What should I use to feed my orchids? This is one of the many questions you may find yourself asking after acquiring a collection of these beautiful plants.
There are so many kinds of orchid food out there, which one is right for your plants? For those who live in countries that do not have factory manufactured fertilizers, there are bird droppings. In Cambodia, I used to buy packages of bat droppings and dilute it in a bucket of water so that I can dip the plants into the nutrient rich water.
But thank goodness, many countries produce or import fertilizers for orchids that are readily available from the hardware or the garden stores. Most fertilizers are made up of the three key nutrients that plants need: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K).
Orchids need other nutrients too, but the label on the fertilizer boxes usually indicate numbers that correspond to the three main nutrients listed here. Nitrogen helps the stem and the leaf to grow, phosphorus usually helps the roots system and flower, while the potassium can help plants to make chlorophyll, the green tissue that help the plant to capture sunlight.
You can find fertilizers with all combinations of numbers. They could have 10-10-10, meaning that all three nutrients are present in equal ratio or they could have various combinations. The important thing is to follow instruction that is written on the box or bag of fertilizer. If you water with the nutrient more frequently than what is written on the box, you should cut it down with more water, much the same way you would a recipe for cooking. Otherwise, stick to the same amount that is listed by the manufacturer on the label.
When should I feed my orchids? Some people choose to feed their orchids every week, with their normal watering while others prefer to feed once a month. I like to feed once a month. The fertilizer content would be diluted more for those who choose to water once a week. For instance, while the monthly feeding takes ½ spoon of fertilizer to 1 gallon of water, the weekly feeding may only be ¼ of fertilizer for one gallon of water.
It is usually good to give your orchids rest period, when plants can take some time off from flowering and growing. This is usually during the winter months. During the growing season, usually in the Spring, start to feed your orchids while in the winter months, November to January or February, you can refrain from feeding.
For people living in Asia, with orchids hanging outside under the trees, Spring happens at the start of the rainy season. With the coming of the rain, I start to fertilize the plants. Usually from June to November the monsoon rain would come. We had one to two hours of heavy rain follows by sun shine. By December, the orchids are in full blooms. Feeding can stop after all the blooms are gone and the flower stems are wilting. Clipping off the stem of the flower relieve the plant from having to use its energy to support the stem. With control feeding and regular care, watering when plants are dried will help to maintain your orchids year after year.