When it comes to growing orchids another major topic is using Orchid Fertilizer. As usual the experts like to make this more complicated than it really is. I prefer to keep things as simple as possible. It’s alright for professional growers to mess about mixing their own special formulations of macro and micro nutrients and mixing this and that to be applied whenever there are two full moons on a Tuesday! Most of us just want to know how to feed our orchids easily, without killing them and with the chance of getting some nice blooms.
A Quick Guide To Fertilizer.
The two main groups of fertilizer commonly used are:
liquid fertilizer – comes as a ready mixed product ready to apply or as a powder or concentrate ready to dilute before application. A slight variation of this is to use a home made compost tea but take care to water it down to about one third strength for use on orchids.
Slow release fertilizer – usually in granules to mix in with your compost when you are repotting orchids or as pellets to place into the pot or ground beside the plant.
Slow release fertilizer is generally not recommended for use as an orchid fertilizer. It is sometimes ineffective with the growing medium we use for orchids and it is easier to manage liquid fertilizer applications.
Plant fertilizer in general will provide necessary elements for plant growth in different formulations. You will recognize most fertilizers with numbers in them like 10:10:10 or 20:10:20 etc. this just refers to the ratio of the three main nutrients N nitrogen, P phosphorus, K potassium, written as N P K and always in that order.
So a fertilizer with 10:10:10 NPK would contain 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium. Easy! By the way K for potassium is just the chemical symbol used by chemists.
What about this NPK?
N – Nitrogen…is important for strong growth of the leaves and stems. It gives plants lush green growth.
P – Phosphorus…is essential for root and flower development.
K – Potassium…helps the strength of the plant and enables chlorophyll production.
General plant fertilizers will also contain a range of other nutrients and minerals needed for a good healthy plant.
Orchid Fertilizer – what now?
The number one tip for feeding your orchids is… do not overfeed them! Orchids are very resourceful plants, they can survive without added fertilizer. However you want gorgeous orchids, so you should apply low rates of liquid fertilizer. I recommend using less than half the suggested rate of general type feeds. If you choose a specialist orchid fertilizer I would still reduce the rate a little perhaps by 20%.
Weakly – Weekly works for me. Apply low rates once a week while the plant is actively growing. Do not feed in the winter months, and about once a month water your orchid quite heavily without feed. This will flush the growing medium and help remove excess harmful salts that can build up over time.
General plant fertilizer vs Specialist Orchid Fertilizer.
General fertilizers used as recommended above will give good solid results. By using some specialist orchid fertilizers you can go that bit further and they can give some spectacular results. I would advise you to get the plant established and happy before trying out any specialist orchid feeds. You can also look into some organic choices that are available.
To sum up: keep it simple to start with, do not over feed, flush regularly, avoid urea and don’t worry too much about your NPK s!