Fertilizing orchids has always been a mystery for the novice orchid grower, but once you understand your orchids it is very easy, as I’ll show you below.
It’s no surprise that fertilizing orchids is confusing since manufacturers go out of their way to make it complex. First of all, they sell special containers labeled for orchids. Here is your first news flash – there is no such thing as orchid fertilizer, and I will prove it below.
Secondly, they sell products you don’t need, like this orchid plant food mist. Not only is misting not good for orchids, but they don’t need a foliar fertilizer. If you think that misting helps keep the humidity high, have a look at Increasing Humidity for Indoor Plants – What works and What Doesn’t. But even that does not bother me too much. What really ticks me off is the price they charge for these products – its criminal.
What is Orchid Fertilizer?
There is no such thing. Orchids use the same nutrients as all other plants – there are no mystery ingredients in orchid fertilizer.
Let’s have a look at the ingredients in Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist. It contains the following.
- Ammonium phosphate
- Potassium phosphate
- Potassium nitrate
Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist
Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with this fertilizer. It is a good product, and I use Miracle-Gro on my orchids – I just don’t use this product.
This product is a very dilute fertilizer with an NPK of 0.2-0.2-0.2. That is 0.2% nitrogen and nitrogen is the nutrient that plants need most, so it is also the nutrient you are paying for.
The bottle contains 236 ml. Of that 99.4% is water. The cost on Amazon is about $10 US. It is a bit cheaper if you buy multi-packs
Make Your Own Plant Food Mist
Assume you want to apply a foliar mist to your orchids and you are willing to make your own. What would it cost?
Miracle-Gro also sells a soluble tomato fertilizer (18-18-21) with the same NPK ratio, a 1-1-1. This product can be easily dissolved in water and you can make a 0.2-0.2-0.2 mixture.
Concerned about it being a tomato fertilizer? Don’t be – there is no such thing as a tomato fertilizer, except in the minds of marketing people. It has the same ingredients as all other fertilizer.
Cost of the Nitrogen in Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist
This product contains 0.2% nitrogen in 236 ml, which is 236 g. Each bottle contains 0.5 g nitrogen, at a cost of $10.
Cost of nitrogen in Tomato Fertilizer
The Miracle-Gro tomato fertilizer also costs $10 for 18% nitrogen, in a 680 g box.
The box of fertilizer contains (680 X 18%) 122 g of nitrogen and costs $10. So 0.5 g of nitrogen costs $0.04.
When you buy Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist you are paying $10 for $0.04 of nitrogen.
Make Your Own Fertilizer
Consider this. You could buy the soluble tomato fertilizer mentioned above and make your own spray. For $10, you can buy enough fertilizer to make 244 bottles of plant food mist. This is a savings of $2,430.00, not including shipping.
Does Foliar Feeding Work for Orchids?
Foliar feeding does work for specific situations, certain types of plants and for some of the micronutrients. It is a poor way to feed macronutrients to any plant, and the above plant food mist only supplies macronutrients. It is not a good choice for foliar feeding. You can find more about this topic in Foliar Feeding – Does It Work?
Orchids are special plants. Their leaves have a very thick waxy coating designed to keep moisture in. If moisture does not travel easily through the leaves, it becomes clear that a foliar feed won’t either. Orchids have few stomata, but contrary to what many believe, stomata are not the entry point for nutrients in a foliar spray. This takes place through micro-pores and it is unclear to me if orchids have these.
Foliar feed is not a good way to fertilize orchids. Apply fertilizer to the roots.
A Better Way to Fertilize Orchids
I like growing orchids on a solid media, like coco chunks, where they grow very well and are easy to water and fertilize. I fertilize while I water as shown in this video and I use whatever soluble fertilizer is on sale, provided it contains micronutrients.
If you prefer water culture, just add a small pinch of any soluble fertilizer into the water when you change it.
For complete orchid care, watch this set of 8 YouTube videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfo8JIjtkH0&list=PLq7hmpP9i05QQcIDQQb9RnNa4s62CrWms
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