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Sarracenia rhizome rot: remembering Bugweed's tips


I'm still losing some of my smaller Sarracenias due to rhizome rot/melt/fungus/something. This summer has been unbearably hot and dry. At the past advice of one of our veteran Sarracenia growers--Bugweed--I've started growing my plants in undrained plastic tubs. About 2 years ago, I remember him explaining the nuances of why undrained containers or circulating bogs work better than the widely accepted tray method (which I've always used). He advised that keeping the rhizomes constantly wet ("the wetter, the better") and allowing the water to evaporate creates a healthier oxygenated environment than plants that rely on soaking up water from a tray. I decided to give this method a shot this spring when I found out many of my smaller plants were rotting away from their rhizomes. Yet, I am still losing smaller plants--why??

At this point, I am wondering if the sudden shriveling of many of my pitcher plants is actually due to unseen insect attack, rather than weather, water, or media issues. I've applied Orthenex to these pitchers and hoping this might repair the problem.
I have always preferred the tray method over the undrained tubs and found that there were more "health" problems to be had with the latter.

At the outset, I would suspect pests over environmental factors. Some years are worse than others when it come to that; and I would let the pesticide do its work and see if there is improvement. Aphids and scale were particularly nasty in California this Spring and went unnoticed until some seriously distorted pitchers came down the line . . .
Can you really call a plastic tub a circulating bog? Perhaps it is too small of a closed system.

I mean, how does it circulate and have all of the necessary components especially at the microscopic level to stave off stagnation and infestation of bacteria, mold and fungus which in turn could attracts pests.
no, no. He said EITHER a circulating bog OR undrained tub.

Bugweed's rationale for an undrained tub is that when you water to the top, it covers the rhizome with water and when this water level drops due to evaporation, it brings oxygen to the rhizome and roots, thereby aerating the media. As opposed to the tray system, where water sits in a tray and is drawn up via roots and capillary action. Combined with hot weather, the tray method encourages inactive bacteria present in the media to be stimulated to attack the nearest fresh living tissue--ie, Sarracenia rhizome. It only slightly made sense to me when he first posted it years ago but hey, he was like the guru of Sarracenia so I figured why not give it a shot.

So far, most of the plants seem to be doing fine....it's just the smaller plants that are experiencing the shriveling and I'm starting to attribute it to insect damage in addition to heat and stagnation.

I'll compare results after this year is over and see what method works for me.
Ah, sorry. That is what I get for reading too fast. :)

My questions still apply though for a plastic tub. I would think stagnation and bacterial infestations would set in. I am not an expert, just my thoughts. If he is a guru, then I bow to his wisdom. :)

BTW, I have been to sugarland a few times on business. Very nice place as long as you are not there during the summer... hahaha Too hot for us temperate folk here in the Midwest.
I agree completely. That's what I thought too about undrained tubs but 'ole BW swears by them.

I'm a native Jerseyan myself so imagine how I had to evolve when I moved down here. And now i'm in San Antonio, which is even hotter and much drier, but my outdoor plants stay in Sugar Land.

I swear my CPs would probably grow a lot better if I was still up in NJ. Sure we had snow, but at least we didn't have to worry about hurricanes and fire ants and 105 degree weather for weeks on end. Oh and Sugar Land just made US top 25 best cities to live in again (it was #3 a few years ago)...hahaha. Go fig.
Yep, it seems here in the midwest you can grow highlanders just by adjusting how much you crack your window at night. And in the summer, you can usually just set them outside.

I make it a point not to pack shiney black dress shoes when I go in the summer because the last time I almost fried my feet while standing outside. Although the food there is very good. Tex-mex, Cajun, Creole, etc. I drool for Papadeux. I've been there once with a group of locals and one person ordered some kind of Mahi-Mahi dish for me that was not on the menu and it was the best thing I have ever tasted.

Sorry off topic.

Good luck with your tiny sarrs. If they are dying in the tub, perhaps use the tray method on them until they are stronger.
wouldnt any bog still have water underneith the soil though? basicaly being the same thing as using a tray method? because when you have a pot sitting in a tray the water line is at the same level in the pot as it is in the tray so as the water level drops its still pulling air thru the top of the soil in the pot. you could just put the pot in a bucket and fill it to the rim of the pot, let the soil soak up as much water as it could then take it out. the water draining would "refill" the soil with fresh air. sometimes i do that......

or just water from the top! same thing (i guess) :-D
In nature, these plants are watered from both above and around. But they also have a complete ecosystem going for them, unlike our artificial environments. So far this setup works for me:


  • #10
Wow, those guys on the lower racks get enough light?
  • #11
I think the important part might be the top-watering, and not the type of container you're watering into. The common ground with both undrained tubs and circulating bogs is that there's frequent water flow from the top to bottom. Do you have any drainage holes in your tubs? From what I've been told, it's generally a good idea to put a few drainage holes somewhere between half and 3/4 of the way up the side of the tub to let water out if it starts to accumulate and stagnate.
I might be wrong, but I was under the impression that Bugweed's tubs were more to do with concerns of space and water supply than general cultural preference; they worked for him because he had tons of plants that needed to be kept in a compact area, and he had lots of light and evaporation so keeping open trays filled was difficult. What are your temperatures and humidity like? If I recall, Bugweed lives in a warm, semi-coastal area where it's not too humid and there are reliable winds. From what you've said, I would suspect that there's an excess of heat and moisture in your trays, and either some sort of microbial attack is overtaking your rhizomes, or you've got snails or worms or some other chewing invertebrate that are physically injuring the plants and making them susceptible to rot. What media are you using? Is there a top-dressing? How deep are the tubs? Do you have any associated plants in the containers too, or is it 100% Sarracenia?
If this is something that seems to be happening to your whole collection at large, I would wait for a cool(er), rainy/overcast day and dig up a few plants that are either ailing or unaffected but not dead entirely, and look for signs of pest damage. Also keep an eye out for anatomical problems like shallow root systems - I'm not certain what you'd be looking for but if it's a problem with conditions, there will likely be some telltale growth characteristics.
  • #12
It always gets pretty hot and muggy from May till October here in the Sugar-Land/Houston area. However, this summer we're experiencing some major drought (>3 months!) and last week we hit a high of 104 for the first time in a long time. It's cooled down by a bit these couple of days and there were some thunder and lightning...but almost never rains and if it did, it was only a brief shower to tease us. Humidity is usually 40%s in the day to 60s at night.

Unfortunately, for the past three years I could only place my plants on my patio facing south to southwest since it's the only spot that doesn't get sprayed by the lawn sprinklers. With this position, they get full sun from noon to evening. Surprisingly, they've thrived and flowered and expanded; nevertheless, for the past two summers I would lose a couple of smaller plants due to rhizome rot. It started with my S. purps last summer and then moved on to the S x Judith Hindles and then hit my S x catesbei and S x mitchelliana this summer. Ok I'm noticing a pattern with S. purp parentage. This summer some of my bigger plants (Dana's delight, Dixie Lace, leucos, alatas) also grew smaller and others arrested growth completely, sending only phyllodia. Flava varieties and hybrids with no S. purp parentage are doing ok at the moment.

Media is almost pure Canadian sphagnum peat moss mixed with a bit of perlite with a thick layer of live sphagnum. This summer, my sphagnum is also browning--again probably due to drought and heat. If I had any amount, I also add some washed sand (pool filter pure silica) to various pots. Water is either rain (which is lacking this year) or RO.

On the other hand, the "more delicate" plants are doing great--VFTs are a bit smaller but still sending out lots of traps after flowering, D. intermedia and filiformis couldn't look better, D. spathulata and capensis still going strong, and all my Pings (non-Mexican) are doing fine right out in the open.

Hence, I'm starting to think it's not just heat and stagnation, but also insects causing them to suddenly kick the bucket. Sigh I'm just sick of losing great-looking plants hahaha.
  • #13
And yes, I do notice an influx of earthworms in the older media whenever I repot. They always manage to get in there somehow.

I think I just need the weather to cool down and rain. That always seems to perk all of them back up. Which is weird considering i'm watering them almost everyday and keeping them constantly wet.
  • #14
From your description, I would be very surprised if a little drainage didn't help. When you repot the trays, is there a foul smell that comes from the media? It sounds like some sort of bad microfauna fouling up the stagnant water under the soil line.
  • #15
I have touched on this in a number of threads recently so you might want to do a quick search on my name to get all of it.

But in a nutshell:

A number of Sarr growers have been kind of keeping track of this "rhizome melt" for the last few years. I have heard 2 reports of what the actual agent is. The first ID was Fusarium, this information was passed to me second hand but the original source was someone I trust. The other ID was Cylindrocladium by a person who I find detestable but they are/were a long time Sarr grower so I have to defer a bit to their experience. Either way, this agent seems to be quite wide spread and may well be endemic in collections. However, it only seems to be a major issue in the southern region. I do not have any concrete data on this but the suspicion of myself and others is that heat plays a direct roll. Here in Atl, I tend to see the worst cases late in the summer when the night temps stay high. The disease usually starts popping up when night temps start staying above 25C or so and will spike rapidly when nights are above 28C. Daytime temps over 36C seem to prime conditions as well. The use of the tray method also encourages it. I suspect this is because the presence of the stagnant water, the high local humidity and, again, the heat set up a prime condition for the pathogen to flourish. Something I personally have noticed (but have not tracked among others) is that a media of peat/sand also seems to encourage growth of the fungus. I have a suspicion as to why this is but I won't go into it here. Small pots also encourage it (smaller volumes heat faster and all that...) Plants with dense/compact growth (purpurea) are quite susceptible as is minor (minor has a predilection for drier conditions in cultivation and most people grow it too wet for its liking.) The prior I believe is because the dense nature creates an ideal microclimate for the pathogen, and the latter I suspect is just that growing the plant at less than prime conditions makes it more susceptible to disease.

Once a plant is showing symptoms it pretty much done for. I have saved a few plants but it was extremely difficult and they have never grown well after the recovery effort. If a plant is showing symptoms then the best thing to do is isolate it to prevent spread to other plants in your collection.

Now, Bugweed's method I do not advocate for any Southern grower. Because of his location I think he did not get much incidence because his temps rarely hit the problem threshold. However, I also have to consider that, IIRC, Bugweed's recirculating pools were deep. Deep enough that pots were fully submerged. In the first few years I had major problems with this disease I found that growing pots fully submerged would deter incidence. I think this was from a two-fold effect: 1) The pathogen cannot grow as well underwater as it needs some air 2) Infected plants, when grown normally, cannot take up enough water because of the damage to their rhizome, but when the plants are fully submerged they are able to take up enough water to stay stable.

My advice for Southern growers is, if you are growing in pots then go without a tray and top water as often as needed. Or, grow in bogs. I also make use of a beneficial commensal fungus/bacteria spray which I think helps but I am do not think that is an absolute necessity.