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Foliar Feeding of orchids?

This is a discussion on Foliar Feeding of orchids? within the New Growers: Ask the Senior Members forums, part of the New Growers category; In the book I'm currently reading there is a part under caring condtions which states ...

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  1. #1
    jai_star's Avatar
    jai_star is offline Senior Member
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    Default Foliar Feeding of orchids?

    In the book I'm currently reading there is a part under caring condtions which states " Keep a atomiser nearby filled with foliar feed and each time you pass your Orchids spray the leaves with this. Your plants will reward you for it" I'm just curious to see if anyone else is doing this if so is it benifical or just unnecessary work? What kinnd of foliar feed to be used?

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    In nature your orchids receive nutrients through their leaves as well as their roots. You use the regular fertilizer for orchids, mix to 1/4 strength and put into a misting bottle. I try to make sure there is good airmovement so the leaves dry pretty fast.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jai_star View Post
    In the book I'm currently reading there is a part under caring condtions which states " Keep a atomiser nearby filled with foliar feed and each time you pass your Orchids spray the leaves with this. Your plants will reward you for it" I'm just curious to see if anyone else is doing this if so is it benifical or just unnecessary work? What kinnd of foliar feed to be used?
    For starters, Atomizers are not cheap, especially in this country.
    Secondly, as Connie said, orchids in nature absorb nutrients through the leaf and root tissues, so i see no reason as to why this wouldnt work, or a spray bottle like Connie uses. Go to the $2 shop on the corner, they usually have spray bottles for 1.50each, and when you spray it, use the light mist function to mimick an atomizer, you will know it is on this because you will have to use lots of pressure to squeeze the trigger!

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    Ironwood is offline Junior Member
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    I would not recommend this as orchids do not require much fertilizer, they don't grow at the rate of corn or sunflowers. The problem with this method is that some of the fertilizer is gradually washed down into the apex of the leaf where it meets the stem and concentrates there and can cause fertilizer burn in this area. This can cause a banding in that area which results in a weakening or a gradual slow death for the plant. The results of the foliar feeding will be positive at first, but after a year or two thing start to go bad. This is typically more of a problem for Monopodials like the Vanda alliance, Phalaenopsis, etc and Slipper orchids.

    I will take an excerpt from Understanding Orchids: by William Cullina. This is the best book for the beginning or intermediate grower that I have read, very easy to read and entertaining.

    Quote from Chapter 7 Fertilization and Nutrition: "Most epiphytic orchids and, for that matter, the majority of terrestrial ones as well, need far less fertilizer for adequate growth than house or garden plants do. Because they are very frugal in consumption of nutrients, they can survive in places where few other plants could. Let's face it: few places are less fertile than the end of a twig or bare outcropping of rock, yet orchids survive in just such inhospitable places." End Quote

    He does go on to explain how proper fertilization can enhance orchid growth.

    Speaking as one who has sickened or put many an orchid into a slow death spiral from overfertilization.

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    My cattleyas have lost their roots today. As such I decided to adopt foliar feeding to continue their nutrition.
    I read somewhere that orchid stomatas open at night, so I misted them at nightfall. As a precaution, I added fungicide to the fertilizer before misting.
    Am I doing the right thing by misting at night?
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    ksriramkumar is offline Senior Member
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    I would not recommend misting at night unless your humidity is below 20%. You could try Sphag and bag to induce rooting

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    Foliar feeding is far less efficient in epiphytic orchids than with most terrestrial plants, although the degree varies. That is a "side effect" of the plants' evolutionary modifications to slow or prevent water loss.

    Liquid absorption through leaf tissue occurs at areas known as plasmodesmata, which are closely associated with stomata (which permit passage of gases and vapors, not liquids). In orchids, those tend to be significantly reduced in number, and are located more on the under-sides of leaves, than on top. As if that, alone, does not decrease the likelihood of absorption of sprayed nutrients, we also have to consider the waxy cuticles the plants have on their leaves. Intended to block permeation of water through surface cells, they also serve to "waterproof" the leaves to a degree.

    I would say that plants like phals, vandaceous-, cattleya-types, and paphs fall into the "better protected, so less effective" category, while thinner-leaved plants like cymbidiums, stanohopeas, bolleas, coelogynes, and the like, are likely more amenable to foliar feeding - but it's still not the preferred method.

    Besides, those minerals building up on the leaves can become toxic.

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    Ray, the leaves are less efficient than roots in absorbing nutrients, but I don't think it is so bad. Here is the paper I'm basing my judgement:

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    They applied Johnson's fertilizer with isotope-labeled N to upper surface of leaves (UL), lower surface of the leaves (LL), young roots (YR), and old roots (OR) of Phalaenopsis. I believe Johnson's has both NO3 and NH4, but I'm not sure which one was labeled. Then after 8 weeks, they measured how much labeled N got accumulated in the plant. Here is the results (Table 2 of the paper).

    UL: 34.1 micro gram
    LL: 25.2 micro gram
    YR: 82.8 micro gram
    OR: 60.3 micro gram.

    So leaves are about 1/2 efficient. I wouldn't call it too bad, and I think foliar feeding works for orchids. So I apply fertilizer to both leaves and roots.

    Also, the upper lower surfaces of the leaves don't differ in the uptake (the upper seems to be slightly more efficient, but the difference is not statistically significant). This is consistent with the idea that the stomata (more stomata in the lower surface) is not relevant for nutrient uptake. The actual mechanisms of foliar nutrient uptake isn't well known yet, but as Ray said, the plasmodesmata on the surface cell (epidermis), called ectodesmata, seems to play a role.

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    Another interesting fact (to me, at least) is that urea is absorbed through the leaves faster than nitrates or ammonium compounds, while the converse is true of roots.

    You'll note that products sold to "green up" plants are primarily urea.

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    naokit is offline Junior Member
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    Ray, do you happen to have a paper or something which shows the effectiveness of urea? You mentioned this before, and I thought that it was interesting. But I haven't looked into it yet.

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