Phrag culture

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Nov 28, 2009
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Cambridge, UK
This is an update to earlier comments about growing wet loving phrags in a home environment.
It all started about eight years ago with a Mem. Dick Clements off eBay.
It grew ok but not great and flowered occasionally. It nearly went in the bin.
The plants was watered with rain water with the occasional feed.
Then I changed my culture to using rain water plus akerne’s rain mix at every watering. The plants sat in trays with about one cm of the water at all times.
I used very low levels of rain mix feed, maybe a quarter rate. My salt pen tells me that the rain water is around 30 units. My hard tap water is around 300.
The addition of rain mix takes it up to about 120 units.
I almost never flush the pots with pure rainwater. At this level of feed it seems to be unnecessary.
So the plant took off and never looked back. Today it is six mature growths plus many smaller growths and currently has five developing flower spikes.
03CD2B91-B120-42E1-8963-028625F32F40 by john quaife, on Flickr

This success encouraged me to try further plants and today there is a mix of besseae and kovachii hybrids all growing nicely.
This is the set up in the kitchen. The plants grow in front of a west facing window. Some are on the floor and others on a trolley. The lower shelf of the trolley is illuminated with two T5 lights and contains mostly seedlings on a 16 hour day. Most of the plants are in mainly inorganic mixes of leca.
C2D8FAE0-666C-4E47-A542-C2E3B81D5BD7 by john quaife, on Flickr

So this spring I ordered some seedlings from orchids limited and these arrived in May. This is just after they were potted up.
The white stones in the tray are growstones. And I find these sometimes help to green up the plants.

E5449CBF-C557-4719-9F3D-DE51B4BDB265 by john quaife, on Flickr

You can see a damaged plant in the top right. It had suffered in transit and had just one and a half leaves. The plants sat in the tray on a windowsill for most of the summer and grew quite well but not great. Then I for some reason I cannot now remember I top dressed the pots with moss and things took off.
These are the same plants in September with two larger new seedlings back left and right. The biggest seedling back left is a very generous replacement for the one that nearly didn’t make it. However it did make it and is the plant middle front.

47ACEDEC-3149-4E8E-8C7E-D83F6A27FAA7 by john quaife, on Flickr

This shows the vigorous root growth of the same plant after the addition of moss. The only plant not growing vigorously is a Robert Jan Quene which OL tells me needs a more basic mix than the others. I’ve added more growstones to the pot.

25803039-552D-4BA4-9011-54564D588BCA by john quaife, on Flickr

So for me the use of very low feed levels, inorganic mixes and a moss top dressing has made phrags a reliable house plant, easily grown on a windowsill.
The plants do go outside for the summer and were comfortable in both 30 degree heat and a rainy August.
Really good value plants.
The rain mix provided a big jump in growth and the moss has provided another.
Some of these seedlings should flower on the first growth. I have never done that before.

EE835AE0-45CD-4BAF-A78D-31E9A5860C4D by john quaife, on Flickr

These are two mature phrags. Left is Suzanne Decker. This year with four big new growths and should look stunning late spring next year. Right is Don Wimber ‘remembrance’ with its annual spike just starting out. There are two side branches and this year it produced two new growths for the first time ever.


I just got a couple KV crosses from OL in August and they seem to be doing well in s/h. May try adding moss top dressing. My Robert Jan Quen is from Fox Valley and seems to be doing well also in s/h. May add some oyster shell based on your post.
My Phrag Grande kept rotting again and again when it was potted in bark.

I potted it in rockwool in an Aircone pot, and set it in 2 cm of water. Top dressed with sphagnum as well.

I use rain water, dehumidifier water, and tap water. I add a bit of 30-10-10 fertilizer every few weeks. I also have stronger air movement around the plant.

Now it is spiking on one mature growth and pushing out a new growth. Maybe I'm finally figuring something out.

Linus- don’t be surprised to see roots popping out of the moss within a couple of months of top dressing. It really seems to make a difference. Not sure why, maybe it affects the humidity round the plant and that encourages root growth or maybe there is some chemical that is released by the moss that tells the Phrag roots to grow.
Gego- Growstones are made from powdered recycled glass plus a raising agent and then baked. It makes for a very light stone with a honeycomb structure.
Just google for Growstones.
They tend to be alkaline so I try not to use too much in a mix. The Phrag that went into entirely Growstones did not like it. It lost most of the roots from half way down the pot. However they do add something to this culture method. The plants are greener. Maybe it is calcium or silica or a trace element. I bought my bag off eBay. The transport is quite cheap as it is so light.
The leca is mixed with what I have to hand. Some perlite or a bit of old bark. I am not too fussy about this. Some are in all leca. It doesn’t seem to make much difference to overall growth. The main thing is to have an open inorganic mix so there is no breakdown and oxygen can get to the roots all the time.
Although the plant roots sit in a low concentration of feed they do have access to plenty of it in the water trays. So even though they grow quickly there is always something available. This may mimic the natural environment where there must also be a small concentration of feed available most of the time. To me this is why this method works.
The addition of moss also mimics nature and for whatever reason helps with growth,
Thanks. I have the same Growstones. I was just curious. I think Akernes is like MSU we have here, right?

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Rain mix

Gego- yes from what I have heard rain mix is a more modern take on the old MSU formula.
Akerne’s have a full analysis of the mix on their web site.
I would not be surprised if most other feeds had the same effect as rain mix.
My feeling is that it is the low continuous rate that is the most important factor,
Akerne's Rain Mix has slightly less nitrogen and potassium than the original MSU RO formula, with more calcium and magnesium, but I think David's assessment that the important thing is frequent, very low doses for nutrition, is dead on. (Of course it is, that's what I do too!)

I use K-Lite (12-1-1-10Ca-4Mg) at about 25-35 ppm N at every watering on all of my plants. That comes out to be about 1/6 teaspoon per gallon, or about 0.2 ml/L.
Beautifully grown plants!

I grow my Paphs in baskets lined with live moss, and all my slippers are top dressed with live moss. They seem to like it more than how I was growing them before.
A very interesting read I grow in a very similar way but with less feed but I do grow in a grenhouuse.