Probably one of the most frequently asked questions about orchid care by beginners is, “Do I need to feed my orchids?” The answer is yes.
Although it is possible for orchids to survive on water, air, and sunshine alone, there is no denying that well-fed orchid plants thrive more beautifully. They produce exquisite orchid flowers abundantly and more frequently and are obviously more resilient when attacked by plant diseases and pets.
Of course, there is the argument that orchids in the wild receive no fertilizer and yet they grow and bloom stunningly. Epiphytic orchids can get their vitamins and food from the air. That is also true.
However, we must take note that their natural habitat – for example, in a lush tropical rainforest or cloud forest up in the Andes – is much healthier and way more nutrient dense as opposed to a city setting or when you, say, take care of orchids in Los Angeles.
What Is the Best Orchid Fertilizer?
Orchid plants need to be fertilized regularly, especially during the growing season. Again, while adequate amounts of watering, ample amount of sunshine, and the nutrients in the air are all beneficial, an orchid fertilizer will help provide all the essential minerals, such as:
- Nitrogen (N) supports the growth of the orchid plant
- Phosphorous (P) encourages blooming of flowers
- Potassium (K) strengthens the new buds and flowers
An ideal orchid fertilizer would have an equal or balanced ratio of the above minerals plus other important trace minerals, including sulfur, iron, manganese, calcium boron, copper, zinc, magnesium, chlorine, and molybdenum.
Look for high-quality orchid fertilizers with the above nutrients but without urea, a type of nitrogen that, according to sources, can be damaging for your orchids and is not absorbed and processed by the orchid root directly. There is an ongoing debate among expert orchid growers debunking and supporting this as more scientific literature on the matter becomes available.
As we always say, doing your due diligence and researching about what’s best for your orchids is the best route to go. But beware, it can get confusing and you can drown in the conflicting opinions of orchid growers, orchid sellers, and orchid fertilizer manufacturers online.
How to Fertilize Your Orchid
If you want to keep it simple, we suggest you heed the advice of the American Orchid Society.
The ideal orchid fertilizer. The AOS recommends using a balanced orchid fertilizer with a 20-20-20 ratio of N, P, K and that has all the trace elements. However, orchid plants potted in bark prefer a higher nitrogen fertilizer is preferred (20-10-10). Whatever fertilizer you get, make sure it has little to no urea content as much as possible.
Stick to the weakly, weekly approach. Reduce the strength of your orchid fertilizer by combining it with water to ¼ potency. Spray it on the roots and leaves after you water your orchid plant. Remember, do not fertilize a dry orchid plant.
Do not over-fertilize. Orchids do better with little fertilizer than too much, which can burn their roots and leaves. Overfeeding can also make your orchids grow faster than they should, which can dampen their health, hinder their blooming, and make them vulnerable to diseases. If you’re using a synthetic fertilizer, salt deposits will also cake around the plant’s pot and potting medium.
Fertilize during the growing season and stop during orchid dormancy. When your orchid plant goes to a resting phase, reduce the amount of water and stop feeding it. According to orchid growing experts, this period of dormancy happens to orchids when temperatures drop come winter months. Dormancy in orchids may last anywhere from six to nine months.
Inorganic versus organic orchid fertilizer. Based on Taylor’s Guide to Orchids by Judy White, trying organic orchid fertilizers may have a couple of perks. For instance, orchids fed with organic fertilizers are reportedly less bugged by pests, compared to those fed with inorganic synthetic fertilizers. They are also visibly healthier and more robust against stress. However, organic orchid fertilizers aside from being a bit pricey if you buy them commercially are said to also take a longer amount of time before the nutrient becomes available for use by the orchid plant. This is because they need to be broken down by bacterial processes first.
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