The Q&A Archives: orchid care

Question: How often should I water orchids in South Florida? Also how often should I feed or fertilize them?

Answer: How often should orchids be watered? This is a common question to which there is no one set answer. Watering frequency depends on such factors as pot size and type (plastic or clay), medium, location of the pot (hanging or bench), size of the plant in the pot, air circulation, shade levels, and general environment in the growing area. As a general rule, plants grown in small pots dry more rapidly than those grown in large pots, thus requiring water more frequently. Also plants grown in porous clay pots should receive water more often than those grown in plastic pots. When watering, saturate each pot so that moisture drains from the bottom of the pot and then do not water again until the surface of the medium becomes dry.

Fertilization is a controversial issue among orchid growers. Many debate the merits of inorganic and organic fertilizers and some even question the need for fertilizer. However, most growers use fertilizer and obtain excellent results. Research and experience have shown that if orchids are grown in tree fern, osmunda, peat, charcoal, or stone (which are slow to decompose or inert) a complete fertilizer with a 1-1-1 ratio should be used. However bark decomposes rapidly because it supports high populations of wood decaying microorganisms. These microbes do not injure plants but compete for available nitrogen; therefore, a 3-1-1 ratio fertilizer is recommended to compensate for this problem. Both 1-1-1 and 3-1-1 fertilizers are available in soluble, dry or slow release formulations. Fertilizers with the same basic ratio may be interchanged, but be sure to adjust for changes in concentration. For instance, a recommendation may be given in terms of 20-20-20, i.e. 1 or 1-1/2 tsp./gallon, but a 10-10-10 fertilizer may be all that is available. Use the 10-10-10, but keep in mind that this material is half as concentrated as 20-20-20 and compensate by using 2 to 3 tsp./gallon.
Soluble fertilizers are dissolved in water and applied in place of a normal watering. If 20-20-20 is used to fertilize orchids growing in osmunda, tree fern, charcoal, stone or peat, mix at the rate of 1 to 1-1/2 tsp./gallon of water. Plants grown in bark should be fertilized with a 30-10-10 or similar high nitrogen material at the same rate. Apply soluble fertilizers at monthly intervals.

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