Cultivating 201- Getting Started
So you've decided to start growing Nepenthes. Great! Due to them not needing a dormancy, you can watch them grow year-round, unlike their Sarracenia cousins.
Here's a list of things you need to consider before you place that first Nepenthes order. Yes, BEFORE you order! :)
Where Am I Going To Grow Them?
Good question to start off with. Unlike Sarracenia, fltytraps, etc, they are not going to appreciate living year round outside in a minibog unless you live in an area that is similar to their growing environment.
Nepenthes have got to be grown in an environment that allows us to closely duplicate their environment in the wild. This means a greenhouse, grow chamber, or other device in which we can get the humidity and temperature requirements right. We also have to keep in mind that some Nepenthes are fast growers, and can quickly outgrow a small terrarium.
To start off, you'll want to choose a few of the easiest species, as well as some of the smaller growers. I know, you want a rat killer. Well, kill a few easy plants first, then get your cultivating techniques in high gear, master these easy species, then move up to the larger plants, and finally to more difficult plants as your growing skills allow. If you start off with easy plants and get your conditions right, you may not kill any plants at all.
You can find information on the different chambers and greenhouses back on the Nepenthes University Main Page.
Is My Water Good Enough?
Depending on where you grow your plants will tell you how much water you need. If they will be housed in an indoor grow chamber, they will need less water than if they are in an outdoor greenhouse.
If you have been using your tap water for other CP's, and they dont seem to mind the quality of water, then your Nepenthes should be just fine with it. Nepenthes are quite tolerant of harder water, much more so than most other CP's. Whereas mineral buildup in the soil can seriously damage or kill other CP's, Nepenthes can be relatively unharmed for some time.
The main problem with hard water is that it breaks down the main soil component I use: long fiber sphagnum. Hard water will quickly eat away at dead sphagnum, leaving nothing but strands without the moss.
You local water department should have a water quality report that you can check out. If the hardness is less than 100ppm, then the water should be just fine for long term watering, and shouldnt require the soil to be changed very often. If its harder than this, it might still work, but you'll have to change the soil much more often.
Chlorine levels are another concern, especially for smaller plants. If the level of chlorine is above 5ppm, I would suggest allowing the water to stand in an open container for a day or so, and this will allow the chlorine to evaporate, thus reducing the level. Your water quality report will state the chlorine level as well.
Humidity is going to be important. Depending on where you are going to be growing the plants, and what part of the country (or world) you reside in, will dictate what, if anything, you have to do to ensure proper humidity.
Since Nepenthes need a higher, rather than a lower, relative humidity, we need to see what we are going to have to do to ensure proper humidity.
An enclosed container helps keep moisture reduction to a minimum, but it does nothing to get the humidity where it needs to be. This is accomplished by getting moisture into the chamber. The best way to increase the humidity in a terrarium or grow chamber is to introduce moist soil into the chamber. If you line the bottom of the container with moist sphagnum moss, and keep this moss moist, an enclosed chamber will see a very high humidity.
So, we need to ensure that we have ample humidity, but not too much at all times. Extremely high humidity levels cause fungus and other plant diseases to run rampant.
When it comes to humidity, there must be a fine balance. We must have enough at all times, yet we dont want too much all the time. We also dont want sudden drops of very low humdity, especially for the lowlanders. Most Nepenthes do well with humidity levels around 75% all the time, but few can take a spike down to 20% for more than a few minutes. If you live in a very arid environment, you have to be aware that if you open a grow chamber up for too long, it can cause a sudden drop in humidity.
If you are going to grow the Nepenthes in a greenhouse, then the humidity must be monitored constantly. One problem with large house growing is the exhaust fans. Exhaust fans are used to cool the greenhouse by bringing in cooler outside air. The problem is that this air can be much drier than the air it is replacing, causing the humidity to drop. If, by running the exhaust fans, the humidity spikes much below 50%, you'll have to supplement the humidity somehow. This is accomplished by use of swamp coolers or misting systems. Just be aware that a greenhouse may need to be retrofitted with equipment that supplements humidity. You can also increase the local humidity around the plants by placing their pots on top of mounds of long fiber sphagnum moss which has been wetted. This helps keep the humidity up around the plants, just in case the air humidity in the greenhouse drops temporarily.
Growing plants which require high humidity also calls for constant air circulation. Highly humid warm air that does not move can become quite stagnant. While some species of Nepenthes can grow in stagnant condition, most need good air circulation in order to keep fungus and diseases in check. A growing environment which has been stagnant for some time is usually not very pleasant for the plants and especially for humans.
Another issue with humidity is buying plants from a vendor that utilizes higher humidity levels than you do. These plants must be acclimated to a lower humidity over a few weeks. This is esspecially true of highlanders and thin leaved lowlanders such as the mirabilis complex. The CP Jungle acclimates its plants to a very low humidity level for Nepenthes, meaning that they easily acclimate to a buyers growing conditions. But other vendors notoriously keep their Nepenthes in a very, very high humidity environment. The reason for this is simple; the plants the receive from Borneo Exotics or elsewhere will look nice for a longer period of time, meaning they have more time to sell them before thy decline. But the problem with these plants are two-fold: 1)The plants are not acclimated to lower humidity levels, and will drop its leaves and pitchers due to no wax layer on their leaves and 2) The plants may be in a very slow decline of health, which doesnt show up as readily because they have been grownin a very high humidity. This is why you should enquire about the specific growing conditions from your vendor. A vendor should have no problems showing pictures of their greenhouses / growing chambers, and should tell you how the specifically heat and cool the areas. If a vendor doesnt do this, its probably because they are simply "holding" the plants in a series of terrariums in a bedroom or basement under lights, and are not providing the correct cultivation requirements for the plants. This means that, although you may receive a plant that looks good, the plant is not actively growing, and may quickly decline as soon as you receive it.
You'll find details on humidity, circulattion, and other equipment on the main page of the Nepenthes University.
Nepenthes generally require a lot of light. The longer I have grown the plants, the more light I find they like. Some lowlanders, such as ampullaria and bicalcarata, do grow in lower light level areas of the jungle. But most Nepenthes grow in more open areas with high light levels, or direct sunlight.
In my shorter grow chambers (2 feet tall, by 8 feet long, by 4 feet wide) I can use 6 dual fixture shoplights, with 2 40 watt bulbs in each. These bulbs will usually last from 1 to 2 years, and dont use much electricity (As compared to metal halide lamps.) My larger 4 4; tall chambers use 12 of these fixtures. In my production grow chambers (used for growing an selling plants) I use one 4 foot dual 40 watt fixture for every foot in width of the chamber. So if a chamber is 3 feet wide, I use 3 light fixtures for every 4 feet of length of the chamber.
In the greenhouse, most every Nepenthes species gets direct sunlight which shines thru a double layer of poly-plastic. (The only exceptions are some of the lower light growers such as bicalcarata, ampullaria, etc, which grows beneath the benches.) During the summer, I sometimes utilize a 30% shade cloth to help in cooling in the summer, but otherwise the plants receive full diffused sunlight through the poly film.
Higher light levels result in stronger plants. Plants which have been growing in low light must be acclimated to higher light levels over a few weeks, as immediately placing them in high light can result in leaf burn. Keep in mind that many nurseries that sell Nepenthes have not been growing them in high light levels, so adjust the plant to higher light levels over time.