When I heard that @plantshopseattle was having a grand opening for their Cap Hill location, of course, I was one of the first folks out there in line on that brisk Saturday morning of November 25th, 2017.
Through one of the windows, I saw a striking burgundy and green plant with these huge, ruffled leaves.
I. Had. To. Have. It.
At this point in my house plant collecting career, I was leaning towards more space saving plants. But you know, when you fall in love with something, you'll move mountains (and furniture) to make it work.
When we were let into the shop, I made a bee line for "that plant". It was labeled as "Anthurium Water Dragon", which I found out later is a hybrid anthurium of Anthurium watermaliense X Anthurium ‘Red Birds Nest’, originating from a Silver Krome Gardens' breeding program. That said, I'm not sure if my plant plant originated from this specific nursery.
The glossy leaves that spanned over two feet long made such an impression. Heart eyes central. In addition, the plant had thrown out roots everywhere! I thought "what a glorious and happy plant to be sending out so many roots!". I thought nothing of the plant being pot bound, the soil not drying quickly and the fact we were about to plunge into another overcast and dark PNW winter.
With my hindsight glasses on, what I should have done was immediately repot the plant into a well-draining, aerated soil, assess root health and put it under some supplemental LED lighting.
Over the course of the next couple weeks in our home winter slowly made its mark on our home growing environment. It got cooler, the daylight/photo period shorter and the heater kicked on, sapping any humidity from the air (all bad things when it comes to growing tropical houseplants.) I made the ill-advised choice to give my new friend a little drink. Gradually, the leaves changed color and started to drop. The roots had changed from their silvery, orchid root-esque hue to a green and stayed that way. I was just getting into orchids at the time and paying attention to root growth at the time and was starting to put A and B together.
It looked like a case of root rot, so it was emergency repot time. Doh.
The soil to root ratio was roughly 1:2. Unfortunately, about 95% of the roots were rotted mush. Unfortunately, there are no photos of this process as I was trying to move as quickly as I could to get the plant into better conditions. I had never tried to save something from such severe root rot. Safe to say, I didn't want to lose such a glorious plant to a few inept houseplant care choices on my part.
Interestingly, there looked to be particles of a water retentive gel within the media. In the tropical greenhouse conditions it was probably grown in, this mixture probably cut down on watering costs and made sure the plant didn't dry out too quickly. In my home environment, however, it meant that the plant couldn't dry out quick enough to provide good conditions for the plant's roots.
An hour later, I had managed to rinse off what I could off what little was left of a root system, removed rotten material, and staked it in an orchid pot filled with expanded clay spheres, also called LECA. (Shout out to my semi-hydro orchid growers!) My theory behind this potting method was between the holes of the orchid pot , the porous nature of LECA and the space between the spheres holding air, not water, would give the root ball (former root ball) and crown a chance to dry out. At the same time, I could control the moisture with my hand mister by spraying down the pot every other day or so, indoor climate depending.
Fast forward a few weeks later, while another leaf had dropped, the plant seemed to stabilize. I would gingerly remove the LECA from around the crown and would see little nubs. Eventually, I couldn't contain my curiosity. Out came the plant and to my surprise and TREMENDOUS relief, not only was there evidence of growth, it was cute, fuzzy, little, neon candy corn lookin' new roots!
But I wasn't prepared logistically or emotionally to repot it just yet. Plus, figured there wasn't any harm giving the roots a bit more time to develop. So, back it went.
Another couple of weeks passed and we have since successfully transferred the plant to a fast draining cactus mix and a core of LECA. It's only been a couple days, but things are looking good.
In a first for us at Cultivate Propagate, we documented the repotting process on video! Still working some things out, but we hope our videos will become more in-depth and informative.
Until then, I'll get into the nitty gritty here of our repotting strategy here:
First, we chose a terra cotta pot with a drainage hole. Terra cotta, or unglazed caly pots allow moisture from a growing medium to be absorbed through and then evaporated off the walls of the pot, in addition from pooling out of the drainage hole at the bottom. A particularly handy trick for moisture control, especially for those of use who may be chronic over-waterers. (Myself, included. It's kinda how we got into this whole mess!)
Second, the roots had grown into the pores of the LECA. Any attempt to remove them would break part of the root off. So, the LECA was left on the roots. The pot was filled with a coarse, pumice-rich cactus mix with an attempted LECA core. The theory behind this strategy was that it may help the roots not grow attached to one another and keep the core of the pot easily aerated and drained. We'll see if it works!
As far as care is concerned, our Anthurium "Water Dragon" has been grown under LED light, fed an incredibly weak solution of liquid seaweed mixed with water, temps in the 70-72 range, 40% (at least) humidity where air is regularly circulating in the room it is growing in..
Stop by in a couple months for an update and what will hopefully be a positive and prolific Part 2 to this plant's recovery from The Root Rot Saga!
Until then, happy growing!