The Q&A Archives: Orchids

Question: Can you recommend a good, easy to use orchid fertilizer? I have dendrobian, phalaenopsis and Encyclia cochleata, or octopus orchid. They have all been thriving and re-blooming without fertilizer for over 1 year, but the octopus is yellowing, even on new leaves. It is not too cold or over-watered. I will re-pot soon, but believe a bit of fertilizer may be in order for all of them.

Answer: In their native habitat, orchids scavenge nutrients from whatever happens to be nearby: decomposing leaves, bird or animal droppings, or minerals borne in rainwater. You can help your orchid to grow faster and bloom sooner by feeding it the right fertilizers. Look for products that contain nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), along with trace elements such as iron. Potassium (K) is mainly responsible for the control of flower, and fruit development. Phosphorous (P) for flower production, and Nitrogen (N) for healthy vegetative growth. The amount of feeding depends on the plant concerned, the time of year and general health of the plant. Investigations have shown that feeding should begin with more Nitrogen just when the new shoots are showing, more Phosphorous and Potassium being necessary towards the end of the season. Orchids growing in bark need more nitrogen than either phosphorus or potassium (in proportions of 30-10-10). This is because the bark is decayed by bacteria that use a large amount of nitrogen, leaving very little for the plant. With that said, you can purchase a special water soluable Orchid Fertilizer in your garden center or you can simply use a regular houseplant fertilizer such as Miracle Gro, Peter's or Shultz's. Just remember to dilute it to half strength for your orchids. Best wishes with your orchids!

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