In the plant world, there are arguably no other exotic flowers that are as diverse and beautiful as orchids. These complex beauties belong to the largest family of flowering plants in the world, with over 28,000 known species!
If you want to grow these colorful and fragrant flowers either in your garden or your home, you’ll need to provide them with supplemental nutrients to optimize their growth. But the question is, what are the best orchid fertilizers and when should you use them? Let’s explore all your options right here.
Best Fertilizer for Orchids
There are no less than 13 nutrients that orchids need to produce those all-important exquisite flowers and luscious foliage. The three most important nutrients are nitrogen for leaf growth, phosphorus for healthy roots and bud development, and potassium to deal with environmental changes (such as pests and climate) and for maintaining overall health.
Orchid Plant Food Nutrients
All orchid fertilizers are labeled with an N-P-K ratio. This is an indicator of the amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) that is contained in the product. Since each of these nutrient elements is responsible for a different area of the development of an orchid, it is worth considering why you are purchasing an orchid fertilizer and at what stage of development your orchid is currently at. For example, orchids need high potassium formulas during flower development and in full bloom and high nitrogen formulas after flowers have fallen off when in growth stages.
In addition to nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium check the orchid food ingredient list for the inclusion of calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. A good fertilizer will provide a range of nutrients that are essential for cell division, respiration, and growth.
orchid fertilizer 20-20-20
An orchid fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 20-20-20 will provide a balance of nutrients for terrestrial orchids but is not sustainable for epiphytic orchids that are planted in a non-soil-based planting medium such as bark. This is because bark lacks the nitrogen that occurs naturally in soil. Put simply, if you are growing orchids in anything other than soil, opt for an orchid food with a higher ratio of nitrogen. Only use an orchid fertilizer 20 20 20 if you know your orchid is one of the 200 terrestrial varieties that grow perfectly well in soil.
What Kind Of Fertilizer Is Available To Buy?
Fertilizer for orchids is available in a range of formats, each offering different methods by which it can be administered. The most popular options are concentrated liquids or water-soluble granules that can be added to water. The added advantage of adding the orchid food to water is you can water your orchids at the same time as feeding them.
Plant food spikes are an alternative method of feeding your orchids and offer a mess-free and slow-release option. They can be inserted directly into the planting medium so there is no mixing or measuring involved. The spikes break down gradually and are effective from 2 to 9 months. These are a great option if you have kids or pets because they are buried out of sight and out of reach.
Best Orchid Fertilizer Reviews
We’ve taken a headfirst dive into the market to seek out the best orchid food available. Emphasis and consideration have been given to the quality of the fertilizer nutrient balance, results and ease of use. As well as our own in house expert opinions, customer reviews across many major online platforms and growers forums has been taken into account in order to represent overall customer satisfaction with the products that have been reviewed.
The beauty of this fertilizer is it doesn’t need diluting and it comes in a handy spray bottle that makes it easy to dispense directly to the roots, potting medium, and leaves (yes, the leaves!) of your plant. It’s a great way to get nutrients and moisture to your orchids straightaway.
I used this on a couple of sorry-looking phalaenopsis orchid that hadn’t bloomed in a while. I must admit I was skeptical about spraying this orchid food on the leaves knowing how prone to burning orchid leaves can be but I needn’t have worried. The results were quick and impressive and didn’t harm the leaves at all.
One word of caution: Do adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations of avoiding spraying this on your orchid flowers. I started out with a laissez-faire approach to misting with this stuff and sadly, I lost a few blooms along the way.
How to use: Spray your orchids weekly throughout the growing season and water in between feeds. The spray action creates a fine mist that moisturizes the leaves and roots. It’s a quick and easy way of boosting nutrient intake directly to the plant and the potting mix. I was impressed that my orchids didn’t need any supplementary feeding.
Customer reviews: the results were quick and impressive with new growth appearing within a couple of weeks. This is ideal for reviving neglected orchids quickly especially the terrestrial variety that don’t need high doses of nitrogen.
- Adds moisture and nutrients instantly
- Good for terrestrial orchids
- No need to dilute
- Can damage orchid blooms if accidentally misted
If your orchid hasn’t bloomed in a while and seems in need of a pick-me-up to encourage new growth, then let me recommend this orchid food by The Sun Bulb Company. Not only does this fertilizer promote the development of new buds, it also enhances the vibrancy and longevity of your orchids’ blooms due to the high phosphorus content.
I use this on my epiphytic ochids throughout the growing season to help replace those nutrients that are missing from a soil-less growing environment. The results are strong healthy growth and bigger blooms so it is no wonder this product has secured a place in our list of the best fertilizer for orchids.
How to use: Mix the granular formula with water monthly throughout the growing season. I find that it dilutes quickly and easily, making it super convenient for me to then give both the foliage and the bark of my orchids a good soak.
Customer reviews: mature plants put out bigger and brighter blooms and users were impressed with how quickly new growth developed after a short time of using. Stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations on how often and how much to use this fertilizer as it could be harsh if over-used.
- Great for stimulating new growth quickly
- Produces long-lasting and healthy flowers
- Harsh if overused
Now for an organic variety of orchid fertilizer and this product from Earthworm Technologies does not disappoint. 100% sustainable, plus pet, child, and eco-friendly and they come in handy, no-mess capsule form. These are not only good for the environment they will also boost root growth and increase foliage and flowers and all in a totally natural way.
This US manufacturer is all about the careful balance of natural ingredients and unlike some organic fertilizer for orchids, this one has no smell and can be used to feed many other terrestrial & epiphytic plants, as well as your orchids.
How to use: Place the required amount of Earthpods fertilizer capsules directly into the potting medium of your orchid or separate the capsule and sprinkle the contents onto the bark substrate of your orchid. Repeat every 14-21 days and water in between feeds.
Customer reviews: this fertilizer is a gentle, slow-release option that is chemical-free and therefore suitable even for young or tender plants. Some of our reviewers felt that this was an expensive fertilizing option especially for mature plants that required more than one capsule per feed.
- Contains 100% natural ingredients
- Need more than one capsule to feed medium to large orchids
Next up is an organic liquid orchid food from an old favourite of mine Espoma. This company just seem to get the balance of organic ingredients right and still manage to charge a fair price. It’s a brand I go back to time and time again. The high phosphorous ratio in this formula means you can expect your orchids to grow with greater vigour, to last for longer and to maintain a vibrant colour whilst in bloom.
How to use: The easy-pour cap means that feeding your orchids is easy and mess-free. Simply tip the bottle upside down to cleverly dispense the exact quantity needed to mix with 1 gallon of water. The solution dilutes instantly and is ready to pour onto the bark of your orchid.
I like to give the bark of my orchids a good soak with water before feeding and I always make sure that all the fertilizer liquid has drained off completely before returning the orchid to its ornamental pot. Repeat every 3-4 weeks and Hey presto! Your orchids will be blooming in no time.
Customer reviews: read the instructions on the bottle to avoid any spillages with the newly designed cap dispenser. Some reviewers were put off by the smell of this product. Hey, that’s nature for you.
- Free from harmful chemicals making it safe for use around children and pets
- Handy lid dispenser makes fertilizing mess-free
Top Tips For Selecting The Right Orchid Feed
- When buying fertilizer for orchids, read the label and look for the following ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Always avoid products that contain urea. This is because the nitrogen that is contained in urea needs soil organisms to convert it into an absorbable form for plants. Typically, tropical orchids don’t grow in soil and so the inclusion of urea is ineffective.
- A specialist orchid fertilizer is best or a watered-down or weakened house plant fertilizer used weekly during the growing season will be more beneficial than a high dosage used once per month. This is because orchids can be highly sensitive to fertilizer and too much fertilizer will burn the roots. Your orchid will thank you for being fertilized regularly but lightly.
How to Fertilize Orchids
Step 1. Remove your plant from its ornamental pot and place the plastic orchid pot in your sink or a bucket. Before applying the 10-30-20 or an equivalent fertilizer to your orchid, mix it with an equal amount of water at half strength for outdoor orchids. For indoor orchids, mix a quarter teaspoon of fertilizer with a gallon of water.
Step 2. Prepare your orchid fertilizer as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Most water-soluble orchid fertilizers require 1/2 to 1 tsp of granules to 1 gallon of water or 1/2 to 1 cap of liquid concentrate to 1 gallon of water. Remember, it’s always better to under-fertilize so use sparingly.
Step 3. Before fertilizing, give the orchid’s bark a thorough soaking with water.
Step 4. Using a watering can, slowly pour your fertilizing solution as close to the orchid’s bark as possible. Make sure you don’t get any of the fertilizer on the orchid’s foliage so as to avoid issues with mold or fungus growing on the leaves.
Step 5. After applying the fertilizer, let the orchid drain thoroughly. The last thing you want is for your beloved orchid to sit in a pool of fertilizer. Allow 3 or 4 minutes for the plant to drain before returning it to its decorative container.
Step 6. Don’t water your orchid on fertilizing days as the fertilizer is already mixed with water. An over-watered orchid will not survive for long!
Orchids do need a supplementary boost of nutrients and so it is best to fertilize using this method on a regular basis. A word of caution though, orchids are prone to damage due to a build-up of sodium both from fertilizing products and water. To flush out any build-up of this potentially harmful mineral you can replace the fertilizing solution with water alone once every fourth feed.
How Often to Give Your Orchid Food?
As a general rule, feed your orchid weekly during the active growth seasons (spring and summer) using the method above and once a month during resting seasons (fall and winter).
the Best Time to Give Your Orchid Food?
Fertilizing is most effective right after you have submerged or thoroughly watered the bark of your orchid. Once the bark is wet, you can pour the fertilizing solution over the wet bark and allow it to run off before returning it to its ornamental pot. This will allow the slightly expanded bark and roots to absorb enough fertilizer without saturation.
When to Fertilize Orchids When Blooming?
Most orchid varieties bloom once or twice per year. Their delicate flowers are sensitive to fertilizers, especially during the budding and flowering stage. When the plant is producing blooms, you should reduce the amount of fertilizer by applying at a rate of 1 quarter strength (1/4 teaspoon per one gallon of water). Fertilize budding orchids once every 3 to 4 weeks throughout the blooming season.
Should I Be Fertilizing Orchids in Winter?
This depends on the variety of orchids you are growing. For example, Phalaenopsis orchids grow all year round so you must continue feeding them throughout the winter months. However, the dosage of fertilizer you apply should be reduced. Since in winter, the weather is colder and there is less sunlight to encourage foliage and root growth, your orchid will grow more slowly and therefore require fewer nutrients. Reduce the fertilizing frequency to every 4 weeks during the winter months and feed at half strength.
Best Orchid Fertilizers Final Thoughts
It’s fair to say that orchids are delicate and complex in nature and require just a little care and attention. However, with just a little bit of know-how about the best orchid fertilizer to choose and how and when to use it, your orchids will flourish and thrive year-long.