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  • 9 Post By orchid-man
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Orchid virus? or is it a chemical deficiency

This is a discussion on Orchid virus? or is it a chemical deficiency within the General Orchid Culture forums, part of the Orchid Culture category; ...

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  1. #1
    orchid-man's Avatar
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    Default Orchid virus? or is it a chemical deficiency

    Several years ago I found an article in an orchid magazine about leaf markings and fertilizer deficiency in orchids.

    I lost the article for quite some time and during a bit of a clean-up I found it again and thought that some of it needs to be shared.
    So here is a condensed version of the article in My words.

    All plants need the main/basic chemicals for growth/flower, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (The NPK rating on the packet), but they also need the other chemical elements – Calcium, Sulphur, Magnesium, Manganese, Boron, Molybdenum, Zinc, and copper , just look at the list of ingredients to make a mix for flasking.

    So let’s have a look at these individually.
    Nitrogen (N) – needed for plant growth (new cell growth). Effects of deficiency – slow or stunted growth, Plants pale, rapid yellowing of the lower /older leaves.
    Solution – Use any fertilizer containing a higher value of ‘N’ until fixed.

    Phosphorus (P) – necessary for photosynthesis, it also works as a catalyst for transferring energy within the plant .It helps to build strong roots, and is essential for flower and seed production. The deficiency shows itself as slow or stunted growth – All the same symptoms as for Nitrogen. Use a fertilizer with higher phosphorus. Leaves that have been affected will not recover but the new growths will appear corrected.
    Potassium (K) – stimulates the manufacture and movement of sugar and starch within the plant as well as growth and cell division. It also increases the chlorophyll in the leaves and helps the stomata opening and closing, enabling the plant to better use the light and air movement.
    Apart from that potassium encourages stronger roots, better water uptake and therefore enables the plants to fight disease.
    The Symptoms shown here are – the plants are usually the tallest and appear to be the most vigorous. Necrotic spots form on the lower leaves and the leaves appear pale in colour. The solution here is to use a fertilizer that has increased potassium.

    Calcium (Ca) – fundament for cell manufacture and growth, some use dolomite lime to keep the mix sweet. Calcium moves slowly within the plant and tends to concentrate in the roots and the older growths.
    A lack of calcium results in the mix becoming to acid, which leads to magnesium and iron deficiency and slow or stunted growth. The best solution here is to use dolomite lime (also known as dolmag) sprinkled on the top of the mix. Dolomite is the best and safest here as when the potting mix is back to neutral the dolomite becomes inactive.

    Sulphur (S) – is a component of plant protein and plays a part in root growth and chlorophyll production. Plants suffering from a lack of sulphur show yellowing of new growth. One way to fix this is to mix Epsom salts at the rate of 1Tb per 5 litres (1.3 US gallons),(1.1 UK gallon) of water until the condition improves.

    Magnesium (Mg) – found as the central atom of the chlorophyll molecule, it is essential to the absorption of energy from light. It helps with use of the nutrients. It also neutralizes acids and other toxic compounds that the plant produces. The symptoms here are that of the lower leaves turning yellow and in the end they may even turn white while the veins remain dark green. An excellent fix for this is a foliar feed of a liquid fert containing magnesium – use the sulphur solution.

    Iron (Fe) – Iron is a major catalyst in chlorophyll production and is used in photosynthesis Here leaves turn pale and veins remain dark green. PH imbalance in the potting mix makes iron inaccessible to plants. Water with rusty water is the safest solution.

    Manganese (Mn) – This element works with the enzymes in the plant to reduce nitrates before producing proteins. Leaves have necrotic yellow spots form on top. Foliar feed with a fert with manganese.

    Boron (B) – necessary for the division of plant cells as well as protein formation. It also appears to play a major role in pollination and seed production. New growths turn grey, look burned and can die. Use 1tb of boric acid per 5 litres (1.3 US gallons),(1.1 UK gallon) of water.

    Molybdenum (Mo) – helps form proteins and aids the plants ability to fix nitrogen from the air. Here the middle of the leaves turn yellow. Foliar feed with a fert that contains Molybdenum

    Zinc (Zn) – this just a catalyst but MUST be present in minute amounts for plant growth. The deficiency shows as the tips of the leaves and between the veins turning white. The article suggests the burying of galvanised nails in the mix as a treatment or use a fert containing zinc.

    Over fertilization – shows as the leaf tips to appear yellow or burnt. Repot the plant or the pots must be thoroughly flushed with water.


    Like I said at the beginning does the plant have a virus or is it a chemical deficiency. Hope this helps, but it may raise more questions, on fertilizers, water quality and the different potting mixes that we use.

    Happy growing folks

  2. #2
    plucker is offline Member
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    From what I can work out, different genera, require different ratios of the main and micro elements for optimal growth.

    Not enough emphasis is placed on the importance of calcium which is often not in orchid fertilizers. You cannot buy a fertilizer with all the elements above as they do not mix and store well. Powder formulations will go gluggy in a matter of months with all of these ingredients!

    Boron helps a plant absorb Calcium, and Calcium helps the plant use Nitrogen. Calcium is not translocatable and needs to be continually fed.
    Excesses of micro elements can be toxic and fatal for plants.

  3. #3
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    I've been doing a lot of reading about plant nutrition, and this is a VERY complex area!

    Nutrient deficiencies are very difficult to analyze, as the symptoms overlap, and what might be interpreted as a deficiency in "X" might not be fixed by adding "X", as it's being caused by an excess amount of "Y". Excessive potassium, for example, can block the uptake of calcium and magnesium.

    However, I also think that focusing on nutrient deficiencies is a bit of a "red herring", as - relative to terrestrial plants that grow quickly - orchids, especially epiphytic ones, hardly need any food at all, and are evolved to absorb minute quantities very frequently.

    Analysis of rainfall cascading though the forest canopy and trickling down the branches of the host trees has shown nutrient concentrations of 15-25 ppm TDS, and that concentration is highest immediately after the rains begin, becoming essentially pure, zero TDS in no time. Evolution being what it is, orchids have developed sites within the velamen that instantly trap nutrient ions and hang onto them for dear life, to prevent them from being washed away by the continuing rainfall. Fortunately, while each "dose" is minute, they are frequent.

    I have been feeding my entire collection with a 12-1-1-10Ca-3Mg formula (K-Lite) since late November 2012 at a rate of 30-50 ppm N, two or three times a week, and they are all doing great. One of the guys testing it gave his plants nothing but RO water for 6 months before feeding ONLY calcium nitrate and magnesium sulfate as an early precursor to the formula, and after a year of that, he saw no deficiencies.

  4. #4
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    Hi raybark,
    I share with you exactly same opinion about orchids fertilization. Uninformed people assume that plants are plants and what is right for wheat must be right for orchids as well.
    They couldn't be more wrong. Nutrient uptake is a complex matter. Uptake is an active process: plants send organic compounds through the root external membrane to absorb nutrients and bring them back inside the plant. This consumes energy, so plants absorb nutrients as needed.
    If plants were directly subject to external nutrient concentration, that changes dramatically during every dry-wet cycle, they would absorb and lose nutrients with each cycle. This is obviously not possible. We have developed our skin for exactly the same reason.

    Also, "rules" that govern nutrients availability to terrestrial plants are totally different to epiphytic plants. Terrestrial roots must deal with the complex chemical and adsorption phenomena that occur in soil. And last, but not least, orchid roots have a different morphology, for instance they have no root hair. They have the velamen instead.

    As a general rule nutrients concentration must be adapted to plant growth rate. I fertilize Catasetinae with 300-400 ppm at every watering because they grow so quickly, while for slow growing, mounted orchids that are watered daily I have used in the last years 80-100ppm of Akerne RainMix (NPK 13+3+15+11CaO+3MgO) After reading your message I think I will reduce concentration to 50-60 ppm. And this is more than double the natural concentration!!

    Last year I had a conversation with the RainMix producer. When I told him that I wanted to reduce fertilizer concentration from 350ppm he recommended, he was surprised. He sad that MSU recommended concentration was 750ppm and up!

    I think Liebig's rule should be studied more accurately.

    Your data about TDS of runoff water on tree branches is very interesting. Can you provide the data source?


    Thank you

    Carlo Scarfoglio

  5. #5
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    Well-stated, Carlo.

    I have fairly frequent conversations with one of the leaders of the development of the MSU fertilizers (also known as Akerne's Rain Mix) - I just did yesterday, in fact. Their experimental levels were at 125 ppm N, which translates to something around 800-900 ppm TDS. However, they were not feeding as frequently as I do, so that's why I cut it back.

    He also pointed out that most plant nutritional studies have been done on dicots, very little with monocots. I'm quite certain that results in practically zero with orchids. There is absolutely no way to logically translate from one to the other. If nothing else, the plant's mass should tell us something - a single corn seed will germinate, grow, flower, and produce fruit in a matter of four months, putting on as much as 5 kg of mass in that time. Your average orchid won't put on 5 kg of mass in a decade! Obviously the nutrient demand is a LOT lower in orchids!

    Much of the throughfall analyses came from Marschner's Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants, and Benzing's Vascular Epiphytes, but it has been reinforced by some other papers others have shared that I no longer have the references for, I'm sorry.

    As to Leibig's Law - I think we are doing some work on that with the K-Lite formula, derived from the MSU stuff. It is a 12-1-1-10Ca-3Mg formula. I've been using it exclusively for over 2 years now, and my plants are doing quite well, with no signs of deficiencies.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybark View Post
    Obviously the nutrient demand is a LOT lower in orchids!
    Is it lower or needs different nutrient levels then what we think.

    I have used similar to K-lite on my plants for over 12 months now and most genera love it, but antelope dens seem to fiz out with the new growths.
    Success so far include Cats, Phals, Paphs, phal type dens, and a few Cyms. I have increase flower count, but increased deformities on these flowers in the cats (structural) and phal type dens (spotting on the back of the flower).
    One thing for sure, growth is definitely improved but that might be helped from the addition of fulvic acid which has made the roots go crazy.

  7. #7
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    one question i hope someone can answer,.. how come there is no cure for orchid virus?

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by lijun View Post
    one question i hope someone can answer,.. how come there is no cure for orchid virus?
    the reason is the same as for the common cold or for any virus - to kill a virus the cell must be killed .
    In another wods - to kill a virus, death must occur.

  9. #9
    lijun's Avatar
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    hi orchid man,..
    so it can't just kill the affected tissue instead of the whole thing?
    not because no one cares to make the cure?

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