With the number of fertilizers on the market, choosing the right fertilizer for your orchids can make your head spin! Don't get overwhelmed, proper nutrition doesn't need to be complicated.
Choosing the right fertilizer involves two things; 1) read the label and 2) using what you choose.
All fertilizers are not the same. Fortunately, manufacturers are required to follow a set of rules and when listing the chemical elements inside the package. Comparing fertilizers isn't difficult if you know how to read the label.
All fertilizers contain three main elements; Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P), and Potash(K). Fertilizer packages have three numbers on the front panel that describes what percentage of each element is in the fertilizer.
The first number is Nitrogen (N) - for growing leaves and stems. The second number is Phosphorus(P) - for flower production, and the third is Potash(K) - for stronger roots. This is often called the "NPK" ratio.
For example, if your fertilizer has 8-9-5 on the front panel, it contains 8% nitrogen, 9% Phosphorus, and 5% Potash.
Plants need 16 elements for healthy growth. Most fertilizers contain the three main elements (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potash), but skimp on the rest. Read the back panel - you should see 16 elements plants need for healthy growth.
If your fertilizer doesn't have 16 elements you're taking a hit-or-miss approach and your plants could be missing important minerals. (Even though some elements are listed in trace amounts, they're still important.) Look on the back of the package - what's in your fertilizer?
Unlike houseplants, orchids enjoy different seasons in their growing pattern (growing, blooming, and rest). Adjusting your nutrients to coincide with these changing seasons promotes optimum growth and brilliant blooms.
Orchids have internal calendars that determines each season. So don't try to force your plants to change their schedule - it won't work! The seasons vary with each type of orchid. Some bloom in summer, others prefer winter.
- Growing Season for Orchids
This is the longest and most important season. During the growing season your plants are busy building new leaves and developing the energy to flower. It's important that they get plenty of air, light, and water (the real food for growth) during this period.
Choose a balanced fertilizer, such as Dyna-Gro Grow 7-9-5 (7% nitrogen, 9% phosphorus, and 7% potash), for the growing season. Fertilizers are called a "balanced" when their numbers on the front of the package are nearly the same. Be sure to look on the back for 13 additional elements needed for robust growth. Then you have a "complete, balanced fertilizer".
- Blooming Season for Orchids
A new flower spike signals the start of the blooming season! (this what you've been waiting for!) Your plant has built up energy during its growing season and now it's ready to burst into bloom! It's time to change your fertilizer for bigger, better blooms.
Dyna-Gro Bloom 3-12-6 (3% nitrogen, 12% phosphorus, and 6% potash.) is perfect for this. Low nitrogen - high phosphorus. This is called a "Bloom Formula" that will encourage bigger, better blooms that last longer. It also contains all the trace elements making it a "complete, balanced fertilizer"
Important Note: BLOOM FERTILIZERS DON'T MAKE YOUR PLANTS BLOOM! Proper light and temperatures during the growing season create blooming cycles in orchids. Bloom fertilizers make the blooms bigger, brighter, and they last longer. Best time to switch to a "Bloom formula" is AFTER you see a flower spike.
- Resting Season for Orchids
After they have finished blooming, orchids take a well deserved rest. Some plants even go into a dormant period where they shed their leaves and all activity stops. Don't use any fertilizers at this point. Also, water sparingly - just enough to keep the plant alive. When new growth appears, a new "growing season" has begun and then it's time to begin applying nutrients again.
There are many different approaches to successfully growing orchids, especially when it comes to nutrients. Just ask any two "experienced" growers and you'll get two different answers - guaranteed.
The difference between Bloom Fertilizers and Bloom Boosters can be confusing for any beginner grower.
"Bloom Fertilizers" are designed to replace regular fertilizers when new flower spikes appear. "Bloom Fertilizers" are a complete group of nutrients that blended to enhance blooming - and they also contain all the elements for growth. For example, Dyna-Gro Bloom 3-12-6 has all 16 elements orchids need to grow.
"Bloom Boosters", on the other hand, are supplements that contain only those elements that will enhance flowering - and nothing else. They're designed to be added to an existing base fertilizer (such as Dyna-Gro Grow) for complete, balanced nutrition. Bloom Boosters contain only the elements for enhanced color, fragrance and blooms size.
For example, Dyna-Gro Mag-Pro 2-15-4 is a bloom booster (2% nitrogen, 15% phosphorus and 4% potash) and only two trace elements - magnesium and sulfur. It's designed to be added to a complete fertilizer such as Dyna-Gro Grow 7-9-5 for complete, balanced nutrition.
Which is better - switching to a "complete" Bloom formula or simply adding a "bloom booster" to your basic grow formula? That's up to you the grower.
Just remember, all of this nutrient business doesn't matter if your plants aren't getting the real food they need for growth; air, light, and water. And orchids need proper light and temperature to bloom - not more fertilizer.
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