I have a soft spot for orchids. The first house plant I ever bought was a small Paphiopedilum Henryanum. It has a gorgeous dappled “slipper” flower and it’s still growing happily to this day. Though many people complain about trouble with growing orchids, I’ve always been fortunate that none of mine have died.
There’s a common misperception that orchids are difficult to grow, particularly when it comes to bringing them to flower, but the truth is that they’re actually quite adaptable and trouble-free as long as some basic conditions are met. They require nutrition, for example, when they’re growing (when new leaves and flower stalks start to appear) but will do very well with just watering during “dormancy”.
Orchids’ Nutrient Needs
Orchids are like any other plant in their need for 17 essential nutrients (listed below). Generally speaking, it’s safer to err on the side of too little than too much feeding. Orchids can happily survive for months without any extra nutrition and feed should only really be applied during growth and flowering, which occurs through the warmer months. When watering with feed added, it’s also important that you “flush” with fresh water on at least a monthly basis.
In the wild, orchids are mostly epiphytes or lithophytes, which means that they cling to tree branches or rocks for their support and get their nutrients from air and water. Rotten leaves, animal droppings and decomposing bark can also provide small amounts of nutrients.
Overfeeding can be detrimental to orchids. Whilst in extreme cases death can occur, the more likely result will be flimsy leaves, scant amounts of flowers and little to no growth. If you feel that you may be overfeeding, just flush the roots thoroughly with water and resume with a lighter regimen. In more extreme cases repotting will also help.
How to Pick the Best orchid Food
When you’re evaluating feed, you don’t need to worry too much about finding an ideal nutrient balance. Epiphytes will get hydrogen, carbon and oxygen from the air, for example, whilst many trace elements are found in normal tap water.
It is important, however, that you do go for orchid-specific feed. Many commercial plant feeds only contain nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK), which on their own aren’t ideal for maintaining plant health. If you do want to go for generic fertilizer then make sure that it has micronutrients added.
Our 5 “Best Orchid Food” Picks
All of the products listed here are readily available and inexpensive. I’ve linked through to respective Amazon pages where appropriate.
Baby Bio Orchid Food
Baby Bio is one of the better-known plant food brands and their standard NPK (5.3-2.2-0.85) orchid fertilizer is a good-quality, inexpensive go-to. If you just looking for an easy feeding solution then my advice is to pick up a few of these little pink bottles. The label advises to feed with every watering (which should be spaced out over at least weekly intervals) at a rate of 1 – 2 drops per half-litre/pint during the growing season.
If you really want a hands-off approach, you can also opt for Baby Bio Orchid, which will keep your plants well-fed over a period of a month. All you need to do is water.
Orchid Myst Spray
Though orchids have a reputation for being delicate and difficult-to-manage, they constitute one of the hardiest of all plant families. When you keep in mind that these beautifully-flowered perennials have variants on all major continents barring Antarctica, you get a good sense of their adaptability. One such adaptation that many overlook is the strong ability of orchids to absorb nutrients through their leaves as well as their roots.
The great thing about Orchid Mist Spray is that it is ready to use and contains trace micro-nutrients, along with growth enhancers and organic insect repellent. Many have reported success with this product where others have failed and one bottle will last for months, so there’s no need to worry about running out. Spraying should be done on both the foliage and the surface of the bark potting mix, where it will trickle down to the roots. Spraying should be done alongside normal regular watering.
It’s available in two sizes – 100ml and 300ml.
Miracle-Gro Orchid Spikes
This product is more widely used in the US but is also available online to UK buyers. The idea behind orchid “spikes” is a fantastic one and I expect more gardeners will be taking advantage of them in the future. All you need to do is split a single spike in half and pop both ends into your potting mix. They’ll sit there happily, feeding your orchids, for two months. As with all the mixes on this list, fertilizer should only be used during active growth.
The nutrient profile is a balanced ratio (10-10-10) of NPK, so if you’re after a feed with micronutrients added then you’re better off with something like Orchid Mist Spray. If, on the other hand, you only want to worry about watering (and not fertilizing) for the next two months, then spikes are the way to go! There are lots of glowing reviews from people whose orchids have sent up new flower stalks after the fertilizer spikes have been applied. There’s also a 6-month money back guarantee!
Orchid Focus (UK Only)
There are three different types of Orchid Focus feed and all contain the 14 essential nutrients that plants need. Ideally all three should be used together, with each being appropriate to a specific growing phase – growth and blooming. The feed is recommended by The Eric Young Orchid Foundation, one of the leading orchid nurseries in the UK. It comes in liquid form which needs to be diluted when watering.
Orchid Focus Bloom – Orchid Focus Bloom should be used in the leafy growth phase, when no flowering is occurring. It is high in nitrogen, the main nutrient required for maintaining and replenishing healthy foliage.
Orchid Focus Grow – As it is high in phosphorous and potassium, Orchid Focus Grow is meant to be used from the onset of flowering to encourage lush growth.
Orchid Focus Ultra – High in growth-promoting acids, Orchid Focus Ultra is meant to be used in conjunction with either of the previous two products.
Grow More Premium Orchid Feed (USA Only)
Grow More’s premium feed is urea-free (which can be damaging to orchid roots) and heavy on both nitrogen and potassium (NPK: 20-10-20), so will provide good nutrition through both the leafy growth and flowering phase. The 1.25 jar lasts for a long time and a measuring spoon is included.
Whilst this product is completely sufficient on its own, you can buy different types of feed in the Grow More range that are suited to specific stages of growth.
What are your thoughts?
So there you have it – our pick of the best orchid feeds on the market. What are your thoughts? Drop me an email with your own experiences.
But before you go, here’s one last tidbit of horticultural trivia: orchid flowers have what are called bilateral symmetry, which means that each half of the bloom is an exact mirror reflection. Happy growing!
Image Credit: Orchid by Chris Lyn