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bonsaiboy
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Another Orchid Question -- how to fertilize

I was just wandering, is it a good idea to fertilize an orchid (a Phalaenopsis to be exact) with Osmocote slow release fertilizer? That is currently the only fertilizer I have right now. However, if there is a slow release fertilizer designed for Orchids, I would use that (Its just that I have none right now, and I don't want to have to fertilize the Orchid with liquid fertilizer every time I water).
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hendi_alex
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It is probably better to fertilize with a very dilute water soluable fertilizer, perhaps 1/4 tsp. per gallon. I do use osmocote sometimes and also have a friend who runs a commercial operation and he uses osmocote as well. Orchids are pretty forgiving of most everything except constantly wet roots.
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How do they survive in the wild? Slow realease from biological action in a pocket of detritus, right? I'd go organic with lots of light, fluffy compost and a weak organic fertilizer like watered down fish emulsion or better yet (smellwise anyway) a weak compost tea. Chemical fertilizers are always a last choice for me, but if you must then quarter rate weekly during growing and monthly through the colder months...

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Scott Reil

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I have occasional feelings of guilt related to my orchid growing hobby. There is nothing natural about the process, though the stream of flowers year round is a constant source of pleasure. The orchids spend most of their time in a plastic wrapped house. They consume at least 200-300 gallons of propane each year. They require an almost exclusively artificial watering regimen. Though my philosophy is pesticide avoidance or very low use, the orchids need a battery of noxious chemicals to help keep the scale at bay. So what the hell, one more little artificial component, chemical fertilizer, in this almost 100% artificial process.

For years I've used compost as a soil ammendment, but also have found it necessary to augment with fertilizer, which over time became the slow release variety which IMO is easier on the environment than standard fertilizer. Just this year, I'm experimenting with the use of 'natural' ferlizers, consisting of a blend of cotton meal, kelp meal, blood meal, peletized lime, and bone meal. I don't know that there is anything particularly 'natural' about those things as the processing, bagging, and shipping probably takes a terrible toll on the environment. But at least they are a more friendly source for fertilizing our little growing spaces here at home. At this point am also still using a bit of osmocote, but depending upon success with this more organic concoction may eventually phase out the chemical fertilizers all together. Any suggestions?
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Scale is usually controllable with oil sprays (coats them so they cannot breathe). Takes a follow-up or two in my experience, but my experience does not include many orchids (although I was doing very well with the one at work; even got it to set a new plant after this years flower :) )

Once we go chemical we begin to lose the bacteria, fungii and protozoans that Nature uses to store nutrient. We have become so inculcated with chemical thinking that we tend to think of soils as a place to put the rootd and store the chemicals, but it is a complex, self balancing ecosystem that turns sunshine into plant food (as all energy IS solar energy at some point; i.e., coal is old plants that did'nt get turned into plant food and the energy comes from plant material that grew a long time ago, but under the same sun we see today). It is the conversion of decaying plant matter into microbiological entities, and the resulting trophic predation releases plant nutrition. This is Nature's model for fertilization...

Your move to organic inputs, however unnatural the process that brought them there, fits that system. When you include Osmocote you add ammonia salts, not a regular addition in natural systems, and we start to see mortality all along the trophic chain in the soil. Now the plant is entirely reliant on the ammonia salts as natural systems become suppressed. Osmocote's slow release will ameliorate this effect some, but it will make it constant rather than the boom and bust of water soluble nitrogen which washes away with the first watering (which is why they invented Osmocote in the first place).

So phase it out and be done with it, my friend. It does you, the soil, the plant or the planet little good, and Mother Nature is always right about these things, no matter how deep we humans pile our hubris. This is her realm, these plants and fungii and bacteria, and we can learn a lot from her and find greater successes working with her than bucking the natural system...

Remember, Fritz Haber was making bombs, not plant fertilizer...

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bonsaiboy
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That last post confused me. All I really want to know is, is Osmocote good or bad, and can I use it on my orchid?
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"It is probably better to fertilize with a very dilute water soluable fertilizer, perhaps 1/4 tsp. per gallon. I do use osmocote sometimes and also have a friend who runs a commercial operation and he uses osmocote as well. Orchids are pretty forgiving of most everything except constantly wet roots."

I thought my first post answered the question pretty well, but I'll try again. From your point of view, osmocote is probably 'good'. It can be used on your orchid and will give it all of the nutrients that the orchid needs. Don't use too much of the product however as orchids just need trace amounts of nutrients. Just apply the lightest of sprinkling about every four months.
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Sorry BB, didn't mean to muddy the water but I have been working with microscopes and biology for the past few years and I am not a big fan of chemical fertilization, including Osmocote. This is really two different opposing ways to do things, not just trading organic for inorganic fertilizers, and I feel the organic way supports natural systems. Yes, Osmocote will supply basic and even some micronutritional needs, but it does so at the expense of soil biologies, including some plant supportive ones. That said, it is a far more responsible method of chemical fertilization with less wasted downstream run-off than blue goo. Not completely eliminated, mind you, but better...

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Scott Reil

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Scott,

I really admire your knowledge level, your willingness to share, and your enthusiasm for being a responsible earth steward. I'm sure that I could google and get some of the info that I seek, but it sounds like you have already been there, done that long ago. Could you provide a link to a source or two, or provide a numbered list of steps, that would lead from depleted sandy soil and to healthy living soil, that should support gardening activities in a natural and sustainable way? And should the transition be gradual, or should the chemical fertilizer use end cold turkey?
If you are kind enough to give a response, perhaps you will want to move the question and answer to an appropriate thread title and forum.
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
Alex

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Thanks for all the head swellin, Alex, I think that's a great idea. Look for [url=http://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=14052]a thread called Succesional Soils[/url] in the Organic Forum...

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Scott Reil

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Osmocote or nutricote is ok to use with Phalaenopsis. In general orchids that like to have their roots exposed like vandas and Phals are easier to fertilize using the weakly weekly mantra. 1/4 strength water soluble fertilizer, once or twice a week. A lot of people will do both a slow release and liquid fertilizer. Orchid food comes in grow formulas and bloom formulas. The Michigan formula is a popular one. If you know when your orchid will bloom you can maximize both growth and bloom. If you switch weekly between growth and bloom food you get what I got... a plant that couldn't decide what to do. I had a keiki that had a miniature bloom. It was not a miniature plant. But, I have learned my lesson. If the tip of the root has a green point it is in a growth phase and use growth food. When the velamin grows to cover the root tip, the plant is going into a bloom phase. Repot your orchids after it blooms every two years or so and keep it in a pot that just fits. Repotting is necessary because the media breaks down and becomes sour. If you do fertilize with any slow release fertilizer always place it just inside the rim of the pot and not near the base of the plant. Even slow release fertilizer can burn exposed roots. It is true that wild orchids live either in trees, rocks, bogs, leaf matter or grasslands. Orchids are the largest family in the world and genera have adapted to many different conditions. The old-timers used to put a little aged chicken manure in small bags and tie it to the orchid. Phalaenopsis in the wild will grow sideways and upside down on trees with heavy canopy. Many orchids live in the wettest and most humid parts of the world but they live in trees, where they get water every day and get breezes to keep them dry. P.S. no orchid would choose to live in a pot. People put roots in pots because it looks better to them. If the orchid had its' way it would rather have its' roots outside attaching itself to trees and rocks exposed to the light and air. this is a link to American Orchid Society Phalaenopsis culture sheet.
http://www.aos.org/Default.aspx?id=204
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