Fertilizing Orchids

Do orchids need fertilizer?

updated 3/8/17

IMG_1476Orchids love orchid fertilizer, year round, because they like the extra nutrients to let them grow that they would normally get in nature (check out my post on orchids growing in nature). Fertilizer is also a good tool because even the best mix breaks down over time and you want to make sure your orchids are getting enough nutrients. This extra nutrients allows for your orchids to grow bigger blooms, healthier roots and sturdier leaves. Keep in mind that orchids do not require very much fertilizer. I recommend a diluted amount (or a time release formula) on a regular basis for optimal orchid care.

When purchasing fertilizer make sure it’s specifically orchid fertilizer. Orchids require special orchid fertilizer and mix. You should not use normal houseplant fertilizer.

Note: if you only have one or two orchids and don’t have fertilizer it’s ok – your orchids will be fine without it. Fertilizer helps boost already healthy orchids. It’s a helpful tool but not necessary for the survival of an orchid.

My fertilizing methods – there are many types of orchid fertilizer below are the two I like the best.

I use two different methods. The first method is what I use for my orchids and the second is what I use when I give orchids away to friends (because it is easier).

Method #1 – liquid fertilizer 

IMG_1480I use FEED ME! MSU Orchid Fertilizer – the famous fertilizer studied at Michigan State University.

photo copyright rePotme.com from this page

You can buy this at www.rePotme.com. You will want to mix liquid FEED ME at 1 oz/gallon in the fall/winter and 1.5 oz/gallon in the spring and summer (50% more increase in the spring/summer is because orchids are in their most active growth season and need more strength). You do not have to use the batch right away, it will last and can be used the next time if you don’t use it all at once. I normally just mix it in a gallon jug of water and store it in my cupboard.

Even if you don’t use this fertilizer make sure you increase whatever fertilizer you use in the spring and summer, because this is the active growth season for orchids.

Here is what I do;

1. Water orchids first! As stated in my previous post on watering orchids – the easiest way to water an orchid is to take it to the kitchen sink and flood it with water. The water will run right through the pot as most orchids are potted in free-draining mixes/pots. (Make sure your orchid has a drainage hole in the bottom, if not click on my post READ THIS FIRST because you are in trouble!!) Walk away for a few minutes, come back and flood it again with FERTILIZER. Resist the temptation to water it too frequently, orchids hate that. There is no set schedule for watering so make sure you do the pencil check (stated in how to water blog) just in case!

2. Fertilize 3 out of every 4 times. On the 4th time, you should only water, which flushes out any salts that can build up in the mix. So on the 4th time… flush with water. Wait five minutes. Flush with water again.

If you are wondering how much fertilizer to use remember that when in doubt, too little is better than too much. Don’t try to make up for not fertilizing by giving a hefty amount all at once. Too much fertilizer can actually burn the roots.

Method #2 – granular time release fertilizer

IMG_1481I just acquired FEED ME! in granular form, which is a time release plant food. This is a simple and gentle way to feed your orchids and house plants. It works over 4 months at temperatures of 70° F and above. photo copyright rePotme.com from this page

One of the main causes of “root burn” is over fertilization. Even using conventional fertilizer may cause root burn because too much fertilizer can reach the roots at one time. Time release fertilizers virtually eliminate this problem because it has a high tech capability to control the release of nutrients to insure the plants are not exposed to too much at one time.

Granular fertilizer has its place, in lieu of liquid fertilizer, when you don’t have the option of regular watering and/or you just want an easier option. And it is helpful for me when I am giving plants away to insure that their new owner is fertilizing them.

Here is what to do…..

1. Apply, as directed, evenly around the pot rim. Do not apply directly to plant stems, leaves or flowers.

2. Water as normal.

3. Don’t apply to recently repotted orchids or week/root damaged orchids until two weeks after new root activity has been observed. Hope that helps,

Hannah

And email me at myfirstorchid@gmail.com if you have further questions.

36 Comments on “Fertilizing Orchids

  1. Hannah,

    I am sure you hear this quite often but the ability to share such extensive knowledge on how to properly care for orchids in manner that is not just simple and easy to follow but interesting and exciting is remarkable and such a life saver for so many of us “first timers” that I just can’t thank you enough! What makes your page unique and sets it apart from all the others (at least for me) are the photos you share. They help illustrate and really show the “how to” part of caring for these beautiful plants. And being able to see how something is done vs reading about it gives me a sense of reassurance that I am following the instructions correctly. Learning how YOU care for your OWN orchid plants definetly adds value to the information you share because it’s something you are invested in. So to sum it all up- Thank you! I am so glad I found you page since my husband came home with a Phalaenopsis orchid last month for Mother’s Day and I really want to treasure this plant. I’ve always loved orchids but didn’t have the courage to get one because I saw an old roommate go through 4 different orchid plants in a matter of years and I feared that caring for them was something only the green thumb elite could do. I took some pictures I would like to share, it’s been 30 days since he brought the plant home and I’d been following the instructions that came on the store tag (3 ice cubes/week). I can see a flower “bulb” had started to open as if to bloom a new flower but it’s been 3 weeks and it does not appear to have had much progress. I purchased fertilizer and want to start the “weak & weekly” watering since yesterday was the 1st day of summer but am hesitant as I read elsewhere to never add fertilizer “mid- bloom” while other sites said to “fertilize” heavier during summer months. What is your advice on this?

    Thank you again and I look forward to hearing from you!

    • Hi,

      What an an amazingly sweet compliment! Thank you so much.

      You can send your pictures to myfirstorchid@gmail.com and I would be happy to take a look.

      I fertilize my plants all year long. I cut back on their fertilizing during bloom season but I still fertilize them.

      Hannah

  2. Hi Hannah, thank you so much for this blog! I learned a lot through it for my very first orchid, and you’re so helpful with replying all the comments too! I was wondering what your opinions are on self-made fertiliser, or things that are supposed to give plants a boost e.g. rice water or used tea leaves? Thank you!

  3. Good Morning Hannah,

    I am starting to fertilize my orchid, but I’m not sure how much of the gallon of water/fertilizer mix I am supposed to use each time I water? I’m not supposed to use the whole gallon each time I fertilize right?
    Sorry this may be a stupid question, but I’ve come so far, & don’t want to kill him now! 😦 ha ha.
    Also am I supposed to fertilize every time I water? or just every 2 weeks or once a week?

    Thanks,
    Bernadet

    • Hi,

      It depends on what type of fertilizer you use. You don’t need a whole gallon for one orchid. I mix up a gallon because I have a lot of orchids. They way I do it is to water it normally and then pour some of the liquid fertilizer in and let it drain. Just enough to pour out the bottom.

      If you have one orchid maybe mix up only like a cup or so depending how big it is.

      I water/fertilizer for three times in a row and then the fourth time I only water to flush out any extra fertilizer build up.

      Hannah

  4. Hey Hannah ,

    I was just wondering if you ever use mycorrhizae
    In your orchid plants mix. I was reading a very interesting thing about orchids being one of the only plants that will be “parasitic” and eat the mycorrhizae since some of them don’t use photosynthesis. Anyways orchids are awesome as well as fungus!

    – Joe

  5. I have a couple questions about my 2 orchids they are I’m pretty sure the one that starts with a (P). 🙂 My first question is the one leaf on my orchid has a large black patch on it.. it’s had this for some time.. I’m not sure if I should leave it or cut it off, it did have blooms last summer. My next question is the one orchid has had a new leaf growth for a while now, will it still bloom this spring or summer? I haven’t had them both flower since last summe. Final questioni have been doing the watering the way you suggest and have started misting the leaves and pot with miracle grow fertilizer for orchids every week. Is this ok to use? Thank you in advance

    • Hi,

      I would never cut an orchid leave off unless it’s totally rotting.

      I can’t tell you when it will bloom unless I knew your orchid better.

      Never spray fertilizer on the orchid leaves or flowers because it can burn them. You can spray them on the mix surrounding the orchid.

      Hannah

  6. Recently i purchased paleanopsis seedling with only two leaves, it was in good condition but after repoting i noticed that leaves developed musky discoloration. I usally kept my plant exposed to sunlight for 4 hr and watering once a week. I suspect expossure to sunlight may be the cause??? Please tell me more about sun burn to plant.
    Thank you
    Kaling

  7. Hi!
    I got an Phalaenopsis orchid a couple month back (which after it lost its blooms i thought was dying, but now, thanks to your blog, i realize it isnt and have cut it back) and recently brought another for myself. I also got Miracle-gro orchid plant food mist which is 0.02-0.02-0.02, and it says to lightly spray leaves, roots and growing media once per week, is this okay? or should i only spray the growing media (the moss it’s growing in)?
    Thanks in advance,
    Rachel

  8. I’m still confused on when I should put fertilizer. I have a phal and she is currently blooming.

    • Liza,

      I fertilize year round but with a water based fertilizer. I increase fertilizer in the summer when orchids are in actively growing new leaves and new roots. If you just bought your orchid and it’s in bloom now then it’s actually off cycle. But once the blooms fall you can follow the same routine I do.

      The other fertilizer I use when I give away plants is the one you sprinkle on the top of the mix and that last for a year so you only need to do that and then water like normal.

      Does that makes sense,

      Hannah

    • I’ve also noted on some of the orchid sites that the N-P-K ratio differs when the orchid is blooming versus when it is working on new roots, shoots, and leaves. So from that I get that you fertilize year round but the N-P-K ratios are different depending on what phase your orchid is in.

  9. Hi Hannah I just discovered your site and it’s so helpful. I like the trick re: water it in the kitchen sink! However, if im adding fertilizer and the water + fertilizer mix drains out from the holes on the bottom of the pot, wouldn’t that “waste” the fertilizer since it drains out? Am I thinking about this the wrong way?

    • Lana,

      That’s a good question! My fertilizer is mixed with water and the instructions say to use it just like when your watering. I guess it would depend on your fertilizer. But if you have good mix then fertilizer is only giving it a bump… I say to follow the directions on whatever one you decide to use. Just make sure it’s for orchids only.

      Hope that helps,

      Hannah

  10. I have two phalaenopsis orchids which were sold as “ice orchids”. The instructions are to put three ice cubes on the top of the potting medium of each plant once a week. I’d never ever seen this before in the years I raised orchids (raised mine in a shade tree when I lived in FL). They are doing well – growing MANY spikes. One had a spray of blooms on it when I got it; the blooms lasted for months!

  11. This question relates to the bloom/grow cycle of orchids and increasing/decreasing fertilizer accordingly. I can now buy blooming orchids almost year round here in southeast Michigan. I just bought two phals in great bloom and it’s mid-October. So how does one know what the growing vs blooming season is? Or does it not matter any more? Just increase fertilizer dilution when blooming and decrease when growing new leaves? Or use spike production as an indicator regardless of time of year? Or will all these “forced” orchids eventually return to a regular cycle as described in your blog?

    • Allison,

      Hi! Yes the forced orchids will eventually bloom regularly on a normal cycle probably a year after you have them.

      I fertilize mine based on the Midwestern cycle – summer / more winter / less. They need more fertilizer when they are out of bloom so you could do that and wait for them to catch up. Once you have had them all for awhile it will even out and you can do them all the same.

      Does that make sense?

      Hannah

  12. I’d like to fertilize “weakly, weekly” but what is weak? I have orchid fertilizer (no urea!) that recommends 1 Tablespoon/1 gallon water. What would weakly be? Half a Tbl/gallon, or one quarter Tbl/gallon? Thanks. BTW, this is a orchid I got as a gift. Following your advice, after 2 years she is now blooming, 5 blooms! Thanks again!

    • Hi,

      I would love to help. Weakly means that you don’t use a lot of the solution. You follow the directions of the mix but you just don’t use a lot of the mix.

      The way I do it – I wait to water till it’s dry and then I water it in the sink. Then I pour some of my solution over it.

      Actually I don’t water it every week. This was a common thing I did before but now I wait longer. I may change this on the blog today.

      Does this make sense,

      Hannah

  13. Hi Hannah,

    Have you ever used a product called Quantum? It is not a substitute for fertilizer, but is a Vitamin C supplement. I use it when my orchid has droopy, wrinkled leaves. It really helps them perk up!
    I’d like to know if you have heard anything about it, or if you have used it yourself.

    Thanks in advance,

    Michele

  14. Hi Hannah, thank you so much for all your advice on this blog! I absolutely love orchids, however, am terrible with plants… I received a Phalaenopsis orchid as a gift last week. It came from a florist and had 5 blooms, 1 other bud has bloomed since. The women at the flower shop instructed me not to fertilize it until all of the blooms have dropped and after I have cut it back (she also said no fertilizer was used in the store). What would you suggest I do? I wonder if I should wait until it has come into it’s natural cycle in the future to fertilize?
    Thanks in advanced!

    Kelly

    • Kelly,

      Hi:) and thank you for the nice comments!!

      I learned the majority of my information through the helpful man at http://www.repotme.com and local growers here.

      1. You said your bad at growing things. Good lord, so was I when I started this!!! Orchids are very hardy and pretty hard to kill. People think they are finicky but honestly the worse thing you can do to them is overwater and/or put them in direct HOT sunlight.

      That being said the majority of time people get orchids, there is no way to tell how they were treated before and many people think they are doing something wrong because their orchids are suffering – when in reality they were treated poorly by being shipped all over the country etc.

      2. Fertilizing. I fertilize with the repotme fertilizer year round. In bloom and out. I dilute the fertilizer (as instructed by their labels) in the blooming season.

      I can’t tell you the information you got was wrong because people grow orchids differently. I can tell you what works for me and the growers here (St. Louis) – we fertilize (in a weaker format) while our orchids are blooming.

      It’s really up to you. If orchids are repotted (getting fresh nutrients from new soil) they will bloom regardless of fertilizer. All fertilizer does it give extra nutrients to the plants and potentially bigger and brighter leaves, roots and blooms.

      So either way just make sure your watering properly and repot it when it looses its last bloom (unless that grower had just repotted it before you go it then maybe wait a year) and you should be fine.

      The only time fertilizer can be harmful is if its super rich and put directly on the plant. In this case it could “burn” it. I always just mix mine and put it on the mix not the orchid. This is why I use the fertilizer that is mixed with water because it pours through the plant instead of the ones that you sprinkle in. If you use the ones that you sprinkle in put it on the outside rim of the pot – not near the roots or base of plant.

      When I am giving orchids away to friends I use the sprinkle kind because they don’t have access to he repotme one and therefore I know it will be fertilize gradually upon water hitting those beads.

      Hope that makes sense.. Message me back if you have further questions,

      Hannah

  15. I’m using Miracle-Gro Houseplant Food Spikes – Feeds up to 60 days! It’s slow release, plant is in bloom, it’s 6-12-6, I’m just following instructions, I have a friend that has two Phals and one unknown monodapdial, he says to just follow instructions, his orchids are both in bloom (it’s early spring in Canada) so I suppose it’s okay, but is it?
    Thanks!

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