Does the Sphag and Bag Method Really Work for Orchids?


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The “sphag and bag” method is a quick and easy way to try to save an orchid without roots. You may have heard of this method on orchid forums or discussion boards. The question is, does this really work and should you use this for your orchid?

To “sphag and bag” your orchid means to place your orchid plant in a plastic bag with damp moss. The damp moss increases the humidity in the enclosed space. As a result, the environment around your orchid is warm and humid. This combination of environmental factors is supposed to promote root growth in an orchid that has lost many, or all, of its roots.

Orchid in bag with sphagnum moss for sphag and bag method

If you are looking for ways to grow orchid roots and try to rescue your orchid, the sphag and bag method is one way to do it. Keep reading to learn more about how to sphag and bag your orchid, as well as the pros and cons to this method.

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What is Sphag and Bag?

Orchid in bag with sphagnum moss for sphag and bag method

“Sphag and bag” refers to a technique using sphagnum moss and a plastic bag to encourage root growth in orchids. This technique is often used as a last-ditch effort to save an orchid that has lost many of its roots to root rot or dehydration. There are several ways you can help your orchid grow new roots, and the “sphag and bag” method is just one of them.

How Do You “Sphag and Bag” Your Orchid?

Orchid using sphag and bag method in plastic bag with sphagnum moss

The “sphag and bag” technique is pretty simple and inexpensive. You will just need a few supplies:

  • Gallon-sized ziploc bag (or bigger if your orchid is large)
  • Dried sphagnum moss
  • Water

When buying the sphagnum moss, make sure you get dried sphagnum moss specifically. Dried sphagnum moss is incredibly lightweight. It has the ability to absorb lots of water, up to 20 times its weight in water. Sphagnum moss is often used to provide moisture and humidity to orchid plants.

You can find dried sphagnum moss for sale online or at your local hardware store or garden center. You do not need very much moss for the sphag and bag method. Just buy the smallest bag of sphagnum moss that you can. Remember, moss will expand when moistened with water, and a little bit of moss can go a long way.

Sphagnum moss for orchids

Note: You may come across sphagnum peat moss at the garden center. Don’t buy this! There is a huge difference between the two, and you do not want to use sphagnum peat moss for this.

Sphagnum peat moss has a consistency more similar to potting soil. It is used by gardeners to increase the garden soil’s capacity to absorb and hold water and nutrients. Sphagnum peat moss, when blended with perlite or coconut coir, can be used for terrestrial orchids as a soilless potting media. Which is great for terrestrial orchids, but not great for stimulating root growth in rootless orchids.

Sphag and Bag Steps

Now that you have your materials, let’s go over the actual sphag and bag process.

  1. Trim off all the dead and rotted roots from your orchid plant. Clean off all the old potting media and debris from your orchid. I find its easiest to do this by holding the orchid roots in a bucket of water and gently rinsing and working the old potting media off the roots. Throw away all the old potting media and dead roots.
  2. Soak your orchid’s roots (the ones still attached to the orchid, not the roots you trimmed off) in a container of room-temperature water. Do this while you are preparing the moss and bag. Soak only the roots, not the whole orchid!
  3. Take a small amount of dried sphagnum moss and soak it in a cup of water for a minute or two. The moss will quickly absorb the water, like a sponge.
  4. Take the moss out of the water and squeeze out the excess water, like you would with a sponge. Now the sphagnum moss should be damp, but not excessively wet.
  5. Place the moss in one corner of the plastic ziploc bag.
  6. Place your orchid in the plastic bag, away from the moss. You do not need the orchid to be touching the sphagnum moss. Remember, the sphagnum moss is just there to add humidity and moisture to the bag.
  7. Partially close the bag. I closed the ziploc bag half-way initially, leaving the other half open for some air to come in.
  8. Place the bag with the orchid and moss in an area that will receive bright, indirect sunlight. Indirect light is key. Do not put your bag under direct sunlight, as the light will heat up the temperatures inside the bag and “cook” your orchid.
  9. Occasionally open the bag to re-moisten the sphagnum moss (remember, you just want it damp, not soaking wet), or allow for air circulation. As long as you do not see mold growth, fungal infections or other problems, you can theoretically leave your orchid in this bag for weeks, or months, while the orchid grows new roots.

Does the Sphag and Bag Method Work?

Orchid with new roots forming

I recently had an orchid lose almost all its roots to rot. After trimming off the dead and damaged roots, there was not much left. I decided to try the sphag and bag method to grow new roots. It is very similar to another method I’ve used to save an orchid without roots, except it is simpler and uses less supplies.

I actually tried the sphag and bag method using two orchids: one which had lost a lot of roots to rot (orchid #1), and another orchid who hadn’t shown much root growth over the last year (orchid #2).

Orchid with only a few roots
This orchid lost most of the roots to rot. The brown powder you see is just ground cinnamon.
Keiki orchid with minimal root growth
This is a keiki orchid that I had removed from the mother plant some time ago. It has been very slow to grow more roots.

I tried this for a few days and found that in that short time span, orchid #1 managed to grow two or three new root buds. Orchid #2 did not look any different, which is why I didn’t take any “after” pictures.

Root buds forming on orchid stem
New root bud on orchid
Sorry for the blurry picture! Hopefully you can tell that is a root bud hiding in there.

Still, the fact that orchid #1 was able to show root growth that quickly was more than what I had expected.

The verdict: The sphag and bag method does work. You may be wondering why if it does work, why I didn’t leave my orchids in the bag longer. The problem is that I ran across some problems with mold growth, which I’ll talk more about below.

In my opinion, the sphag and bag method has a lot of potential. It is so easy that anyone can do it. This method uses very few supplies (water, plastic bag and sphagnum moss) and is very straight forward. It is a quick and easy way to encourage your orchid to grow new roots.

Problems with the Sphag and Bag Method

Orchid on its side with mold on the orchid stem

One major problem I came across with the sphag and bag method was ventilation and air circulation, or, more accurately, the lack of it. Even though I left the bag half-open in the beginning, and then in the following days, left it wide open, there still wasn’t enough air circulation in the bag. This was likely because when the bag was on its side, the opening tended to stay mostly closed, even though it was technically “unzipped.”

When there is poor air circulation, high humidity, and warmth, what happens? Mold grows. Unfortunately, this is what happened to orchid #1.

While it was great to see root buds quickly forming on my orchid using the sphag and bag method, I was dismayed to see how quickly mold also grew. This, unfortunately, was the main reason why I stopped using the sphag and bag method so early. Had there not been mold growth and only root growth, I would have definitely kept using this method longer.

If you look at the pictures below, you can see white fuzzy mold on the orchid stem in several places. This was the orchid which had lost most of its roots to rot (orchid #1). The other orchid (orchid #2) did not have any mold growth that I could see, but it didn’t have any root growth either.

Mold growth on orchid stem
Sorry the mold is blurry, but you get the idea. There was mold found on multiple sections of the orchid stem.

I had been checking my orchids in the bags every day for the last week because I was afraid this would happen. Fortunately, I was able to catch the mold growth early.

I removed my orchid from the bag, cleaned off the mold, and potted my orchid in regular potting media in a ventilated orchid pot. I did the same for the other orchid as well.

In addition, I created a humidity box. I placed the pots in a clear plastic box (a large leftover one from salad mix) and left the lid slightly cracked open for air circulation. There’s some damp moss at the bottom of the box, along with a small cup of water. I am hoping that this will create enough humidity for the orchids for roots to continue to grow.

Final Thoughts

Reflecting back on what I could have done differently, I am thinking of a number of things. In the future, if I were to try the sphag and bag method again, I would try to sterilize the sphagnum moss in boiling water first to kill off any micro-organisms or mold spores. Then once the moss came back down to room-temperature, I would place it in the plastic bag with the orchid.

In the end though, I’m not sure if any of these additional interventions could have prevented mold growth. I have heard that mold growth on orchids during the sphag and bag process is actually quite common.

All in all, the sphag and bag method is a quick and easy way for many orchid growers to encourage root growth in their orchids. The plastic bag allows in light and traps in moisture. This creates the high humidity environment ideal for orchid growth. It does come with some risks however, so those using this method for their orchids must be on the lookout for issues such as mold growth.

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Orchid in pot with sphagnum moss
Orchid in plastic bag with sphagnum moss
Orchid without roots lying on top of plastic bag
Orchid in sphag and bag
Orchid growing roots using sphag and bag method

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