Fertilizer
orchid orchids Fertilizers orchid orchids

Orchid care comprises 4 major issues as discussed on this web site:
FOOD & FERTILIZER | LIGHT | WATER & HUMIDITY | TEMPERATURE
CLICK ONE of the above underlined items for more information about that particular orchid care aspect.

IN ADDITION, an extensive chapter on this web site about fertilizer mixtures comprising a number of assisting ingredients and agents, can be reached by clicking: Fertilizers

BASIC ORCHID CARE discussed in 20 interactive chapters, a photo gallery with more than 7,000 interactive full screen orchid photos, and an orchid classification system on: MöhltiMedia's Orchid cd rom.

ORCHID CARE | FOOD & FERTILIZERS | LIGHT | WATER & HUMIDITY | TEMPERATURE | FERTILIZER | ORCHID CD ROM

FERTILIZERS

Introduction
Fertilizers for orchids should comprise a well balanced and well engineered mixture of essential ingredients and agents to assist, promote and maintain an optimized absoprtion and processing of food components by orchids. Without an appropriate mix of fertilizer ingredients and agents, orchids will not grow and bloom optimally.

Fertilizers mixtures can be defined as follows: a fertilizer mixture should contain all required food components besides water, CO2 and light, as well as other ingredients and additional agents that, are necessary and essential to optimize orchid growth and blooming as well as improve health protection of orchids in cultivation.

'Smart' or 'intelligent' fertilizers, possessing more functionality and attractive properties than conventional fertilizers, are currently becoming available. Smart fertilizers are discussed in detail further on.

ORDINARY/NORMAL/CONVENTIONAL FERTILIZERS

WARNING: Ordinary/normal/conventional fertilizers merely comprise a set of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium containing salts. Conventional fertilizers for orchids must not be applied as too strong aqueous solutions. Low-light-level growing orchids (below 800 foot-candles) such as mottled leaf paphiopedilums and others, should have fertilizer strengths only one-fourth of the normally recommended values; e.g. if the label says 'use 1 teaspoon per gallon of water', you would then apply a 1/4 of that

Even vandaceous orchids would appreciate strengths at about 1/2 the normal label strength. Better that you apply too little and not kill your orchid. Orchids in the wild usually see their food dissolved in rain water containing only 15 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved nutrients. That's only 0.015 grams/liter! Phragmipediums, even those considered to be "high" light level plants, are notorious in demanding very low strength solutions of fertilizer.

Over-fertilizing
If one keep applying too strong solutions of conventional fertilizers for a longer period of time, salt build-up in the potting material may occur. Too high concentrations of conventional fertilizer and subsequent salt buildup can be harmful to orchids. Too high concentrations of aqueous conventional fertilizer (salt) solutions on the outside of roots and leaves will dry out (= will extract water from) plant cells by the osmosis principle. To avoid over-fertilization by conventional fertilizers, regular flushing of the potting mix with luke warm water is recommended.

In additon, salt crust formation on the outside of the container and on the potting mix may become visible.

Fertilizer strength measurement
Fertilizer concentrations in water can be measured using relatively simple meters. These meters determine the Total Disolved Solids (TDS) by measuring the solution's specific electrical conductivity.
For more information on fertilizer concentration and TDS-meters see:
TDS-meters and fertilzer strength.

'SMART' or 'INTELIGENT' FERTILIZERS

It would be attractive to have a fertilizer system that would not be harmful to your orchid plants even if given as a ten times overdose? In other words, fertilizer systems whose effectiveness and efficiencies are independent of the fertilizer solution strength. Such smart or inteligent fertilizer systems have been developed lately and are currently becoming available. In addition, besides being strength independent, smart fertilizers posses more fuctions and a higher efficiency for absorption and processing of fertilizer nutrients by the plants.

A well balanced and well engineered smart or intelligent fertilizer mixture should comprise, among others, the following:

SET OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS:

For more information about the below mentioned issues, click on the corresponding underlined words

Inorganic bulk elements serve as basic assisting materials for growth, blooming and root development.
Inorganic trace elements serve as assisting materials for, among others, cell wall development.
Fertilizer component solvation promoting agents keep the ingredients/agents soluble for enhanced absorption.
Food absorption assisting/promoting agents enhance the absorption speed of nutrients by orchids.
Water droplet reducing agents reduce the presence of harmful water droplets on leaves and roots.
Water film formation promoting agents enhance the formation of water films on leaves and roots.
Oxygen slow-release agents produce oxygen to reduce fungi growth and oxidize ions to nitrates.
Bug discouraging agents dislodge or kill insects or pests.
Ph buffering agents keeps the pH or acidity levels within a favourable range.
Water quality control agents improve the quality of water and fertilizer solutions.
Fertilizer strength control agents prevent the presence of too strong fertilizer solutions.

Click on one of the above underlined issues to learn more about their role in the inteligent fertilizer.

For more information on the availability of 'inteligent/smart' fertilizers e-mail to: info@mohltimedia.com

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Inorganic bulk elements

Inorganic bulk elements of fertilizers comprise: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) and to a lesser extent magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca). Roughly speaking, Nitrogen promotes growth, phosphorus promotes blooming and potassium promotes the development of physically strong root and inflorescence systems.

Often, a fertilizer mixture is characterized by a set of 3 numbers denoting the percentage presence of the inorganic elements in the order N-P-K. If a fourth number is added, it represents the percentage presence of N-P-K-Mg, or the percentage presence of N-P-K-Ca, as indicated on the fertilizer's container.


Nitrogen - N

A typical fertilizer for promoting growth of orchids is a nitrogen (N) rich fertilizer mixture such as: N-P-K = 12-8-4.

Nitrogen can be present in fertilizer mixture as urea molecules (O=C(-NH2)2), ammonium ions (NH4+), nitrite ions (NO2-) or nitrate ions (NO3-).

Never use urea for orchids because urea as such cannot be abdorbed, consumed and incorporated by orchids. Urea requires micro organisms to be converted into nitrate ions that can be absorbed, consumed and incorporated by orchids. This urea to nitrate conversion process takes a long time (up to three months) and usually the added urea has alreday been flushed out of the potting mix well before it has been converted to useful nitrates. Urea can become part of salts that build up in the medium also and which, unless flushed from the medium, can cause root burn. Urea as such thus is useless for orchids.

Ammonium ions can be consumed by orchids but at a lower rate than nitrates. Ammonium ions can be oxidized to nitrates by certain oxidizing agents and thus consumed quicker by orchids. Such oxidizing agents are oxygen in aerated potting media, or special added oxygen-release-agents in inteligent fertilizers which are also active in non-aerated media.

Also nitrite ions can be converted into nitrates, by oxygen or by specially added oxidizing agents in inteligent fertilizers, and thus consumed quicker by orchids.

The best nitrogen source for orchids are nitrates as they are consumed the quickest of all nitrogen sources by orchids. Therefore, nitrates will assist in the orchid's growing process after the shortest time as compared to all other nitrogen sources.


Phosphorous - P

A typical fertilizer for promoting blooming of orchids is a phosphorus (P) rich fertilizer mixture such as: N-P-K = 15-30-15 or 10-60-10.

Phosphorus is often present in fertilizer mixtures as phosphate ions (PO4---) as obtained by disolving potassiumphosphate in water. The P-percentage content is usually expressed as weight-% P2O5 molecules.


Potassium - K

A typical fertilizer for promoting root and inflorescence development of orchids is the (magnesium (Mg) containing) potassium (K) rich mixture N-P-K-Mg = 8-12-24-4.

Potassium is often present as potassium ions (K+) as derived from dissolving potassiumphosphate or potassiumnitrate. The K-percentage content is usually expressed as weight-% K2O molecules.


Magnesium - Mg

Multifunctional magnesium ion (Mg++) solutions are derived by dissolving magnesiumsulphate (also called Epsom-salt or Bitter-salt) in water. The Mg-percentage content is usually expressed as weight-% MgO. In the case of conventional fertilizer solutions, care must be taken to prevent the formation of insoluble solid magnesium salts after adding Mg-ions to such solutions.
Sart or intelligent fertilizers contain special Mg-complexing and Mg-dissolving agents to prevent the solidification of Mg-ions.


Calcium - Ca

Multifunctional calcium ions (Ca++) are derived by dissolving calciumnitrate in water. The Ca-percentage content is usually expressed as weight-% CaO. Care must be taken to prevent the formation of insoluble calcium salts after adding Ca-ions to a conventional fertilizer solution.
Smart or inteligent fertilizers already contain special Ca-ion dissolving and complexing agents to prevent the precipitation (= formation of) insoluble calcium salts.


In addition to the inorganic bulk elements N-P-K-Mg and Ca, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'INORGANIC BULK ELEMENTs' DISCUSSION

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Inorganic trace elements

Inorganic trace elements are necessary for a healthy growth of orchids and comprise, among others: boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), silicon (Si), chlorine (Cl), chromium (Cr) and other elements.

These elements should be present in a fertilizer mixture in the order of hundredths (1/100s) of a percent only. They often become incorporated in plant cell materias and plant cell membranes. They play a role in the growing process and in regulating ion and molecule transportation through cell membranes, etc. Also, trace elements are incorporated in leave materials such as enzymes and the like that assist in the photochemical growth process.

If certain trace elements are present in too large amounts in fertilizer mixtures, they can acts as poisonous materials and (severely) damage or kill orchid plants.

If the pH of the fertilizer solutions is not well enough controlled and drift too much to the acidic side, certain trace elements (e.g. Zn) can become available and absorbed in such lage amounts that might be lethal for orchids. Als, too acidic fertilozer solutions can prohibit the absorption of other trace elements (e.g. Fe) by orchid plants.

So, not only the amount of trace elements but also the pH of the fertilizer solution must be contrlled in order to provide a balanced mixture suitable for absorption by the orchids.

Irrespective their small relative abundances, if trace elements are absent, orchids will not grow and bloom optimally.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'INORGANIC TRACE ELEMENTS' DISCUSSION

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Fertilizer component solvation promoting agents

Particular fertilizer components and ingredients tend to form insoluble materials (= solidification of particular fertilizer components in solution and thus in the potting mixture after fertilizing) if these components are applied, or are simultaneously present, in certain (undesired) component combinations.

This tendency to solidification of fertilizer components reduces their availability for absorption by orchids and thus the effectiveness and efficiency of the components to serve as growth and bloom promotors for orchids.

In order to prevent the formation of insoluble materials, certain water soluble component-complexing materials should be added to fertilizer mixture solutions to ensure each fertilizer component's solubility. In doing so, the availability of components and ingredients is increased and therewith the effectiveness and efficiency of fertilizers.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'SOLVATION PROMOTING AGENTS' DISCUSSION

Back to set of essential ingredients   |    Continue with next essential ingredient: Food absorption agents

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Food absorption assisting/promoting agents

Fertilizer components and ingredients for growth and blooming should be present on roots and leaf surfaces in such chemical and physical states that these components and ingredients are readily available for absorption through the cell membranes of the root and leaf skins.

An optimal combination of such chemical and physical states ensures a 'loosely sticking' of the fertilizer components to the leave and root surfaces thus enabling a significant mobility of the components of those root and leave surfaces.

Certain agents promote the existence and presence of the desired chemical and physical states of the fertilizer components therewith strongly influencing and enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the fertilizer components' absorption process through the cell membranes of root and leaf skins.

Especially under cultivation conditions where orchids lack (their original) natural environments, food absorption promoting agents can positively influence the orchid's well being.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'FOOD ABSORPTION ASSISTING AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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Water droplet reducing agents

When fertilizer solutions are made available to the roots and leaves of orchids, the absorption of fertilizers by roots or leaves is directly proportional to the root and leaf surface areas covered by the fertilizer solution.

If the presence of fertilizers is confined to droplets on root and leaf surfaces, the active and thus effective total surface area for absorption is confined to that of the droplets only.

To increase the active and effective fertilizer absorption area, the fertilizer droplets should be transformed into a fertilizer solution film, covering the entire root and leaf surface areas.

Water droplet reducing, or water film forming enhancing agents (surfactants)increase significantly the root and leaf surface areas available for fertilizer absorption.

However, care must be taken that the surfactants are optimally matched to the dessired fertilizer components' 'loosely sticking' properties. The wrong surfactant can disturb or destroy the chemically and physically desired states needed to achieve an optimized 'loosely sticking' character and thereby severly hamper the rapid absorption of fertilizer components by the orchids.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'WATER DROPLET REDUCING AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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Water film formation promoting agents

In order to enhance and optimize the absorption efficiency of fertilizer ingredients and food components through the cell membranes of leaf and root skins, the fertilizer components and ingredients must be dispersed as efficiently as possible over the entire root and leaf surface areas.

Water film formation promoting agents by specially modified ('loosely sticking character' matched) surfactants) assist in the converion of fertilizer containing water droplets into a fertilizer containing water films. The fertilizer ingredients are thus dispersed over the entire root and leaf surface areas in the preferred physiacl and chamical 'loosely sticking' states thereby increasing significantly fertilizer and food absorption efficiency. This should result in better growth and blooming of orchids

In addition to the enahnced absorption of food components, water films dry up more quickly than water droplets. Quickly drying water films prevent undesired long time presence of water droplets on vulnerable orchid parts such as young shoots. The thus achieved absence of water droplets reduces the potential hazard of young shoot rot, etc.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'WATER FILM FORMATION PROMOTING AGENTS' DISCUSSION

Back to set of essential ingredients   |    Continue with next essential ingredient: Oxygen slow-release agents

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Oxygen slow-release agents

Roots need circulation of fresh air and oxygen to prevent root rot and related diseases. In addition, the presence of oxygen releasing materials reduces the presence of undesired fungi and pests.

Under certain conditions (undesired) fungus weight increase in the potting mix can be of the same order of magnitude as (desired) orchid weight increase.

Fertilizers should comprise oxygen releasing agents in order to reduce the presence of undesired organisms therewith reducing rot and other undesired effects.

Oxygen releasing agents can convert (oxidize) ammonium ions and nitrite ions into the quicker consumed nitrate ions thus enhancing the growth rate of orchids.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'OXYGEN SLOW RELEASE AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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Bug discouraging agents

Bugs are a potential hazard to orchids. The presence of bugs can be reduced with pesticides or with bug discouraging materials.

A well balanced and engineereed fertilizer mixture could contain bug discouraging materials.

Such bug discouraging materials comprise ingredients that do not act chemically on bugs like a pesticide does, but act physically on bugs like discomforting them through deregulating their breathing system and the like.

Even hard scaled pests have shown their vulnerability for the physical activity of bug discomforting agents.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'BUG DISCOURAGING AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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pH buffering agents

Micro-organisms in organic orchid potting mixes (such as bark and the like) cause decay and therewith acidification of the potting mix. The acidification of orchid potting mix is a big potential hazard for the healthy growth of orchids.

The pH of organic orchid potting mixes steadily decreases after watering towards the acidic part of the pH range, as a consequence of the build-up of acidic decay products generated by micro-organisms.

During drying up of the orchid potting mix, the pH of the initially wet orchid potting mix decreases even more owing to increasing concentrations of decay products during drying up.

A well balanced and engineered fertilizer mixture should contain materials to de-acidify the orchid potting mix during and after watering and thus buffering (= keeping constant) the pH of the potting mix even during the drying up process.

Various orchid potting materials possess different acidification rates. Therefore, a well balanced and engineered fertilizer mix should contain potting mix independent pH buffering agents.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'pH BUFFERING AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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pH control agents

The solubility of various fertilizer components and agents vary with the pH of the wet potting mix.

Some fertilizer components are insoluble in the alkaline part (pH>7) of the pH range and become soluble in the acid part (pH<7) of the pH range.
Other fertilizer components are soluble in the alkaline part (pH>7) of the pH range and become insoluble in the acid part (pH<7) of the pH range.

Only soluble fertilizer components can be absorbed by orchid plants from aqueous fertilizer solutions.

In order to enable all fertilizer components to become soluble at a particular time, a time dependent varying pH after watering is preferred.

Smart fertilizers contain agents that control a time dependent varying pH after watering.

MöhltiMedia's smart fertilizer contain pH controlling agents that bring about an alkaline (pH=8) environment directly after watering, followed by a controlled time dependent decrease of the pH towards the acid part of the pH range (pH=5-6).

Owing to the time dependent pH varying control agents, all fertilizer components will experience a pH range in which they become soluble at a particular time after watering, and therewith become all absorbable by the orchid plants.

The overall pH range during periods between watering is kept within accepted limits (pH betwen 5 and 8) by the also present pH buffering control agents.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'pH CONTROL AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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Water quality control agents

Water can be chemically or biologically contaminated.

There are a number of methods to obtain pure water. Reverse osmosis of water is one of them. Rain water is another although rain water might be contaminated in industrial areas.

Fertilizer mixtures should contain agents that purify water in chemical and biological terms. Undesired chemicals should become immobilized. Undesired organisms should be neutralized.

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'WATER QUALITY CONTROL AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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Fertilizer strength control agents

Text Fertilizer strength control agents

In addition, fertilizers should contain a number of other ingredients and agents possessing special functions as mentioned in the list under set of essential ingredients.

END OF 'FERTLIZER STRENGTH CONTROL AGENTS' DISCUSSION

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FERTILIZERS are, among others, discussed in a series of 20 interactive chapters on orchid care, present together with a photo gallery with more than 7,000 interactive full screen orchid photos, and an orchid classification system on: MöhltiMedia's Orchid cd rom.


ORCHID CARE | FOOD & FERTILIZER | LIGHT | WATER & HUMIDITY | TEMPERATURE | FERTILIZER | ORCHID CD ROM

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