How To Feed Your Orchids.

A. Introduction.

Two questions I am asked frequently are, “How do I feed my orchid?” or “How often should I feed my orchid”. In this article, I will address both these questions and provide you with a few tips on how to improve your orchid growth, flowering and health.

I will refer to a nutrient solution and not a fertiliser. Typically, a fertiliser refers to a product designed for use in the garden or soil and only contains a handful of nutrients, not enough to support orchid growth, flowering and health. In terms of orchid nutrition, fertilisers are incomplete and not the best option for you to use, to feed your orchids.

Scientists have determined that for all plants to grow, reproduce and keep healthy, they need a minimum of 16 nutrients. These are referred to as the 16 essential nutrients.

Plants are no different from humans. Just as you need a balanced diet to keep yourself healthy and well, so do your plants. Buying any old fertiliser from your local garden supply store may be one of the factors contributing to the reason why some of your orchids may not be growing or flowering that well, i.e. your orchid may not be receiving enough nutrients.

Most potting substrates used for growing orchids have little or no nutritional value and should not be relied upon to feed your orchids. The substrate primarily exists to allow the roots to anchor the plant, allow for gas exchange to occur and provide a domain for water to be "stored" for the roots to absorb. You have to introduce nutrients to the orchid via a nutrient solution that is added to the water and poured through the potting substrate so that orchid roots can absorb them.

Nutrients exist in the solution as positively or negatively charged ions. When they come into contact with the orchid root they are absorbed, stored by the velamen layer and released to root for transportation throughout the plant. Velamen is the white outer covering found on most orchid roots.

Please note: If you use organic amendments like fish emulsion, seaweed extract or blood and bone, they have to be broken down into positively and negatively charged ions by the biology that exists in the potting media, so that orchid roots can absorb the nutrients. Roots can’t absorb bits of fish and seaweed, etc.

 

B. Orchid Growth Phases.

In nature when it rains, water falling through the tree canopy or through the forest floor absorbs nutrients. As the water washes over the orchid roots, the nutrients in the water are absorbed by the orchid roots.

Two things I want to bring to your attention are:

  1. Every time it rains, orchids roots absorb nutrients from the rainwater.
  2. Nutrients dissolved in the rainwater exist in very dilute or minor quantities. 

Orchids are not gross feeders and using a nutrient solution that is too concentrated is detrimental for your orchid.

You as an orchid grower should try to replicate nature – feed your orchids a very weak nutrient solution every time you apply water.

The below recommendations are written with these points in mind, feeding a small amount of nutrient every time you water your orchids.

There are two approaches orchid growers use to feed there orchids:

  1. Use one fertiliser all year round.
  2. Use fertiliser to match the growing phase. Orchids and most plants have two phases, a growth phase and a blooming phase. Some orchids have a dormant phase.

I. Growth Phase (Vegetative Phase)

The growth phase is the time when orchids produce new stems, leaves or roots. The nutrient requirements call for large amounts of nitrogen (N) which the orchid uses to produce chlorophyll and is also a vital component of proteins, hormones, vitamins and enzymes.

It is during this stage that most of an orchid's growth occurs and will continue unless hindered by a change in its growing conditions, i.e. lack of nutrients, lack of water, subject to disease or a pest infestation, temperature stress, incorrect light levels, etc.

II. Blooming Phase (Reproductive Phase)

This is when an orchids energies are directed at reproducing, i.e. flower production.

During the blooming phase, nitrogen is no longer the main nutrient required by your orchids and you now need to feed your orchid more phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). This is because plant growth has slowed down and nitrogen is no longer required in large quantities.

Phosphorus is essential for seed germination, photosynthesis, protein formation, overall growth and metabolism, flower and fruit formation and potassium are essential for the formation of sugars, carbohydrates, proteins, cell division.  Phosphorus also adjusts water balance; improves stem rigidity and cold hardiness; enhances the colour and oil content of flowers.

III. Dormant Phase

Some orchids have a period when they require little or no water. During this phase follow the recommended cultural guidelines for the orchid. If you are applying any water during the dormant phase, then I would feed the orchid with a very weak nutrient solution at a dilution of 1ml product to 3 litres water.
 
 

C. Choosing a nutrient program.

Option 1. Use one nutrient solution all year round.

For this program, you can use a product that has a good balance of nutrients to support both leaf and flower production.

Products that are suitable for this are:

  1. Dyna-Gro Orchid-Pro 7-8-6
  2. Dyna-Gro GROW 7-9-5
  3. Bio Leaf Orchid Grow 15-2-9

 

Option 2. Using a nutrient solution to match the orchids growing phase.

For this program, you use two nutrient solutions, one for the growth phase and one for the blooming phase. Start with using a nutrient solution suited for the growth phase. As soon as an orchid shows signs of producing a flower, switch the nutrient solutions and use one that is suited for the blooming phase.

 

a. Growth Phase:

The nutrient solutions recommended for this stage are:

  1. Dyna-Gro GROW 7-9-5.
  2. Bio Leaf Orchid Grow 15-2-9.

 

b. Blooming Phase:

The nutrient solutions recommended for this stage are:

  1. Dyna-Gro BLOOM 3-12-6.
  2. Bio Leaf Orchid Bloom 10-3-14.
 
 

D. More options.

Option 1. Strengthen cell structure, improve pest and disease resistance, heat, cold and drought stress and assist with nutrient uptake. Use Pro-TeKt 0-0-3

Pro-TeKt is a supplement that supplies silicon and higher levels of potassium to build stronger plant cell walls. Pro-TeKt is a replacement for the silica normally found in soils and generally is not present in potting media.

Some of the benefits for including silicon with your Dyna-Gro Nutrient Solution are:

  • Assists with nutrient uptake, increase the rate of growth and develop stronger stems.
  • Helps support the weight of dense flowers.
  • Deposited in a hard, opalene form in the epidermis of leaves and stems which adds mechanical strength and supports a plant's natural defence against insects and fungal infection.
  • Helps plants become more tolerant to drought, heat and cold stress.
 
 
Option 2. Support flower development and photosynthesis by feeding additional magnesium, sulphur and phosphorus: Mag-Pro 2-15-4

Mag-Pro is the blossom booster for growers looking to maximize the beauty of there orchid flowers.

  • This unique plant supplement can be used with any Dyna-Gro Nutrient Solution as a blossom booster to help initiate flowering and develop large, vibrant, fragrant flowers.
  • Mag-Pro gives your orchids the ability to access the nutrients they need at the critical times of flower formation to ensure massive growth and aroma through increased production of essential oils, terpenes, and flavonoids.
  • Use Mag-Pro instead of a calcium/magnesium supplement because there is ample calcium in all Dyna-Gro Nutrient Solution formulas.
 
 
Option 3. Increase Root Growth and Mass: KLN Rooting Concentrate

K-L-N Concentrate is a root stimulating solution containing both (IBA) Indole-3-butyric acid and (NAA) 1-Napthaleneacetic acid hormones that stimulate the production of vigorous root development in all plants.

One of your objectives for growing orchids should be to cultivate a good, healthy root mass. It stands to reason that a healthy, vigorously growing root mass, forms a good foundation for growth and flowering. Roots are the main vehicle plants use to absorb water and nutrients.

One way to maintain and stimulate root growth is to use K-L-N once a month. Incorporate it with the Dyna-Gro Nutrition Solution of your choice. 

Use K-L-N Concentrate added to your Dyna-Gro Nutrient Solution once a month throughout the growing season. Do not use K-L-N Concentrate during periods of dormancy, or when flower initiation is desired.

 
 

Option 4. Improve growth and plant health with a seaweed drench.

A monthly root drench with seaweed concentrate supplies the nutrients that are missing from fertilisers plus a whole lot of the compounds that help to promote growth and health.

It is not uncommon to hear plant fanatics mention how seaweed has changed the well being of there plants.

Please note that seaweed is not a fertiliser it does not contain enough NPK to continuously support plant growth. It should be viewed as a tonic for plants, similar to the concept.

 
 

E. Conclusion.

Remember the above recommendations are not absolute. Experiment and find what works with your growing system. Compared to other plants, orchids grow slowly. It may take some time to see the results. 

Dyna-Gro has been developing and providing growers with products and information for over 34 years. Their products work and produce excellent results for growers all around the world.

NOTE:
Bio Leaf Orchid Fertiliser consists of 2 bottles, 1 bottle contains the A solution and 1 bottle contains the B solution. Mix 2 ml of each per 1 litre of water.

 


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