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Thread: Seeking ideas for hydroponic Nepenthes growing set-up

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    Seeking ideas for hydroponic Nepenthes growing set-up

    I was hoping someone might have some ideas to help me resolve an issue with growing media. Several months ago, I began growing 4 Nepenthes in 100% perlite hydroponically. The plants are watered 3 times a day for 15 min. each (the minimum time interval on my timer) with nutrient solution. They also sit in about 1" of water at all times (these are 1 gal. size nursery pots).


    Each of the pots has 2 water delivery points, where irrigation tubing pours water onto the medium. Perlite has some wicking capability, but I don't think it's enough to distribute water evenly in the upper third to half of the pot, given that water is entering the perlite at only 2 points. To help distribute the water better, I cut sheets of cellulose sponge into semi-circles and placed them on the surface of the pots. When the water from the tubing flowed onto the sponges, they became saturated and started to transfer water to the perlite over the entire bottom surface of the sponge. This provided better water distribution than simply allowing the tubes to pour water onto the perlite directly.

    However, cellulose sponge quickly rots when exposed to constant moisture and nutrient solution. So I am looking for a replacement. I bought a polyurethane sponge, but it doesn't seem to wick water throughout the sponge material very well (maybe I need a different kind of poly sponge?). I would like some kind of material that if cut into a 1" sheet or so, would become saturated fairly evenly if water were applied to it at only one point, much like a cellulose sponge.Ideally the substance would not break down easily or clog up the perlite below it.

    Would anyone have any ideas?

    BTW, 3 of the 4 plants I've tried growing this way are doing very well. The fourth, which was weak & had a smaller root system, died after I removed its rotting sponge. I don't think it was able to get enough water after that.
    Last edited by mikulas; 06-16-2015 at 06:31 PM.
    Nicholas LeBlanc, Archivist & Webmaster, The International Nepenthes Grex Registry
    My Nepenthes | Medium: 100% perlite, sifted through #10 bonsai screen. 1/4 strength Dyna-Gro 9-3-6 once/week, rainwater

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    Chief Cat Behavior Specialist Knuckles's Avatar
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    Hi Mikulas,

    Growing Nepenthes hydroponically can 1st seem like a challenge but can be very rewarding in terms of growth once you get everything right (some species are not the right candidates as you probably already know). You seem to be on the right track but I would definitely dropkick the sponges. It has been some time since I've grown neps this way but sponges will need regular maintenance/replacement & will mostly likely begin to harbor unwanted algae, mold, &/or bacteria. If you already have experience utilizing hydroponic systems with plants then you should start using drip circles or making your own... Or at least try them b/c you will most likely never use anything else after. All plants that I did not have on a 24hr cycle, or an under-watering system, all used drip circles or spirals for larger containers. They evenly distribute water on the surface of your medium. If you make your own then you can control the output & direction of the water as well. I normally used solid black airline tubing or the sprinkler system flexible tubing (pvc I think) from your local hardware store. With the solid airline tubing I used a blowtorch to heat the tube & shape it until desirable & then drill your outlets at needed size.

    Maybe others will have simpler sponge ideas or alternatives but this is the way to go for hydroponics if you're aiming for thorough water distribution. Hope that helps & good luck in solving your dilemma
    Last edited by Knuckles; 06-16-2015 at 09:09 PM.

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    @Knuckles, thanks for the tips. I had shied away from drip rings because they were expensive; I hadn't thought of creating my own.

    Out of curiosity, which Nepenthes did you grow hydroponically? Which did not do well for you? And what medium did you use? I'd be interested to learn more about what your setup was like. I'm still learning this method of growing, so others' experiences are always helpful. I've had success using Grodan rockwool cubes with some plants, but I'm concerned about keeping the pH up enough that the rockwool won't eventually deteriorate. Perlite seems to avoid that problem, but it wicks/distributes water throughout itself far less well than rockwool cubes do.
    Nicholas LeBlanc, Archivist & Webmaster, The International Nepenthes Grex Registry
    My Nepenthes | Medium: 100% perlite, sifted through #10 bonsai screen. 1/4 strength Dyna-Gro 9-3-6 once/week, rainwater

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    Chief Cat Behavior Specialist Knuckles's Avatar
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    No problemo Mikulas.

    Oh! you can also use a soldering iron to make your outlets. Price is a big issue with hydroponic systems & their components but when you understand/break them down they are extremely easy to reproduce & make substitutions. I tend to combine what I know about aquariums & corals with carnivorous plant keeping in many situations.

    As for medium I have actually never used rockwool but always meant to try it out at some point. On non CP plants I've used both clay & stone pebbles. On Nepenthes my media was always the same: Aquarium ceramic rings filter media (comes in plastic containers or bags), perlite (I've heard it leeches salts but who knows it works fine), & activated carbon/charcoal aquarium filter pellets (also comes in containers or bags & keeps water clean). Notice that these don't have much wicking nature so the drip ring is important here. I kept the ph around 5-6 testing it with cheap aquarium ph strips & adding a pinch of sulfur to raise acidity. Ive also used 2 part reef buffer for the heck of it (expensive) but didn't notice anything different. Never needed to use lyme to lower ph & eventually I neither tested nor added anything b/c the plants tell you if they need anything, just like in an aquarium, by how healthy everything is.

    Lighting consisted of a few strips of double tubed fluorescent shoplights from the hardware store loaded with cheap Phillips cool whites. Everything would be moved to metal halide & normal CP mix once substantial roots were formed. Many people use longer light cycles but I keep it standard to what is natural when you're not near the north or south pole. 12hrs on 12hrs off. I had a few exceptions. I have at least 10 70W MH aquarium electronic fixtures lying around with DE bulb setups as well as a handful of 150W setups from my corals. Many corals are some of the most demanding animals on the planet in terms of light. There is no need for those big ugly 400w magnetic MH setups ppl say you need for certain plants. Those are hideous, hot, and huge especially in a home setting. The only advantage is the area of light exposure they can cover. I'm rambling about light now but just trying to be specific. lol.

    Some of the best results I have seen were from N. Rafflesiana types, Ampullaria, Red Dragon, many Maximas, Mirabilis, Spectabilis (I was surprised by this 1 b/c it seemed picky), Sanguinea, & Ventrata. I checked my old growlist to see which ones I failed on & everything with veitchii failed. But, I didn't try many multiple cuttings of these plants b/c they weren't the fastest growing either. Mikei & Singalana also failed. I'm sure many of these would work with more attempts. I did not have a huge collection to test on but most of my plants were all fully mature & well grown. As you probably already guessed... yes, all of my setups were home built as well. I've used rubbermaids, to buckets, to nice big showy pots a few feet tall for other plants. Components consisted of plumbing supplies, pumps (water & air), and love.

    Glad to help
    Last edited by Knuckles; 06-20-2015 at 04:33 PM.

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