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Old 11-30-2012, 05:22 PM
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Why are so many plants sold potted up in sphagnum??

Another thread, & experience re-potting two Paphs., got me wondering why so many orchids are offered growing in sphagnum? There are a lot of posts on this site regarding plants (mostly Phals but others too) that show significant root loss when being re-potted from the sphagnum they came in.

The two Paphs I purchased (bargains, in bloom) were growing in sphagnum when purchased. Normally with a Phal I would re-pot immediately but with a Paph. I thought a terrestrial plant could deal with the moisture better - I would just water the sphag. only when dry, re-pot when finished blooming. Sounds like a plan, right?

One of the plants finished blooming this week. I unpotted it to move it into a mix of medium to fine bark, coir fiber, coco chips, perlite & the charcoal I make. Oops! While there are still live roots, there are many dead ones. Although I think the plant will make it, clearly it will be set back.

Based on that I decided to un-pot the other plant which is still in bloom. More oops! Not quite as bad but I am glad I got to it when I did.

Both plants were very tightly packed in sphagnum. My question is, why pot orchids in sphagnum this way? Some guesses on my part:

1. In the greenhouse, maybe water management is different from what I normally do at home in a more open medium. Do growers using sphag. water just enough to moisten the surface at each watering, for example?

2. Is it a time/money saver for big nurseries (sphag is more water retentive, therefore you need to have someone water much less often)?

3. It is much easier to ship orchids tightly packed into a pot with sphag. (no loose bark shifting about or spilling)?

I know some hobbyists grow very successfully in sphagnum. Are those plants potted much more loosely than the plants in the stores? I would be interested in hearing from hobbyists and professional growers on this subject.

BTW, I do have 2 small plants (Restrepia brachypus) that came from Marcy McPike (thanks Marcy) and which are doing quite well in very loose sphagnum in very small pots.
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Old 11-30-2012, 05:38 PM
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I think Peter Linn of Big Leaf said it best...the sphag doesn't rot the roots (loose or tightly packed)...it's the person doing the watering that rots the roots. LOL!

The answer to your question is a combo of all 3 but the biggest part of it is the watering aspect. I can't link to other forums but there is a great thread on Peter's forum about using packed tight sphag. Very interesting to say the least.

The reality is if the watering is done correctly then you can get some amazing roots from tightly packed sphag. I've seen it! I kept my latest acquisitions from Peter in the tightly packed sphag for a good 2+ months and when I finally got around to doing the repots the roots were amazing...hardly a dead one in the bunch. I didn't water like I would w/chunky mediums..I just moistened the sphag on top and around the edges...I didn't try to soak it. And, I didn't need to do it all that often. I'm telling you...if I didn't put my orchids outside every Summer where Mother Nature sometimes waters for days at a time...I would likely pot all of my phals (and anything else that likes it moist) in tight sphag because it would save me a lot of time in the Winter months when they are under lights.

In the end, it's like you've read a million times...it all about the watering.
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Old 11-30-2012, 05:53 PM
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There may be other reasons, but I'm prone to think it's number three for the most part. I've even bought orchids that were double wrapped with spagh. Inner pot filled with spagh, wrapped with more spagh and potted in a larger pot. Always thought that was weird, but it does keep them from tipping over, bouncing around and losing media during shipping.
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Old 11-30-2012, 06:00 PM
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I should also add...the information I read pertains to small pots only...less than 6". What was discussed (and this makes sense) was when the plant gets to the point of being in a 6" pot then there is simply too much sphag and the drying time is too long. Using clay pots can offset this in some part but it will likely still be a problem for some...it's better to make a switch and cut the sphag w/something (charcoal, leca, tree fern, etc) that will open up the medium and provide for better and more even drying.
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Old 11-30-2012, 06:19 PM
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If you're talking about the orchids in big box stores, I think if the sphagnum is tightly packed around the orchid, it really doesn't need much in the way of water for a long time.
This is just anecdotal based on a NOID Phal. from Trader Joe's that I took home from my wedding. It was potted very tightly in sphag and I have only watered in once in two months and it is doing fabulously.
So I think the sphagnum really makes them low maintenance for stores. The problem arises when people water them more than they ought to.
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Old 11-30-2012, 06:22 PM
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Katrina & Paul, thanks for the replies!

Since I grow outdoors whenever possible, for the reason Katrina mentioned, it is probably a medium I should mostly stay away from. I think even the Restrepia will get moved into fine bark when the warm weather resumes & they move outdoors.

Paul, I do think the packing aspect is an important part of it. The last 3 plants I acquired in sphag were packed so tight they would hardly budge from the pot!! I could turn the whole thing upside down without anything moving.

I will look up the article on Peter Lin's site- thanks! It would be well worth the read for the next time I get a plant in sphag & don't want to re-pot right away.

Thanks again.
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Old 11-30-2012, 06:26 PM
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Thanks Rachel - from a retail end, that makes sense. I couldn't tell you when I actually saw someone water any plant in a big box / grocery store (probably does happen, but not often).
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Old 11-30-2012, 09:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by katrina View Post
I think Peter Linn of Big Leaf said it best...the sphag doesn't rot the roots (loose or tightly packed)...it's the person doing the watering that rots the roots. LOL!

The answer to your question is a combo of all 3 but the biggest part of it is the watering aspect. I can't link to other forums but there is a great thread on Peter's forum about using packed tight sphag. Very interesting to say the least.

The reality is if the watering is done correctly then you can get some amazing roots from tightly packed sphag. I've seen it! I kept my latest acquisitions from Peter in the tightly packed sphag for a good 2+ months and when I finally got around to doing the repots the roots were amazing...hardly a dead one in the bunch. I didn't water like I would w/chunky mediums..I just moistened the sphag on top and around the edges...I didn't try to soak it. And, I didn't need to do it all that often. I'm telling you...if I didn't put my orchids outside every Summer where Mother Nature sometimes waters for days at a time...I would likely pot all of my phals (and anything else that likes it moist) in tight sphag because it would save me a lot of time in the Winter months when they are under lights.

In the end, it's like you've read a million times...it all about the watering.

Well, then what about the air not getting to the roots and contributing to the bacteria growth and the notion that orchids grow on the trees and really like an open type of environment???
I guess I'm getting a little confused here.

Lilia
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Old 11-30-2012, 10:28 PM
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My theory is mass market orchid producers use moss and drench it so the plants will grow, bloom and survive long enough to be sold.

I'm a big New Zealand sphagnum moss user, several of my plants reside in it mostly because my home is extremely dry. I have phals that love it-or hate it! My paphs don't like it..however, when I use it I pot loosely adding lots of clay shards in an attempt to keep air movement around the roots. I tend to water lightly because it can take so long to dry out; too, it does pack down as time goes on with each watering.

I was given two NOID orchids yesterday; one appears to be a Dendro-phal and the other some oncidium something-or-another. Both were jam packed in moss with tons of thin healthy roots. Even though I use moss a lot, I didn't pot up these two orchids with it but used bark. Each orchid seems to tell us what it needs and wants!

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Old 11-30-2012, 11:51 PM
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I think that tightly-packed moss also works very well for orchids if the temps are high or you have bottom heat (to force growth). And, yes, I think that if you buy an orchid (wet-growers being an exception) in moss, it comes from a place where it has been forced to grow very quickly. If you go to a large-scale greenhouse business that plants cuttings, it will be very warm inside to force rooting and growth (cuttings of shrubs or trees--quite hot) and the cuttings can never dry out even though evaporation is high. Same concept.
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Old 12-01-2012, 07:56 AM
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Lilia don't get confused with some of the roots/air/bacteria causing root rot theories. It is a little over hyped and over watering, not lack of air making a bacteria grow inside the pot, is the reason 99% of Phals get root rot. When anything dies it will start to disintegrate. It wasn't a mysterious bacteria, the roots are doing what all roots do when they die - think of it as Mother Nature composting.

Everyone laughs at the water with ice cube method but it is one of the methods used to tell the new owners how to water their Phal without over watering and killing it. There is another mass market company that gives specific instructions of using two tablespoons once a week.

The professional growers I know use the packed sphag to cut down on their work by reducing the watering time. Norman's never fertilizes a pot, it is all foliar feeding, again a time saving feature. The foliar feeding keeps the sphag from turning green like mine do. I know Tom Harper waters and feeds the same way with his tight sphag packed pots.

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Old 12-01-2012, 09:22 AM
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Lillia -- Brooke hit the nail on the head there. Also, sphag is very porous so it breaths regardless of how tight it's wrapped....gasses can still pass through it (air exchange). The problem comes in when people water too much which not only causes rotting of the roots but also causes the sphag to break down and it then becomes dense.

Good point on the fert Brooke...I forgot to mention that part.
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Old 12-01-2012, 10:51 AM
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Seeing my Phals that are packed in moss and if they look and feel dry I was watering them. Then should the orchids be gently lifted out of the pot to see if they need water? My two orchids lost to overwatering were in 3 in and 4 in pots. I guess losing two gives a little experience as to the weight of a dry/wet plant and knowing how the moss works will help in the near future.

I have phals that are in larger bark and have always done wonderfully. Experience and perseverance says a lot. When you know better you do better.
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Old 12-01-2012, 11:40 AM
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I actually have two phals that had a lot of root loss growing in small 3 inch pots now, and I have been wondering if I shouldn't maybe switch them over to sphag. They dry out VERY quickly, as in, I have to water them every day, and I don't always have time to do that. The orchids in bark in larger pots are doing great, but the small ones are bordering on dehydration.
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Old 12-01-2012, 02:41 PM
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Moss and watering and rotting roots...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brooke View Post
Lilia don't get confused with some of the roots/air/bacteria causing root rot theories. It is a little over hyped and over watering, not lack of air making a bacteria grow inside the pot, is the reason 99% of Phals get root rot. When anything dies it will start to disintegrate. It wasn't a mysterious bacteria, the roots are doing what all roots do when they die - think of it as Mother Nature composting.

Everyone laughs at the water with ice cube method but it is one of the methods used to tell the new owners how to water their Phal without over watering and killing it. There is another mass market company that gives specific instructions of using two tablespoons once a week.

The professional growers I know use the packed sphag to cut down on their work by reducing the watering time. Norman's never fertilizes a pot, it is all foliar feeding, again a time saving feature. The foliar feeding keeps the sphag from turning green like mine do. I know Tom Harper waters and feeds the same way with his tight sphag packed pots.

Brooke
Ice cubes. Two tablespoons of water. I purchased my very first orchid at a well known garden center with an "orchid specialist" who told me to drench the pot every two days. Guess what happened to that orchid?

All I can say is, thank goodness for sites like Orchidgeeks.com and the wonderful people here that so generously share their experiences and knowledge! One less orchid that lands in the rubbish bin is always a major accomplishment for us all.

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Old 12-01-2012, 05:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Love_my_soldier View Post
I actually have two phals that had a lot of root loss growing in small 3 inch pots now, and I have been wondering if I shouldn't maybe switch them over to sphag. They dry out VERY quickly, as in, I have to water them every day, and I don't always have time to do that. The orchids in bark in larger pots are doing great, but the small ones are bordering on dehydration.

I love using sphag for my moisture lovers...if you like it and it works for you and your space...go for it. Personally, I would hate to be w/out it. I even have seedling catts in sphag.
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Old 12-02-2012, 02:20 AM
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I recently bought a cattleya, in bloom, from what I thought was a very reputable greenhouse. The top of the pot was live green moss - this should have made me suspicious right away. When I bought from these people before, the catts were always potted in bark, and it was very obvious.

Anyways, I let the flowers run their course, and as soon as they wilted, I repotted the catt. The front two pseudobulbs already had little sprouts showing. I was shocked to discover sphag packed so tightly around the roots, I broke a lot of them just trying to get most of it out and let the roots breathe a bit. I wish the greenhouse had warned me that the catt was potted in sphagnum, and that I should water it no more than once a month. There was a lot of root rot, but I think the plant will survive. It's now in a bigger clay pot, in bark/charcoal/perlite/remaining sphagnum, and being kept on the dry side.

I hope I haven't overpotted it - it went from a plastic 4" pot to a 6x6x6" cube, with half the roots it had before. I have to keep it pinned with two bent wires.
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Old 12-02-2012, 11:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Love_my_soldier View Post
I actually have two phals that had a lot of root loss growing in small 3 inch pots now, and I have been wondering if I shouldn't maybe switch them over to sphag. They dry out VERY quickly, as in, I have to water them every day, and I don't always have time to do that. The orchids in bark in larger pots are doing great, but the small ones are bordering on dehydration.
Yes, I have a mini phal I put in a bark charcoal perlite mix in a 1 inch pot and I may have to water everyday it dried out in a day also, so I mixed in shag in the mix as well to see how that works. It was potted in tight shag when I bought it but some roots still look a bit dried out.

My other phals like shag just on the top to help the top roots stay most and air roots.
I do agree, some of the best roots can come from it (from what I've seen from geeks) but you must know how to water with it (which I don't)!
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Old 12-02-2012, 12:39 PM
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I think what helps me a bunch is that I only use clear pots, so it is very easy to see if the medium is still moist. Maybe I will give it a go
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Old 12-02-2012, 12:42 PM
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I'm kinda late to this party, and I'm not going to read all the comments, but my thoughts are that when growers who sell to big box stores sell plants, they know that they are not going to be watered properly, or at all. Sphag holds moisture for a long time. When those NoID phals get to Lowes, everybody knows that nobody is going to water them, so planting them in sphag allows them to abide without water for a longer time. Those are my thoughts.
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Old 12-02-2012, 01:08 PM
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Somewhat related to this thread - both of the Paphs mentioned in my original post came potted in a plastic pot inside an unglazed terra cotta "display" pot w/o a drainage hole. I've found 2 really good uses for that unglazed terra cotta pot.

In one, I'm growing a small group of sundews potted in a plastic pot, set inside the terra cotta pot (potting medium sand & a little peat mixed in). The terra cotta conserves water in the sand, but I can still remove the plastic pot for occasional flushing if needed. The sundews are happily consuming any stray gnats.

The other terra cotta pot has an inch of water standing in it, wicking that water through the terra cotta and keeping the atmosphere around my plants humid. This works so well that I've considered plugging the holes of regular terra cotta pots & pllacing one in each plant tray. In other containers, I also have a bunch of small spider plants that continually pump out humidity through the leaves. In a winter-dry house, the room where my plants are is easily the most humid.
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Old 12-03-2012, 12:05 PM
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Quote:
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I'm kinda late to this party, and I'm not going to read all the comments, but my thoughts are that when growers who sell to big box stores sell plants, they know that they are not going to be watered properly, or at all. Sphag holds moisture for a long time. When those NoID phals get to Lowes, everybody knows that nobody is going to water them, so planting them in sphag allows them to abide without water for a longer time. Those are my thoughts.
I agree, Jeff. In support of my post above: My Sister-in-Law came over for breakfast yesterday morning and brought me a NOID Phal a friend gave her to bring to me, cuz she doesn't know how to take care of them. I guess I must look like a home for wayward orchids. It was in a very pretty pot with a lovely pink bow, and a beautiful cascade of flowers.

Anyway, after she left I pulled the inner pot it out of it's tightly packed second pot and like I thought, was very tightly packed in spaghnum moss and quite a few dead roots showing. I very carefully removed it, which took quite awhile, since ya don't want to damage the good roots. Bottom line, about 85-90% of what roots were there, were rotten and dead. I coudln't believe the whole plant has survived and looks a good as it does with only one big healthy root and a couple small questionable ones. It was only a matter of time though. I dipped it in a Physan20 mix, then soaked it well in Seaweed Extract. I use a medium Orchiata with a bit of Perlite and charcoal.
Now, it's a matter of TLC and crossed fingers, though I think it will pull through and be a great plant. I equate this to changing dirty diapers... it pays to check things every once in awhile.
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Old 12-03-2012, 01:00 PM
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LOL Paul - my kids are in their teens so your comment re: changing dirty diapers brings up old memories (by which I mean, flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder).
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Old 12-03-2012, 04:48 PM
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I think Sphagnum Moss works really well in dry air climates. Some people including nurseries grow their plants very very successfully in sphagnum moss and it's highly recommended by them.

It all comes down to watering.
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Old 12-03-2012, 05:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bolero View Post
I think Sphagnum Moss works really well in dry air climates. Some people including nurseries grow their plants very very successfully in sphagnum moss and it's highly recommended by them.

It all comes down to watering.
I quite agree. I think there is a member on the forum that lives in Wyoming, here in the United States, that does quite well growing in sphagnum.

I might be able to manage growing in sphagnum if I only grew indoors. But, I grow outdoors more than half of the year. A rainy spell (it could even be just a few minutes of rain per day, several days per week) could cause me substantial problems.

The insight of fellow 'geeks leads me to believe there are practical reasons for growers to supply some plants in sphagnum, and some hobbyists can continue to grow that way under the right circumstances (but I would not be one of those growers).
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Old 12-03-2012, 06:57 PM
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Don't get the idea I don't like spaghnum. I do. I root cymbidium back bulbs in it.(very loose). I also have den keikis rooting in it, even use a bit in some bark mixes I use for a bit more moisture retention, etc.. But I what I'm opposed to, and I understand why they do it, is the extremely packed ones that are sold. The environment and growing conditions at the grower is going to be much different than the person who buys one and is usually unaware that there is no air to the roots or the "suggested" watering on the tag is for "somewhere else". Aside from the fact that most people who get them from TJs or big Box stores usually have no idea of how to grow them and keep them alive. Neither do the employees of these stores, which is why I always check the markdown shelves for possible rescues.
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Old 12-03-2012, 11:51 PM
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There is air in tightly packed sphagnum pots, but 2 important things have to be think about:
- the management of watering
- the age of the sphagnum

Either can make things go bad. The watering is a torture for overwaterers, and a composting sphagnum can turn fast into a mess.
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Old 12-04-2012, 02:55 PM
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That much sphagnum used with orchids for sale, as with what everyone says is to facilitate keeping the orchid in a moist scenario, not to wet/not too dry. I have learned now to repot right away, and let the plants receive stepped up watering just for the first couple of weeks, till it gets used to the breathier set up of a coarse bark mix. The only orchid that I have left still in sphagnum moss is my Gram Scriptum 'Hihimanu' this one is really like a sponge, loves being heavily wet. I made the mistake of putting it is coarse bark mix, and almost lost the plant...returned it to sphag and it eventually recovered. Just have to closely observe what the orchids need.
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Old 01-31-2013, 09:11 PM
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Quote:
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Lilia don't get confused with some of the roots/air/bacteria causing root rot theories. It is a little over hyped and over watering, not lack of air making a bacteria grow inside the pot, is the reason 99% of Phals get root rot. When anything dies it will start to disintegrate. It wasn't a mysterious bacteria, the roots are doing what all roots do when they die - think of it as Mother Nature composting.

Everyone laughs at the water with ice cube method but it is one of the methods used to tell the new owners how to water their Phal without over watering and killing it. There is another mass market company that gives specific instructions of using two tablespoons once a week.

The professional growers I know use the packed sphag to cut down on their work by reducing the watering time. Norman's never fertilizes a pot, it is all foliar feeding, again a time saving feature. The foliar feeding keeps the sphag from turning green like mine do. I know Tom Harper waters and feeds the same way with his tight sphag packed pots.

Brooke

Hello Everyone..very interesting thread. This may already have been commented on but being a 'newbie' here goes:

Norman's does foliar feed but the feed they use is supposed to be used in conjunction with a regular fertilizer (not in place of). They have started sending out bottles of their foliar feed with orders for customers to continue the regimen at home. I have also received about 6 pots of Phals with green spagh (mostly the ones in 4" pots)..I always wondered what caused the green spagh..wetness and light? I've also read that Physan 20 mixed and poured through the green sphag will clear it up..I guess it kills the algea...

monica
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Old 02-01-2013, 08:21 AM
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Norman foliar feeds all of his fertilizers. Unlike you and I, he doesn't have time to pick up each pot to water and fertilize.

Wet sphag + light will turn it green. I've never worried about algae in the pots of sphag because they get repotted every year or so.

Brooke
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Old 02-01-2013, 08:30 AM
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I think the worst thing is to buy an orchid that seems planted in bark, to eventually discover that sphag is tightly wrapped around its roots.
Thanks to that, my Burrageara Nelly Isler is trying to recover from total root loss and new growths seem to have stalled instead of putting out roots
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Old 02-01-2013, 02:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brooke View Post
Norman foliar feeds all of his fertilizers. Unlike you and I, he doesn't have time to pick up each pot to water and fertilize.

Wet sphag + light will turn it green. I've never worried about algae in the pots of sphag because they get repotted every year or so.

Brooke
Hi Brooke..
Yes..what you say does make a lot of sense.. I was just thinking about the instructions on the foliar feed...says to be used in conjunction with your regular fertilizer...I was thinking if that Mega Thrive can create big plants then the combination of Mega Thrive and fertilizer might create mega plants...

Does anyone have any experience with using this Mega Thrive foliar feed? It's supposed to be vitamin based...

monica
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Old 02-02-2013, 08:40 AM
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I also received a quart of Mega Thrive from Norman. Read the contents of the label and it doesn't have everything an orchid needs. I used it per his instructions and did it help - I don't know. I didn't see anything fabulous but it didn't hurt anything. Norman uses his water source in CA and mixes all of his fertilizer to meet his needs. They aren't appropriate for me because I use rain water.

I also can't foliar feed all of my potted orchids because with the lack of sun during the winter I would create problems because they wouldn't be totally dry by night. If you can foliar feed and you can make sure they are dry by night, it certainly won't hurt and might help.

Some days I have problems with my mounted Phals not drying by evening and have to check them when I shut the g/h up for the night.

Brooke
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Old 02-24-2013, 12:32 PM
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Excellent Information!

After reading your wonderful posts, this Newbie is going to pull the Orchid purchased from a big box store out of its pot to see exactly what it's potted in and make a change if needed. Thank you all for the information!
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