The Nutrients Your Tropical Plants Need
“Finicky” is not a word I grew up with on the ranch. When you ate, you ate everything—including the hide and the hair! My first encounter with houseplants was after WWII when my dad had this vision of a retail houseplant business. Even as a small child, I marveled at the death rate of those pretty green plants in the colorfully glazed pots.
Indoor tropical plant fertilization is as varied as the types of plants themselves. Typically I advise using a “balanced” fertilizer having equal amounts of three macronutrients:
1. Nitrogen (N) for green foliage
2. Phosphorus (P) for fruit and flowers
3. Potassium (K) for root development
The NPK numbers can range as follows: 5-5-5, 7-2-7, 9-3-9, 10-10-10, 10-40-10, 15-15-15, or 20-20-20. It can trend toward confusion in trying to make an informed decision on feeding that elephant-ear philodendron.
The first questions to ask about your selected plant’s nutritional needs should be directed to the store where the purchase was made. Some plants have hang-tags with basic information. After bringing the plant home, you will set it on the table, window sill, or back porch and utter those prophetic words: “now what do I do?”
Caring for Tropical Houseplants: The Basics
For me, a new tropical houseplant is like bringing home a new baby. The basics are generally the same wherever you live. Adjustments will be made for each individual with more light or less light, or more heat or less heat. And be careful about overwatering as some tropicals, like babies, require drier conditions than others.
When considering a growing medium, good drainage is important, with few exceptions. Having attained good drainage, testing for dryness is now part of the care to be attended to according to the recommended watering schedule. Test for dryness by using a highly sophisticated instrument located at the end of your arm (your hand). Insert a digit approximately 2″ in depth to see if watering is required.
I strongly suggest not using city water. Chlorine isn’t friendly to plant roots, nor to beneficial soil microorganisms.
Now that we have the basics down, let’s talk about proper nutrition.
Finding the Proper Nutrient Balance for Tropical Plants
Use a balanced, low number NPK product. There is a widespread consensus that one should always halve the recommended rates on labels of traditionally balanced plant foods for use on any houseplant. Always experiment, your own way, with the amount of nutrients that produces what you expect from the plants in your care.
Choosing a product as mentioned above will shorten your experimentation time. I have used this type of product on sensitive (a subjective word) succulents/cactus at half rate (1 TBS/ 1 gallon of water) as a foliar, once every two to three weeks—and it accelerated the blooming rate.
Epiphytics, especially staghorn ferns sans “soil” or those that people choose to pot, are wonderfully challenging at feeding time. Organic forms of nutrition can be utilized (banana peels = potassium for staghorns or fish emulsion for potted bromeliads). Depending on the fish source, fish solubles run 4-1-1 to 5-0-3, or more often 2-0-1.
Fish is probably not a good choice for use on houseplants. An organic product that can be used safely and with short-lived odor is a liquid seaweed cream with a very low NPK at 0.1 – 0 – 0.1 (1 ounce in a gallon of water).
The seaweed is complimentary to your other plant food choices and brings with it basic plant growth hormones. It can be used as a soil application or part of a presoak for sphagnum moss, or even a seed treatment for any tropicals that may be available to start from seed (or pups of any plant that produces same). Mixing a sustainable product with an organic seaweed cream product would achieve manageable nutrient numbers, and provide plant hormone enrichment.
Experimentation is the watchword for all gardeners that grow tropicals, even those that live in tropical climates. Please remember: some of your finicky eaters only like the hide and others only like the hair, but a few want it all!
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About BioFlora Section
BioFlora is a division of Global Organics® Group (GOG), an international life sciences company that develops and manufactures proprietary organic and sustainable plant nutrition products and natural ionic minerals for human and animal health. For more than 40 years GOG and its BioFlora® business have been committed to preserving the earth’s ecosystem while providing superior plant nutrient systems.
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