Saturday, September 13, 2014

Facts and Fictions in Fertilizing Orchids

Now you just brought some orchids for your house and they're your pride and joy. Large flowers, beautiful set of leaves. You gave them the care you thought they deserve. That's right, you have heard some so-called “tips” on how to fertilize your orchids. “I saw some articles on the Internet, Hey! My grandmother does this, my mother does that, so why will it not be effective?” Then, after just a few months, your orchids are dying, pest and disease has taken its toll. What the hell just happened?

We have been doing a lot of things in orchid cultivation, and propagation that we thought to be Ok, something that we have learned by words of mouth, or by tradition that may, instead of doing good, may even harm our plant. This article is about some of those myths concerning the traditional method of fertilizing an orchid, the harm that it does.

It’s not a parasite
The first myth about orchids is about it being a parasite. Now, since we believed that they live parasitically in trees, we assume that orchids extract their nutrients on walls and artificial branches where they grow. The fact is that orchids are not parasites. They may be clingning on trees, but they don’t absorb the nutrients from them nor harm them. That’s because orchids are epiphytes or air plants. Now that you know, this will at least gives you an idea on our topic in this article.

Rice wash (hugas-bigas)
We assume that rice wash has a lot of nutrients since, well, we thought that those powdery substance in rice that we wash-off before we cook it are rich with vitamins and minerals. Ok,  research shows that rice wash is a good source of vitamin A, folic acid and potassium. Good for plants, but it also a good source of mites that can be transferred to your orchids. So the best way is to fertilize the orchid by adding a commercial grade trace elements that we can buy in agriculture stores.

Water used in washing plates, chicken, fishes innards… 
Again, we assume that water from the sink can be used to fertilize our orchids since obviously we think that residues from the water can become instant fertilizer. The bad thing about this is that it also attracts insects and rodents that feed on these residues. Also, bits and pieces of meat, rice, vegetables and fish can become a good breeding ground for harmful molds, bacteria and fungi that will attack your plant.

Aquarium Water
If you have an aquarium, chances are that you are using the aquarium water to water your plants. Most think that because your stock fishes throw their waste product in the aquarium water, then there will be enough ammonia, nitrates and nitrites in the water too. That may be correct, but the problem that you may encounter is that the water may also be a good source of Oödinium which may cause diseases in the plants. Just a small cut in the leaf or stem of the plant and the Oödinium, a flagellate will enter to cause a serious problem for plants.

Placing egg shells in orchids may be used for aesthetic purpose, just like what your Mom or your Granny do every time they place egg shells on top of a Brazilian snake plant (Sanseviertrifasciata), but again it will not help to its nutrition. Egg shells are calcium and yes, calcium is very important for plants as trace nutrients, but egg shells are made of calcium carbonate. Orchids need calcium phosphate since it is more soluble compared to calcium carbonate.

The Pill
The pills, yes, the one used as a contraceptive. Some hobbyists use the pill, er… not exactly the whole pill, but the iron supplement that is included in the whole set. It is said that iron are applied to plants to prevent the yellowing of plant leaves caused by iron deficiency. Yet iron supplements in the pill is made for human use and not for plants.

Beer and Wine
Beer and wine? Uh, they say that beer is diluted with one gallon of water and is applied to plants since beer is a good acidifying agent. Also, beer attracts snails and slugs. Ok, so that’s the good part and the bad part. Good in the sense that it will be easy for you to catch these nasty mollusks on your orchids and the bad news is that if you are not that vigilant, those slugs that was attracted by beer will eat your orchids (make it their pulutan).

Milk is rich sources of nitrogen due to their protein content, so most households think that if you watered the orchids with water containing milk, you are giving them the needed trace elements. The problem with this is that milk can also be a good breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. 

Multivitamin supplements
Using some sort of logic, some people will insist that using multi-vitamins that we can buy in generic drugstores can also be used as a vitamin supplement for orchids. That is not true.  Drugs that were created for animals and people will not have any effect with plants since place have a very different physiology compared to animals.

Proper Knowledge is the Key

Proper knowledge about the plant and how to fertilize them is one of the keys for a beautiful orchid collection. Know your NPK ( N= Nitrogen, P=Phosphorus , and K=Potassium) and your important trace elements, where to get them and how to properly use them in your orchids. There are even organizations like the Philippine Horticultural Society, which conducts free seminars on orchid propagation.

To know more about the Philippine Horticultural Society, Inc. visit their Facebook Page (click HERE.)

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