Comparing the Results of Fertilizing the Phalaenopsis Orchid


Using four similar mini-Phalaenopsis, each with a feeding (fertilizing routine) that is different, I will compare the results over a year's time.  Every effort will be used to keep all environmental conditions the same, humidity, light, temperatures, frequency of watering.  The only difference from other growers will be my preferred use of clay pellets as a potting medium, and drainage holes about 1/2 inch above the bottom of the clear, plastic glass.  I will document the orchid as I re-pot it and will only know the condition of the roots as they make themself known when they appear along the sides of the pot.  At the very bottom will be a reservoir of water measuring 1/2-inch deep.  I have not yet decided if I cut back the spike or just document via text and images as it blooms out, gets cut back the standard way and then forms a new bud branch and blooms.  They will vary in color to some degree.


24 June 2019 - Let the Feeding Begin


I will identify these using the children of the Stark Family from 'Game of Thrones', Sansa, Arya, Bran, Robb and Rickon.



A. no fertilizer "Sansa" Yellow / Green
B. time release pellets only ( 14 - 14 - 14 )
"Bran" Red  
C. Pellets and fertilizing routine "Arya" Pink
D. fertilizing routine, no pellets "Rickon" Pink  
E. Pellets and fertilizing routine "Robb" Red




The original 2-inch clay pots with no drainage whole was set aside for another use or to be gifted.  As you can tell by looking at the above images (click picture for larger view), they all seem root-bound.  Phals like to be in the center of a pot (monopodal, so they grow up) and snug roots.


After exposing the roots and trimming off the dead and weakened roots, I potted up in a 4-inch across, almost 5-inch clear plastic pot known as an 18oz cup.  I made three rows of holes (4 each) opposite each other, the lower layer of holes staggered from the row above.  The bottom holes are about a half inch up from the bottom.  A small amout of water will collect at the bottom of these cups, but can easily be drained.  The water that collects can wick up the clay pellets providing moisture to the roots, yet allow exchange of air and the roots to dry.


I am using semi-hydroponic clay pellets that are small, less than an inch in diameter, but the diameter can vary.  I use a clay pellet medium over organic due to my need to water more than just once a day.  That extra wateing can increase the rate of decay of organic bark.  A benefit of organic medium is that it can absorb fertilizers, where as clay cannot.  This be beneficial to the orchid.  To compensate for this, I have established a small reservoir at the bottom of the clear, plastic cups to retain water that can be wicked up to the roots. 




I employ make use of the dunk and drown method.  I place the cup containing the orchid into another cup (without holes), slowly fill with water till the water flows over the edge.  After about 5 minutes, I add more water if necessary.  After waiting 10-15 minutes, slowly remove the orchid cup from the water cup allow to drain well and then return to it's growing area.


I try to water these every other day before noon.  However, in the condition of a heat wave (temperature above 95-degrees), I may do a second but faster watering around 4:00pm mostly to cool down the clay pellets so as to not cook the roots.




Mini-Phals. prefer bright shade (no direct sunlight).  They grow easily in a bright window, with little or no sun. An east window is ideal in the home; shaded south or west windows are acceptable. In overcast, northern winter climates, a full south exposure may be needed. In a greenhouse, shade must be given; 70 to 85 percent shade, or between 1,000 and 1,500 foot-candles, is recommended. No shadow should be seen if you hold your hand one foot above a plant's leaves.




For the phalaenopsis should usually be above 60 F at night, and range between 75 and 85 F or more during the day. Although higher temperatures force faster vegetative growth, higher humidity and air movement must accompany higher temperatures, the recommended maximum being 90 to 95 F. Night temperatures to 55 F are desirable for several weeks in the autumn to initiate flower spikes. Fluctuating temperatures can cause bud drop on plants with buds ready to open. 


Plant Charachteristics


Mini-Phals are much smaller than the standard Phalaenopsis. Leaf spread (tip to tip) may reach at most 5 inches in length.  It is possible for more than one spike at a time.  Bloom size is about the same as the standard Phalaenopsis.  A spike might manage between 8 and 12 blooms each but under ideal conditions can be more.  After blooming, trim the spike back as you would a standard Phal.  Count back to just above the next node and cut.  That node should soon start developing buds for blooming.The plant itself might never get very tall, it just depends on the leaves on a monopodial orchid.



29 June 2019 - Week 1


For the past week I have been focussed on watering these mini-Phals frequently so they get accustomed to the clay pellets, heat, lack of humidity that is Sacramento.  So far, so good, nobody has keeled over yet.  I left the spikes and have not cut them back.  Eventually the current blooms will fade and need to be removed.


When watering, and they are being "drowned" I would tap the side of the glass to shift and settle the clay pellets so they surround and secure the roots as much as possible.  I would also tweak the mini-Plal for a better position on the clay pellets so the base of the stem is just below the surface.


In my growing area, they are carefully positioned so as to never be in direct light.


On Saturday, 29 June 2019,  "Arya" and "Robb" received a dunking of ironite, fish and kelp juice and SUPERthirve (this combination promotes healthy roots and green leaves).  The healthier and greener the leaves, the more photosynthesis can take place even in shade conditions.  "Arya", "Bran" and "Robb", also received a scattering of Osmocote (14-14-14) time-release pellets.  I placed about 6 to 8 pellets on the surface so they could dissolve feeding the roots.  I will replace these pellets end of August.


Next update be on 6 July 2019 after "Arya" and "Robb" get a taste of Miracle-Gro basic fertilizer at 30-nitrogen 10-phosphate 10-potasium.  Keep in mind that for "Arya", "Bran" and "Robb"this be on top of the (14-14-14) from the Osmocote so the additional fertilizer be diluted even more as to not burn or cause shock to the mini-Phals.


In the meantime they will be watered as required and the reservoir will be flushed as well removing the previous feeding material.


Stay tuned....


2 July 2019

Call me a "ninny" if you want, but the last few days I have been paying close attention to humidity and in general it is not meeting the minimum requirements for Phals.  I had to solve this problem and a quick trip to a retail home improvement center did just the trick. I purchased a 12-inch deep translucent  plastic container and a second container half as deep.  The Phals go in the deep container, add water for humidity, place the shallow container on top but not securly, as I want to leave room to allow for ventilation.  The container is on my balcony in shade, never in direct light.  It is two early to tell how this is working but in theory it should solve the humidity issue by allowing the level of humidity to increase to a point well above the minimum 60-percent  that Phals. prefer. 




Prior to this home-made remedy, one Phal suffered  some leaf damage.  "Sansa" seems to have a drop of water on a leaf, and it did not fully evaporate right away and as night time temperatures dipped, that water damaged the leaf leaving what can only be described as a "chicken pox scar".  This is why orchids with fleshy leaves should be dry before the sun sets.  Itt looks as if the "scar" got a little bigger in diameter.  This was one of the reasons I wanted to resolve my lack of humidity issue.  All other leaves look in the best possible condition. 


Also appears to be some yellowing on the leaf tips. 















20 July 2019


I have continued since the past entry with the fertilizing schedule that focuses on the two different zones of the Phals.,  growth above the potting medium (leaves and spike) and growth below the potting medium (roots).  The only difference now with a month into this project is that along with pouring an enhanced water into the pots and allowing for a soak of about 10 to 15 minutes, I am now misting the top and as much as possible underneath the leaves.  I believe everything is acclimated and settled into the pot.


Not sure what to think of this, and I am leaning towards "fluke" but "Sansa" (water only, no fertilizers at all) actually has a new leaf developing.  Go Sansa!  Keep in mind that Sansa also has a "cold water drop late in the afternoon" on a mature leaf (see photos above).  The new leaf is developing on the opposite side of the damaged leaf.Could this be a coincidence?


During the summer months, the Phal. will develop and grow one or two new leafs.  This is the typical growth stage as it prepares for winter and focusing energy on blooming for the spring.


I am watering just about every day.  (slip pot into another pot, slow fill with water till overflows, allow soak about 10 to 15 minutes, drain).


I know what you are thinking,  "That sure seems like more water than necessary...."   I you are growing Phals. in organic bark and in an environment where the temperature rarely gets above 90-degrees and the humidity never below 60%, I would agree.  Welcome to my world and the accommodations I need to account for success in growing the Phal.  External and uncontrollable environment conditions do no favor the Phal. where I live but planning a grow area that addresses and accommodates fora lack of these conditions, the Phal should thrive (see grow box above).


I will let the following photos do all the talking.







The top photos show the new leaf starting to poke up from the crease of the leaf below it.  It be interesting to document how long it take for the leaf to grow to the mature size.  I am considering weekly photos and measuring as best as possible.


The bottom photo is a peak at the roots of Sansa.The dry clay pellets tell me that the roots had a chance to dry since the last watering.  Not to be flagged as a crises, but the Phal is ready again to be watered.  The pellets drying is indicative of my dry humidity.  I keep these Phals. in their grow box away from any direct light from the sun.  the grow box is not completely closed, the top is askew enough to allow for ventilation.  On very dry days I just close the box completely during the heat of the day.


I don't have an actual humidity meter to determine the actual humidity in the grow box, but I have something better (I am looking for a humidity meter).  I have a Phal. that is producing a new leaf so conditions in the box must be desireable for the Phal.


Keep in mind for this fertilizer project - Sansa does not get any fertilizer at all,  Just water.






For these and the remaining candidates of this project I will be sharing a "dry" and "wet"  root picture.  The "dry" picture is before watering, and the "wet" is just after soaking and during its drain.


Bran was ready for watering.  Not eager, not desperate, but the medium has dried since the last watering.  Visible are 3 roots.  The darker root is older but still very healthy, the lighter green root is also healthy and the newest root is white.


Next time you are watering your Phal.  Cymbidium, Cattleya, Vanda, or other "thick rooted" orchid - compare your orchid's roots to the images above before and after watering for a reference to what a happy, healthy root should look like.










Phals. are monopodial, meaning they grow up the "stem" developing new leaves on opposite sides of the stem as they grow taller.  As for new roots, they can appear up the stem below older leaves closer to the bottom.  They can either grow into the medium or become "aerial", meaning they get moisture from the environment.  Some remove the aerial roots but even if unappealing to look at they do serve a function.  Debated, unproven, that aerial roots most likely develop if the Phal. is in a high-humid environment.  If it isn't broke, don't fix it.







I mentioned when discussing Rickon's roots above that Phals. are monopodial and Robb shows how roots can develop from under leaves, but on top of old growth.  The days of the lowest leaves of Robb are numbered, but unless they rot or show signs of death, I will not remove them.  They are still performing their function and purpose, converting light to energy that feeds the orchid.  When it is time to repot the Phal. be of mind that aerial roots at this time need to be given special attention.  If you bury them in the medium, they will die.  They are not "programmed" or accustomed for that environment.  They have a thicker velamen that absorbs moisture slowly (after being exposed to air) but do not dry efficiently.  When buried, they are exposed to direct contact with water for a longer period of time than in the open air.  It is this constant dampness that causes them to rot.  They can be situated above the medium, or removed as you situate the Phal. into the medium correctly.



Next update unless something dramatically occurs will be in the beginning of August.    


01 August 2019


Prior to the last weekend of July (a scheduled feeding) and mini-heatwave (temperatures above 105-degrees) and attending speaker's day, all the blooms were fading fast.  I did some research on how to prune or just cut back a spike after the flowers fade and fall.  I chose to cut most the spikes off and those that remain might also be completely cut back.


I may also consider re-potting these mini-Phals. because the spikes played havoc with the leaves not laying flat above the clay pellets.  This be the best time to do this as they should be in a state of rest before beginning new leaf growth and new root growth for the next bloom.  Clay pellets make this a very simple process.  I can also inspect and clean any dead roots.


Rickon, Arya, Robb, Sansa and Bran - The Stark Family from Game of Thrones



Watering:  Without the spikes it is so much easier to work with and position them in the humidity box.  Sansa (second from the right) has a new leaf progressing nicely as does "Bran" (furthest right).


"Bran" and "Rickon" (furthest left) are scrunched because the spike prevented the leaves from laying flat.  I am sure the staging during shipping from over-seas and crowding in the nursery before reaching the store I purchased these from didn't help.


A drawback of using clay pellets, at least until the roots take hold in the pot, is that when watering, they tend to float and then as the pot drains, they settle.  This causes a little shifting of the orchid.  So I will work on centering and positioning these a little better.  During August and September, they can end up being watered twice in a day due to the heat, as fall approaches and into the winter, the watering will slow down to perhaps just twice a week if that. 


I am sticking to the feeding plan as mentioned above.


After I re-work these I will line them up again in the same order and take another group picture just for comparison.  As long as I uproot them for a cleaning I will take some before and fater pictures as well.





The group after being cleaned and re-potted on 1 August 2019





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