Category Archives: Fertilizer

Orchid Fertilizers: How To Fertilize Orchids

Hey Guys,

I’ve had quite a few emails just lately about orchid fertilizers and how to fertilize orchids (such as the one below), so I thought I’d try to answer them all in one go by posting an article all about orchid fertilizers.

Here’s an typical example of the sort of emails I receive:

Dear Danny,

I have just got together the ingredients for my orchid fertilizer. What I need to know is how to apply it. Does it need diluting? And should I use it every time I water or more sparingly? A quick answer would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Dinah

Why the need for orchid fertilizer?

As well as light and water, orchids also require additional chemicals that provide them with nutrition.

In the wild, an orchid will scavenge these nutrients from decaying matter that they obtain from the forest floor or that has been collected by rainwater as it flows by.

Domestic orchids require these nutrients to be supplied to them in the form of fertilizers or orchid food.

What’s nutrients do orchids get from fertilizers?

There are three main nutrients that an orchid needs to grow healthily; Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). The letters in brackets refer to their chemical symbols. In lesser amounts, Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg) and Sulfur (S) are also required.

These six chemicals are referred to as Macronutrients. There are also a number of Micronutrients; Boron (B), Chlorine (Cl), Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo) and Zinc (Zn) that provide nutrition, however an orchid will need much smaller amounts of these chemicals.


Manufactured orchid fertilizers

Most manufactured orchid fertilizers will have an NPK ratio printed on their containers, which refers to the percentage of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium they contain. For example, a fertilizer with an NPK of 30-10-10 will be made up of 30% Nitrogen, 10% Phosphorous and 10% Potassium. The remaining 50% will be made up of other macronutrients and micronutrients, as well as other chemicals.

Some good manufactured orchid fertilizers are this general purpose (20-20-20) fertilizer (which can be used for most orchids) and this high-nitrogen (30-1-10) fertilizer (which is good for orchids grown in tree bark).


Home-made orchid fertilizers

If you have a penchant for chemistry, you may consider creating your own organic orchid fertilizers at home. For those that do not have the scientific foundation, you can obtain homemade orchid fertilizer recipes here (if you try them, please let me know how well they work for you).

A breakdown of the pros and cons of manufactured and home-made orchid fertilizers can be found here.

How to fertilize orchids

So, we’ve learned that orchids need fertilizer to provide them with essential nutrition to keep them healthy and that the main decision to make when using an orchid fertilizer is whether to use a manufactured or home-made solution.

Next, we will look at exactly how to feed the fertilizer to the orchids.

Many orchid enthusiasts use what is known as the ‘Weakly, Weekly‘ approach to fertilizing their orchids. This simply means that an orchid is fed a weak or highly diluted fertilizer every week.

In my own opinion, orchids should be fed at the same time you water them, which may not always be weekly. Again a weak solution of water and fertilizer should be used.

The best way I know of to water an orchid (and, of course, feed it at the same time) is to add a little fertilizer to a watering can (or similar container) of water, then pour the solution into the pot ensuring all the potting mix is well drenched. Then, wait for almost all the liquid to drain out of the bottom of the pot before watering and draining again.

This video about watering a phalaenopsis orchid shows how to water an orchid properly.


Orchid fertilizer for orchids planted in fir bark

A little earlier, I recommended an orchid fertilizer with high nitrogen content for orchids growing in tree bark.

This is because bacteria in the bark mix contains micro-organisms that consume large quantities of Nitrogen and can potentially starve an orchid of their Nitrogen nutrition.

For this reason, if you grow an orchid in a bark potting mix it is recommended that you use a fertilizer with a higher Nitrogen content.

Orchid fertilizer for orchids planted in sphagnum moss

If you have an orchid that is growing in sphagnum moss, I recommend using an even weaker fertilizer/water solution.

This is because sphagnum moss holds on to or absorbs salts much better than other potting mediums so the nutrients have a lot more chance of staying within the pot rather than draining out of the bottom with the water.


Summary

In this post, I’ve explained why orchids need fertilizer and that your main choice when deciding on a fertilizer is whether to buy a manufactured version or create your own.

I’ve also explained that orchids should be fed whenever they are watered and that a low concentration of fertilizer should be used.

Finally, I explained how different potting mediums may affect your orchid feeding technique.

I hope you’ve found this useful and if you have any further questions or require any more clarity, please drop me an email at info@care-of-orchids.info or leave a comment below (I can’t promise to answer all questions individually but I do try and answer as many as I can).

Danny

How To Take Care of Orchids

Hey Guys,

In this post, I want to provide you with some general information on how to take care of orchids.

How you take care of your orchids will vary depending on the genus and species of orchid you are growing (check out some of the most popular types of orchid here) and your geographical location as well as smaller factors such as the type of mix your orchid is potted in.

Despite these differences, there are also many similarities in the field of orchid care and in this post I will be discussing general advice that can be applied to almost all orchids in almost all situations.

I’ve split the post into five categories that are perhaps the most important factors to successfully taking care of orchids; Light, Water, Fertilizer, Temperature and Humidity.

It is these environmental factors that decide whether or not an orchid will survive when growing in the wild – domestic orchids have the added advantage that their carer (you) can manipulate their surroundings to create the optimum environment for them to thrive.

Get these right and you will have beautiful blooming orchids that you can be proud of :)


Light

Sunlight is a requirement for all life in the Plant Kingdom.

The process of photosynthesis means orchids can convert carbon dioxide into sugars, using energy from sunlight.

Orchid leaves act like solar panels that collect the sun’s energy, so it is important tho make sure your orchid is situated somewhere where it is exposed to plenty of daylight or it will die.

Conversely, if an orchid is placed in direct sunlight, the sun’s rays can damage the leaves, so maintaining the optimum balance is vital.

Most indoor orchids should ideally be placed close to a window but not in direct sunlight. If you choose to place your orchid on a windowsill, ensure that it is not exposed to direct sunlight by using shades or blinds.

The color of your orchids foliage is a great indication of whether it is getting too much or too little light. If your orchid has vibrant bright green leaves, it is getting an optimum amount of sunlight.

Cool, dark green leaves indicate that your orchid is getting insufficient light, whilst warm yellow or red foliage indicates too much light.

Black spots or white areas with a black rim are signs that your orchid has been sunburned.

Water

The next factor vital to an orchid’s survival (and all terrestrial life) is water.

Water is required for many of the biochemical reactions that occur within the plant as well as performing many other essential functions for life.

The frequency of watering will depend on your geographical location and the temperature and the humidity of your orchid’s environment so advising to water it once a week or once every ten days would not be very good advice.

Therefore, orchids should be watered as soon as the medium they are potted in is almost dry to the touch. A useful technique is to poke your pinky finger into the potting media to see how moist it is. If it feels dry or nearly dry, it is time to water your orchid. If it is moist, your orchid doesn’t need watering.

Most orchids should be watered by thoroughly rinsing the potting media with collected rainwater at room temperature (and a little fertilizer – see below) and then allowing the excess water to drain out of the bottom of the pot. This process should be performed twice.

The video below is a great tutorial on how you should water your orchid.



Allowing excess water to drain is very important as most orchids require a good circulation of air around the roots, which pockets of water can prevent. If this happens the roots will become soft, squidgy and pungent and start to rot (learn more about root rot here).

Fertilizer

Fertilizer provides your orchid with needed nutrients that help it to grow and remain healthy.

In the wild, orchids will get their nutrients from surrounding debris such as rotting leaves. Domestic orchids will receive traces of nutrition from rainwater you give to them (see above).

You should also supply your orchids with nutrients every time you water them by diluting a little fertilizer in the water.

Three of the most important nutrients an orchid needs are Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium and many orchid fertilizers are labelled using what is known as the NPK ratio; N for Nitrogen, P for Phosphorous and K for Potassium.

A good balanced orchid fertilizer, such as this one, has an NPK of 20-20-20, which basically means that the fertilizer contains 20% Nitrogen, 20% Phosphorous and 20% Potassium. The other 40% is made up of other elements, molecules and minerals.

A balanced fertilizer is ideal for most orchids, however a notable exception are orchids growing in fir bark potting media. These orchids will need a higher concentration of Nitrogen because the Nitrogen is also used by the bacteria that is decaying the bark. Therefore a 30-10-10 fertilizer is a better choice in this situation.

Only a very small amount of fertilizer needs to added to your water, so don’t go overboard – orchids have adapted to scavenging for whatever nutrients come their way.


Temperature

Most orchids will be live happily in normal household temperatures that are comfortable for humans, so don’t assume that you need to provide your orchids with the sub-tropical temperature it may have in the wild.

The only problems you might experience is if your orchid gets too cold during the winter nights (when the heating has been turned off). If you notice your orchid weakening at this time of year, you may have to increase the temperature of your home by leaving the heating on a little in the evening.

Temperatures that are too high can also damage your orchid although this is really only a problem if you live in a region with a particularly high climate. An average temperature of between 60 degees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit will cater for the needs of almost all orchids.

Humidity

The final factor to consider is humidity of the environment around your orchid.

Orchids take in water from the air through their leaves for the same reasons that water is needed to be sucked up through the roots.

Similar to the advice given above in the ‘Temperature’ section, most orchids will be fine in the average household, without the need for any additional humidity. Your orchid should be getting enough water from their roots.

Saying that, some orchid growers have had success by increasing the humidity levels around their orchid.

Humidity can be increased artificially by misting your orchid with a spray bottle or using a humidity tray.

Misting should be performed early in the day so that the majority of the water will have evaporated by night time. Droplets that remain on the orchid’s foliage for extended periods can result in rotting.

A humidity tray is simply a tray of water that sits below your orchid pot, increasing the humidity around your orchid as the water evaporates and rises. You can buy them from Amazon or other retailers or check out this page to learn how to construct your own humidity tray.