Nepenthes can be grown in a variety of medium and there is no special formula that guarantees the best results for your plants. However, there are specific requirements that are needed for the roots to grow well. Below are the requirements of the medium for a healthy root system:
- Acidic to neutral in pH
- Low to no nutrients
- Retain moisture
- Open and free draining
- Does not decompose rapidly
The majority of Nepenthes grow is areas that are very low in nutrients and is usually very wet. These areas are usually found in swamps, heath forest and degraded secondary forest. As such the media in these areas are also acidic or neutral in pH. Rain or underground streams frequently flush the land taking away nutrients from the ground. This process also helps aerate the medium where the plants grow. Therefore, in order for us to grow Nepenthes well in cultivation, we need to imitate as much as possible the conditions where they grow in the wild.
Below are mediums that are commonly used by Nepenthes enthusiast. Two or three of these mediums are usually mixed together, and the ratio of each component differs from one grower to the other. It is best to experiment on the different medium to see what suits your growing conditions best.
Common growing medium used by growers:
- Dried sphagnum moss
- Sphagnum peat moss
- Coconut peat
- Coconut chips / Bark
- Broken terra cotta pots
- Tree fern root fiber
- River sand
- Orchid bark / Tree bark
- Clay pellets
Sphagnum moss can be found in large shopping complexes under a hardware store or in the plant section. There are two types of sphagnum moss sold in Malayasia. The cheap sphagnum moss from Taiwan or China and the best quality sphagnum moss from Canada. If you are using sphagnum moss I recommed you get Canadian sphagnum moss. The cheap moss decompose faster and does not have good air circulation as it compacts when soak in water.
In Malaysia, where the climate is hot and humid, media such as dried sphagnum moss decompose rather quickly and you will need to repot your Nepenthes after 1-2 years in order for the plants to thrive. However, sphagnum moss is able to retain a lot of water, which is good for Nepenthes. Long sphagnum moss can also be use alone as it provides good drainage. The only shortfall as mentioned above is sphagnum moss decomposes very quickly. Therefore, it may be better to use other media such as coconut peat and chips, charcoal, tree bark, tree fern root fiber, etc when cultivating Nepenthes is Malaysia. These other media can also be found easily in Malaysia and is much cheaper. I personally use coconut chips, tree bark and tree fern root fiber mixed with sphagnum peat, coconut peat or chopped up sphagnum moss in a ratio of 2:1. This media is more open and free draining.
Tree fern root fiber comes from the trunk of a Tree fern. Tree ferns are ferns that can grow as high as a medium size coconut tree and can be found in the highlands or hillside. Tree fern root fiber is good as it makes the media more open and free draining. The best thing about this is it also last for many years and does not decompose. However, it is not cheap. It can be found in orchid nurseries and is used by orchid and staghorn fern growers to attached their orchids or staghorns fern on it. It usually comes as a square block about 1 inch thick. You will need to find those that are cut from a younger tree or cut from the upper part of the tree fern trunk. The reason is because the trunk of a tree fern can be as hard as wood and is not easy to break. You will need to use a hammer to break it into smaller pieces before you can mix it with other subtract.
Coconut peat can be found in almost all nurseries in Malaysia and is relatively cheap. This can be use with coconut chips to help fill up the large gaps between the coconut chips in the pot so that the roots do not dry out in a hot day. Coconut chips are not so easily found. For some reason local suppliers do not supply this. However, you may buy coconut husk and trunk from coconut plantations and chop it into pieces of about inch in diameter.
I buy my tree bark from pet shops that sells tree bark to line the base of reptile or insect tanks. These are usually imported from overseas and are quite expensive. Charcoal may be a much cheaper alternative and can be used to replace tree bark. However, some growers believe that since charcoal naturally absorbs chlorine and other chemicals in the media, it might harm the plant in the long run as it retains the chlorine and chemicals in the media.
If it is difficult for you to find any of these media where you stay, do not be discouraged. A lot of growers in Malaysia are using similar media that can be found where Nepenthes grow in the wild. This is a sandy media mixed with clay and laterite. Many natural habitats where Nepenthes grow consist of this sandy mix.
Some growers have also resorted to growing Nepenthes in inorganic material such as terrafoam. This comes in a block and is used by flower shops to hold flower stalks in a basket arrangement. This material does not decompose, is light and it retains a lot of water. It can be chopped up into small cubes of 1cm x 1cm x 1cm. However, at the time writing there are no conclusive results as to whether Nepenthes thrive in this media. At the moment some species thrive in this media while other grows very slowly in them. However, this material has great potential and it is much cheaper than Sphagnum moss.
Rischar (2000) notes provide details of another completely inorganic subtract for cultivating Nepenthes. The mixture used was one part each of Seramis clay pearls, lava gravel and Lecaton expanded clay pearls.
Other organic media are derived from non-renewable resources and if you claim to help conserve carnivorous plants through cultivation you must surely want to minimize the environmental impact of this hobby. Therefore it may be good to consider these materials.
The important thing to note when looking for a medium for your Nepenthes is the 5 attributes of the growing medium. If the medium you choose satisfy those criteria, then most probably your Nepenthes will thrive. Also note that if the media you use decompose rapidly, you will have to repot your Nepenthes often. As you may know, Nepenthes hate to be subjected to sudden changes in their environment including its growing medium. Each time you repot, you’ll disturb the roots and risk sending your plant into shock. This will stunt or delay the growth of your plant. In a worst-case scenario, the plant dies.
Just some tips… if you realize your plant it wilting after you repot, it means water is not reaching the plants and it is dehydrated. If the media is wet, it can only mean that you have injured the roots and water cannot reach the plant. If this happens, quickly treat the plant as cutting.