:07 PM
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Quote:
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Daily watering is needed as lava rock dries in hours. A top dressing of sphagnum may let me skip a day.

Shannara, our big-box stores used to have the red lava rock, now I am only seeing the black. Maybe they will get more in later? I saw your problem with black rot. Are you supplying calcium? I remember you posting about this when it first happened, hope you can get it under control.
I don't water daily. Especially if it rained for a few days then they get a few days to dry. If it's cloudly and overcast I will also postpone watering so really the weather is going to dictate your watering schedule if you grow outdoors.

As for the rot it's just something I will have to contend with growing outdoors and having long rain spells. I have some fungicides I spray them with after winter to prepare them for being outside again but haven't fertilized them with anything in quite a while.

Quote:
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Wow that looks great Shannara. I must admit I had never considered it but I can see the benefits of using it.
Quote:
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I quite agree! I'd meant to ask if those flats were your creation? They look like a great choice for plants that like to dry completely between watering.
I buy those flat slats, they are normally sold at orchid shows or from another vendor I know that carries them. They are cheaper than baskets and I just tie the plants down until they root in.
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Old 10-03-2014, 07:30 PM
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I started using lava rock late last summer. All I can say is Wow! The cats in lava rock have grown so many roots. Course my other thread on my Epi. stamfordianum that is in Coir. Perhaps the these orchids do better with an "airy" medium. They need more watering, but it drains quickly and allows the roots to breathe.

I have been killing and growing orchids since 08, nice to be getting the hang of it

One of these catts had dry rotted roots so this has helped my over watering problem
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Old 10-03-2014, 08:28 PM
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My E. Cordigera and Epicat. Charlie Brown are both growing well in the black "lava rock" I bought back in May. I put a few other plants in this too - Trichocentum splendidum and Dendrobium spectabile - both also growing well. There is another Encyclia intergeneric (can't recall the name at the moment) that also seems to like it & has a new sheath - no buds just yet.
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Old 10-04-2014, 12:59 AM
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Unhappy Can't find it !

I have read so much about the lava rock, but I can't find it in our HD or Lowes. This has happened to me with other orchid things, like bag babies, or different genera of orchids. All our local stores have is generic orchid bark, (looks like it got caught in a chipper, it's all funny shaped pieces like splinters )
and just Phalaenopsis orchids. Not much else . I have been buying my media from Repotme.com, but with the shipping it's so expensive. I don't know where else to look for the different kinds of media. We don't have an orchid nursery anywhere near here. We have a couple of nurserys, but they don't have much for growing orchids, and they seem to specialize in Phals also.
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Old 10-04-2014, 07:53 AM
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Ginger - did you check the outside area...near the sand and landscape rocks? Outside near the mulch products. That's where my HD has it.

It's getting a little late in the year but if they don't have it...call around and ask if anyone carries it for landscape mulching purposes. It's all the same stuff but the landscape product bags usually contain larger pieces and it needs to be cleaned...but it's a LOT cheaper. I get large bags for about $4. My Lowe's never carries it...just HD. Also, if you have Meijer stores up there...check there too. My local Meijer stores also carry it now. Again, outside near the mulch products.
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Old 10-04-2014, 09:41 AM
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My local Lowes does carry it, guess that is probably a store-to-store thing. Like Katrina's local HD, my Lowes has it in big bags out in landscaping. Bigger chunks, but if needed you can break up with a hammer (outdoors, with eye protection).
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Old 10-04-2014, 10:23 AM
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Funny story...........a while ago when this subject peaked my curiosity I was bemoaning the fact that the nearest big box store was 110 miles inland from the island. When slc from Oregon did a search for poor me and found it at the hardware store that is about 3/4 miles from my home.

And I got a 50 lb bag which is not used up yet, and it was $5.00

A geek across the country said that "a place called Sune's carries it" : laugh:
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Old 10-04-2014, 11:12 PM
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Quote:
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Funny story...........
Lol, ya, I remember her saying her husband would be less than pleased about a long drive to buy a bag of rocks. I thought, "Her local hardware store MUST carry that stuff." Gotta love Google. ^_^
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Old 10-04-2014, 11:16 PM
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Unhappy Not my HD

I did check everywhere outside. Lots of mulch, topsoil, garden soil, granite chips, but no pea gravel, river sand, or lava rock We don't have a Meijer anywhere near, never even heard of it. Thanks for your input, I will have to try some other places.
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Old 10-04-2014, 11:28 PM
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They used to sell it for lining the bottoms of gas BBQ grills, though the bag would be much more expensive. A local landscape contractor might know where you can find it. Good luck. Also, you could see if your HD will order it for you, or see if you can order it online and have it "shipped to store" for free.
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Old 10-05-2014, 02:34 PM
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If you have a hydroponics store, the LECA works pretty well, too. Just get the larger size. I have my older Cattleyas in the red Lava rock and the newer ones in LECA and all are doing well.
I found my first bags of Lava rock at a Landscaping supply store. Then I discovered it at a local nursery.
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Old 10-06-2014, 10:37 PM
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I heard recently that LECA was made from materials that are acquired via strip mining!? Has anyone else heard of this or know first hand where the clays used in production are sourced from? (For all I know it's a byproduct) I feel much better about using the lava rocks I've gravitated to over the last year for other reasons (I don't do S/H much, just one experimental pot & I think lava rock looks friggin kewl) although I have more than I need if it turns out to be true & my conscience kicks in.
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Old 10-06-2014, 11:31 PM
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I like Lava rock for the plants that need a very open mix but I really like Aliflor for the orchids that need more moisture. They are both very good mediums.
I spent the first years of my life in the Ohio valley where quite a bit of clay was once dug and used for pottery. At the time, it was a relatively clean process. Machines were used to just dig it out. It is a very thick but soft, malleable substance so it isn't too difficult to dig. I doubt the process is much different today as it was when I was a kid.
They strip-mined for coal in our area in much the same way...they just dug it out of the ground. If clay is a by-product, then this must mean that it is found in a layer above the coal. It is unlikely that it would be contaminated in any way.
Ironite, however, is considered to be a by-product of mining and I guess there has been quite a bit of controversy concerning it. I use it, however, for some of my potted plants but not for my lawn or fruits and veggies.
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Old 10-07-2014, 07:34 PM
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I thought I would comment about the strip mining issue. (BTW, I am a geologist, my focus is environmental geology).

Strip mining is just a generic term for many types of surface mining, often in an open pit where a drag line or other excavator removes soil and other overburden (=materials on top the mining company can't use), then the mineral resource is removed. In modern mining, after the resource is removed, the overburden is put back, graded close to natural topography, then the soil is placed on top and is also graded, then planted with trees, grass, etc. Most clay is mined in this way, whether it is brick clay or china clay (kaolinite). I suspect that the scoria that is sold as "lava rock" is also surface mined.

In fact, a huge number of the products we use have been mined, and many of those have been strip mined. It is virtually impossible to live in our modern world without using something each day that has been mined. Your laptop or cell phone has dozens of metals and other mined materials in it (nearly 100% of a computer either is mined or is pumped out of the ground as oil). Recycling as much as possible (including electronics) reduces how much we have to extract (mine), but since not everyone recycles, some additional extraction is needed every year.

There is a difference between strip mining (can be done well, with land properly reclaimed) and mountain top removal mining (I will spare the world my opinions regarding people that think mountain top removal is OK).

I suspect that clay which goes into LECA is tested to be sure it is compatible with growing plants. From a due diligence standpoint, a producer of LECA would be taking a huge risk if they did not test the clay for harmful materials before making LECA from it.
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Old 10-07-2014, 09:24 PM
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Sweet, this is exactly the sort of info I was hoping for when I posted. Glad there are so many smart people on this forum to learn from. Thanks Leafmite & Catt Mandu!
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