Orchid care isn’t difficult if you know what the plants need. We will explain to you when and how to properly fertilize orchids at home.
Orchids, especially the moth orchid or phalaenopsis, are among the most popular indoor plants in Germany. Most of the commercially available varieties of the elegant exotic species are easy to care for and bloom. As with all potted plants, it is necessary to fertilize them regularly to promote flowering and healthy growth. But when fertilizing orchids you need a sure instinct and the right dosage.
Fertilize your orchids in the growth phase about every 14 days by enriching the immersion water with special orchid fertilizer. Anyone who is new to orchids and does not yet know the needs of their plants very well is well advised to use a commercially available mineral fertilizer. You should also use a liquid fertilizer so that the nutrients can be optimally distributed. If your orchid is taking a break, you should do the same with fertilizing.
What are the nutritional needs of orchids?
Orchids grow in their natural habitat as epiphytes or epiphytes. With their aerial roots, they draw nutrients from the rainwater and fog that constantly surrounds the host trees. The nutrient concentration dissolved in rainwater is relatively low but constantly available. Therefore, orchids are used to regularly being supplied with small doses of salts and trace elements such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, zinc, manganese, and a few more.
Recreating this continuous supply of nutrients at home is extremely difficult because the orchid substrate hardly provides the plant with food. Fortunately, however, only very exclusive orchid varieties require complex special treatment. The commercially available Phalaenopsis and Cattleya orchids or lady’s slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum) are very robust and therefore well suited for cultivation on the windowsill even when the humidity is low.
Which orchid fertilizer is the right one?
Always use a special orchid fertilizer to fertilize orchids. This is tailored to the needs of the jungle plants in terms of nutrient composition and concentration. Classic flowering plant fertilizer is dosed too high and house plant fertilizer does not have the right nutritional composition. Organic fertilizers are also not suitable for orchids, as their nutrients first have to be released by the microorganisms – and the biotic activity in the airy orchid substrate is too low for that.
It is, therefore, best to buy a commercially available mineral orchid fertilizer – you can use this all year round. If you want to fertilize your orchids even more precisely and know the needs of your plants well, you can also switch between nitrogen-based fertilizer (leaf growth) and phosphorus-based fertilizer (flower base), depending on the growth phase.
What do orchids need: liquid fertilizer or fertilizer sticks?
In pot culture, orchids do not grow in soil, but in a special, coarsely structured orchid substrate. This substrate usually consists of small pieces of wood or bark, which are often mixed with bast, coconut fibers, or sphagnum (peat moss). The coarse texture enables the orchids to hold on to their roots and meet their high oxygen requirements.
At the same time, it stores moisture from the irrigation water, which it gives back to the plant without the roots standing in the wet. Orchid roots that are exposed to permanent wetness rot and become useless for the plant. The large spaces in the substrate ensure good ventilation. These significant differences to normal potting soil explain why it makes the most sense to use liquid fertilizer when fertilizing orchids.
Fertilizer sticks and granular slow-release fertilizers cannot dissolve properly in an orchid substrate. The nutrient concentration around the rods or globules is very high, which can damage the sensitive aerial roots. Some of the fertilizer balls also fall through the coarse substrate and collect unused on the bottom of the pot. Liquid fertilizer, on the other hand, enables balanced dosage and even distribution of nutrients.
When and how often do you fertilize orchids?
A lot helps a lot is a fallacy when it comes to fertilizing orchids. The weak eaters are sensitive to excessive salt concentrations and many varieties cannot absorb the nutrients throughout the year. In principle, orchids are only fertilized regularly when they are growing. If the plant is just taking a break, which is the case with many species in winter, it does not need any additional nutrition. Only when a new leaf, a stem, or a flower umbel forms is fertilization because then the nutrient requirement is highest. In the growth phase, a liquid fertilizer administered every two weeks can support growth. When repotting your orchids, avoid fertilizing them for the first four to six weeks.
How are orchids properly fertilized?
If you want to take good care of your orchids, you can water them with low-calcium rainwater. Orchids are not watered with a pitcher but rather immersed in water with the entire root ball for several minutes. Then let them drain well and put them back in the planter. Orchids are optimally fertilized by simply enriching the immersion water with a dose of liquid orchid fertilizer about every 14 days during the growth phase. This fertilizer is weakly concentrated and optimally covers the nutritional requirements of exotic houseplants.
Nevertheless, you should tend to underdose the fertilizer, i.e. use a little less than indicated on the package. Make sure you fertilize regularly to come close to the nutrient supply in nature. This way your orchids will grow evenly, stay healthy and bloom abundantly. Tip: Do not just pour the water down the drain after diving, but use it to supply your other indoor plants or the potted plants on the terrace.
How do you recognize fertilization errors in orchids?
Many orchid species naturally take a break after intensive flowering. This can be of different lengths. During this time, the plants do not need any fertilizer. As soon as a new leaf or a shoot appears, the orchid should be supplied with extra nutrients again. If growth stagnates or the plant does not form new leaves for many months, this may be due to a lack of nutrients.
Then carefully and regularly add fertilizer to the irrigation water. If the undersides of the leaves of the orchid turn red, if it suffers from a phosphate deficiency, if the leaves turn yellow (not to be confused with the natural yellow color of a dying leaf), it does not receive enough nitrogen. Unnaturally light green leaves indicate a magnesium deficiency.
If the fertilizer overdoses, the salts are deposited as white crystals on the roots and the substrate. If the fertilizer concentration is too high, the aerial roots burn, which in the long term leads to the death of the plant. Overloading the roots is avoided by immersing the plants in fertilized water and rainwater alternately weekly. In this way, the excess fertilizer salts are regularly washed off the roots.