Orchids have a reputation as a houseplant that is difficult to grow and care for, but this isn’t always the case. Their care requires a different approach than many other houseplants but once you get used to what you need to do, the day-to-day care isn’t any more difficult. One of the key elements to get right when caring for this beautiful plant is getting the orchids fertilizer right. They are quite temperamental when it comes to fertilizer so it is important to find the right one for your orchid. Thankfully, there are lots of perfect orchid feed mixes available that can help with general feeding, orchids that are grown in different environments, and orchids that have specific health needs.
How to feed your orchid
Generally speaking, orchids do better with too little fertilizer than too much. An over-fertilized orchid can display wilting leaves especially if it is kept in a darker room, so if you notice this, it might be better to hold back on the orchids fertilizer a little.
In the wintertime (outside of the growing season), you should follow the fertilizer instructions to the letter. But in the growing season, many people follow a “weakly, weekly” approach to fertilizing their orchid. The directions you see on your fertilizer will give you the amount you should feed your plant once a month. During the growing season, many people instead choose to dilute to a quarter of the directed strength and feed it to their plants every week during their normal watering.
You should always fertilize your orchid at the same time as you water it because if you fertilize it while the plant is fully dry, this can cause the roots to burn. So in most cases, a soluble fertilizer is the best option for orchids. You should generally avoid leave-in or slow-release orchids fertilizer because you will need more precise control over their feeding schedule, as well as ensuring that the orchid is wet enough to feed without damage.
Orchids come in two different potting states: normal potting or orchids grown in some bark. For normally potted orchids, you should use a balanced fertilizer with all of the necessary nutrients and trace elements. In other words, you should look for 20-nitrogen 20-phosphate 20-soluble potash fertilizer.
When, however, your orchid is grown in bark, this can alter its nutritional needs. Specifically, they will naturally be receiving lower levels of nitrogen from the bark than they would from normal soil. For this reason, you should use an orchids fertilizer that is unbalanced in favour of higher nitrogen levels. This can be 30-10-10 or 15-5-5.
Other mixes can be used for specific situations. For example, a mix that is high in phosphate can help your orchid to bloom more readily.
Other orchid considerations
Unlike other plants, where leaf growth is the primary indicator of health, root growth is arguably the most important for orchids. In their natural environment, the orchid’s roots would be exposed to the sun (they may even engage in photosynthesis) so you should ensure that the roots are visible. A clear pot can help with this.
In terms of watering, this can depend on the type of orchid that you have. Many orchids need to be “flushed” so that the water reaches the roots properly (some even use a sink tap for this) but that doesn’t mean you should over-water your plant. Unlike many other plants, an orchid does not need to be watered every day. Once a week is usually more than sufficient. An over-watered orchid is likely to start wilting and look limp and unhealthy, in which case you should give it a week’s break from watering.
The amount of light your orchid will need will depend on the type that you choose. Some orchids require high levels of light whereas others prefer darker areas. You should always follow the plant care light guidelines specific to your orchid variety.
When it comes to temperature, this will also depend highly on the type of orchid you have. Some orchids thrive in cooler environments whereas others prefer higher levels of heat, and understanding these needs for your particular orchid will help you to make the best choice with where to place it. With that being said, most orchids will do just fine in an average heat.
Best orchid fertilizers available right now
1) J R Peter’s Jack’s Classic Orchid Food 30-10-10
Peter’s Orchid Food has been a mainstay in the orchid-growing world for decades. Many big orchid growers and cultivators recommend this orchids fertilizer above all others, and it is with good reason.
This mix is a 30-nitrogen 10-phosphate 10-soluble potash so is suitable for orchids grown in fir bark. And it is brilliant value for money. It comes in a dry mix that you dilute with water and a measuring spoon that you can use to make sure you get the mix just right. The directions are to use 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water, so this little pot is excellent value for money.
2) Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Orchid Foof 30-10-30
This is another 30-10-10 mix that is perfect for orchids grown in fir bark. Miracle-Gro is one of the biggest names in the plant world and all of their fertilizers are finely tuned and developed, with this orchids fertilizer being no different.
Because it is water-soluble, you can simply add it to your watering can so that you can feed your orchid at the same time as watering it. The instructions say to feed every two weeks during the growth period and every month during the rest period but you can use the dilution instructions to create your own preferred schedule if you would prefer the “weakly, weekly” approach.
3) Better Gro Orchid Plus Bloom Booster Fertilizer 11-35-15
This orchids fertilizer takes a different approach than many other fertilizers in that it is specifically formulated to encourage blooming. It is a common issue with orchids that they stop flowering and it can be difficult to encourage them to start again. This fertilizer is 11-nitrogen (urea-free) 35-phosphate 15-soluble potash. The higher levels of phosphate will encourage the orchid to flower and help it to produce bigger, brighter blooms.
It should be used at every 4th water, which is most often every 4 weeks. Some people choose to use this fertilizer for shorter periods until the plant starts blooming again before switching to a more balanced fertilizer, but it is always helpful to have it for situations where you do need to encourage blooming again.
4) J R Peters Jack’s Classic No. 1.5 20-20-20
When you are looking for a balanced fertilizer, this J R Peters mix has glowing reviews and is again a mainstay in the plant growing world. It is a 20-nitrogen 20-phosphate 20-soluble potash mix, along with other micronutrients, which will help your orchid with its general fertilization needs. Unlike the other more specialized orchids fertilizers that are designed for plants that are grown in fir bark or that aren’t blooming, this fertilizer is also suitable for general plant use. So if you are looking for a fertilizer that will work both with your orchids and with your other houseplants, this is a great option.
For orchids, specifically, this fertilizer is perfect because it is water-soluble which means that you can feed your orchid during watering (to prevent root burn) and it can be diluted precisely depending on what stage of the growing season your orchid is in.
5) Botanicare Cal-Mag Plus
Sometimes your orchid may need a little extra help because it has become deficient in certain nutrients. This orchids fertilizer is designed to correct some of the more common deficiencies to nurse your plant back to health.
It is a calcium, magnesium, and iron mix, all of which are nutrients that your orchid needs to be healthy. Signs of a calcium deficiency include growths that expand rapidly but then become necrotic (start to rot). Signs of a magnesium deficiency include a speckled pattern on the leaves, and signs of an iron deficiency include stunted new growth.
This mix is water-soluble so that you can include it in your watering schedule and it should be added to every other water until your orchid is thriving again.
The bottom line
Orchids are beautiful plants that can brighten up any home. Before buying an orchid, however, it is worth reminding yourself that these plants have different needs than other houseplants you may be familiar with. These differences include temperature, light, and watering considerations as well as feeding. Depending on the type of orchid you have, how it is planted, and its current health, you may need to use very specific orchids fertilizers with precise ratios of nitrogen, phosphate, and soluble potash. And if they are in ill health, it can be worth buying some feed that helps to address any deficiencies. Once you get into the best feeding routine with the perfect fertilizer, your orchid will thrive and you will be able to enjoy it as it grows and blooms.