3 Proven Methods for Using Tea bags
as Orchid Fertilizers
All orchids need a weak dose of fertilizer 3 of the 4 weeks of the month. In store-bought fertilizers, the chemicals and nutrients that are normally found are presented in an N-P-K ratio. Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium make up the main ingredients that these orchid fertilizers sell.
Orchids need much more than just nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, such as magnesium and calcium. There are several ways you can increase the fertilization of orchids through normal household products.
Many orchid enthusiasts who use: eggshells, molasses, banana skins, potatoes, and other ingredients to enhance their orchid’s health and longevity. Another ingredient is tea. In this article, you’ll learn all the benefits and setbacks of using tea bags as orchid fertilizers.
Are tea bags good for Orchids?
When using various household products as extra fertilizers, it’s natural to wonder if they are effective in the long run. Are tea bags good for orchids as fertilizers? Tea bags are nontoxic and excellent for orchids because they increase the amount of nitrogen that is available in the potting medium.
If we eliminate the tea bag and focus strictly on the tea, you’ll discover that tea is made up of 5% nitrogen, 2.5% potassium, 0.8% phosphorus, 0.6% calcium, and 0.5% magnesium. These high levels of nitrogen benefit your orchid.
If the orchid is in fir or pine bark, which are both prone to bacteria, the level of nitrogen is consumed leaving minute amounts available for the orchid roots. Tea bags provide extra nitrogen for the orchid, raising the percentage inside the medium.
After drinking tea, you can use it on your orchid. Just don't use cream and sugar.
"Image Credit: Orchideria 2020. All rights reserved
Tea is also good because of the high concentration of tannic acid that is present in the formula. Tannins, or polyphenols are very common in nature.
When it rains in the tropical and subtropical rainforests, water will trickle (or pour depending on the rain) down the tree bark.
On its way down, the rain droplets will encounter several obstacles, like leaves, twigs, open fruits, decaying flowers, bird and mammal droppings, and tree sap.
All these contribute to a high tannic acid rate, which orchids like and appreciate.
Tea also has a high tannin content. This is the closest we can simulate nature in our home environments, and tea is the perfect method to introduce tannins in your potting media.
Nitrogen Found in Tea bags Benefits Orchid Growth
Nitrogen already comes in commercially sold orchid fertilizers, representing the first number in the three-digit ratio. Usually we use a balanced fertilizer, like 10-10-10. You’ll need to provide a higher dose of nitrogen as soon as the roots have started growing and new leaves are appearing.
Nitrogen focuses on leaf growth. It accelerates the production of chlorophyll, producing strong, healthy leaves. Bark in the potting medium is the perfect place for bacteria and algae to grow.
Not all bacteria are bad, and algae is actually a good sign. If you want to read more about algae in the potting medium, this article is the place to start.
In that article, I explain how the algae get there, how much is beneficial, and how to eliminate it.
Some bacteria are not beneficial to your orchid and will promote rapid root rot. This bacterium (and some fungal infections too) will consume vast amounts of nitrogen, leaving your orchid behind to suffer.
The higher levels of nitrogen in the tea bags will make up for the lost nitrogen that potting in bark brings.
Are tea bags safe for orchids?
The tea itself provides no harm to the orchid, but the bag it is made of may present a risk. Most tea bags will disintegrate naturally over time and become part of the potting medium.
Many produce growers use tea bags in their compost pile and no problems result because of this. The only thing you must be aware of is what kind of cloth or paper the tea bag itself is made of.
Some tea bags are made of paper, silk, or polypropylene, a sealing plastic. It’s the third, polypropylene, that you should be aware of inside your orchid pot, since it’s plastic and it isn’t biodegradable. In essence, you’re feeding your orchid plastic.
What kind of tea do you use for orchids?
There are six kinds of tea, all made from the same tea plant: Camellia sinensis. The difference in the color, aroma, strength, and taste of the tea comes from the oxidation process, of how long the lea leaves are processed after they are plucked from the plant.
From the least oxidation time to the most, the types of teas that are available are: white, yellow, green, oolong (which lays in between green and black), black and post-fermented. In essence, they have the same properties, but in different proportions and concentrations. These 6 distinctions are how teas are separated and sold. In the United States, the most common teas are green and black teas.
As for orchids, this does make a difference in what tea you use to increase fertilization. Again, all teas will have the same common chemicals, since they came from the same plant.
What differs is the amount and percentage each one contains. Note: this does not apply to teas that are sold with added ingredients, like cinnamon and orange, or peppermint and hazelnut. These can contain literally thousands of different types of chemicals, and some of those could do some harm to your orchid.
Since I can’t go through all the teas there are and list every pro and con of each tea, what I can do is list the main elements in tea.
The main element is a polyphenol (which is another word for tannins, to where the tannic acid comes from).
Other elements include amino acids, enzymes, pigments, carbohydrates, methylxanthines, and numerous other minerals (28 to be precise, including fluorine, manganese, arsenic, nickel, selenium, iodine and aluminum).
Save the tea bags and use them on top the orchid's potting mix
Image Credit: orchideria 2020. All Rights Reserved
Depending on the kind of PH your orchid prefers, your choices of tea for orchids will vary in between black tea, green tea, and herbal tea.
-Black tea has a pH of 5.0 to 5.5, which is exactly what you are aiming for. When looking for tea to buy, choose the black tea. If you use tap water on your orchids, it will be slightly alkaline, and you’ll need to lower the pH. Black tea is perfect for orchids because it lowers the pH in the potting media.
-If you have terrestrial orchids, like a Paphiopedilum, that prefer a high pH, leaning toward a higher pH into the alkaline side of the pH scale, aim for green teas, which have a pH of 7 to 10.
-If you’re not sure what orchid you have or it’s pH preferences, then aim for a herbal tea, which is more neutral.
3 Proven Tea Bag Method for Orchids
There isn’t just one way to use tea bags for orchid fertilization or as a supplement. I’ll go over the three most common methods, explaining each one, and listing the pros and cons of each.
1) Soaking Orchid Roots in Tea
For a truly dehydrated orchid, or one with a poor root system, you’ll need to provide as much nitrogen to the roots as possible. The leaves may be limp, lifeless, leathery, with deep veins running down the middle. You can easily bend the leaves, and they just flop back. Your orchid has been severely dehydrated and is in desperate need of water.
This can be done by cleaning out all the old potting medium, leaving healthy green roots, even if there are very few of them. Open a bag of tea and fill a vase with water, leaving the tea bag in the cup only until the color starts to change. Don’t make a strong concentration of tea since everything in excess can kill faster than the lack will.
Place the orchid in a glass of tea, during the day and take it out at night to air dry. In the morning, place it back into the vase of tea.
This method of soaking the roots in the tea will promote healthy green roots a lot faster than the orchid would by itself, without an incentive. With healthy roots, your orchid will be able to overcome the dehydration, and the roots will properly absorb water and nutrients that it needs to become vibrant again.
This tea bag method for orchids will take about three weeks to complete. Keep repeating the process and change the water every three or four days.
2) Spreading the Tea Contents over the Potting Medium
If your orchid is not dehydrated and the roots are healthy, but you’d just like to give it an extra boost, this tea bag method is the one you’re looking for. After using the tea bag for your own tea, cut open the bag, and sprinkle the contents over the potting media.
As you can imagine, this method provides a high concentration all at once. This is why you can use it twice a year, sparingly. When you water the orchid, the tea will penetrate the orchid media.
Open the teagbag and spread the contents over the medium. Every time you water, the orchid will benefit from the extra tannins and nitrogen.
Image Credit: Orchideria 2020 All Rights Reserved
The cons to this method are that over time, tea will decompose the orchid bark. The initial watering is well-accepted, but after a month, the remains of the tea are still it the pot and won’t be leaving anytime soon.
They will lower the pH of the bark, which is in essence what you are aiming for. Orchids (most all orchids except terrestrial) prefer a slightly more acidic potting medium, around 5.5 to 6.5 pH.
Tea will bring alkalinity in tap water down. I even add a few lemons to mine, since my tap water is extremely high in pH.
This initial low pH will be excellent for the orchid. It will thrive with stronger leaves, greener roots, and more resistant to pests and insects. Tea has a high percentage of theobromine and theophylline, which are natural insect repellents. Yet over time, what used to be good has now become harmful. The pH is extremely acidic and the roots are starting to die off inside the potting medium.
The bark breaks down, due to the tannins in the tea.
I do not recommend this method, but I offer it because you will read about it on the internet. You have more positive effects with the first and third methods.
3) Using the tea with lemon during every watering
If you use a diluted tea, or place the leftover tea bag in a pot of water and let it rest before watering your orchids. By using tea on your orchid, you'll be increasing the tannic acid, lowering the pH in the orchid potting medium and providing a higher concentration of nitrogen in the medium which contains bark. In my opinion, this is the best method.
I happen to add a slice of lemon to my water too since lemon is a natural way to reduce the pH of your water. The water in Kansas is extremely high, and if I don’t do something about it, my orchids will struggle to live.
They’ll bloom, but just not bright, full, long-lasting blooms.
When is a tea bag bad for dealing with orchids?
You have no idea what’s in your tea. Each company can add thousands of chemicals, flavors, and aromas to enhance your tea drinking pleasure. Exactly how much nitrogen is going into your orchid? It’s hard to tell.
Tea is NOT a substitution for store-bought fertilizers with a balanced (or at least a known proportion) N-P-K ratio.
You could be thinking you’re helping your orchid, when in fact, you’re not. So try a little dose of tea, and see how you’re orchid reacts. It’s a trial and error process.
Whatever you do, don’t stop traditional fertilization, which is weekly weakly.
Further Reading Suggestions: GET THE FERTILIZATION GUIDE & SUBSCRIBE
Don't just take my word for what is written here. Continue researching other articles about tea bag methods for orchids
, because everyone has a different point of view and unique techniques that work for them. Here are a few other articles from other websites if you'd like to continue your research on using tea as an orchid fertilizer
-"Is Tea a Good Fertilizer for Houseplants?"
written by Robert Pavlis,
published on Garden Myths
talks about using tea as fertilizers inside the house. He has several interesting points that I didn't cover in this article and well worth the read.
-"The Science of Tea"
published on Science Learning Hub Website
the different particles and elements that are found in tea. This article goes over each one and explains why they are important to the human body. It also explains the 6 types of tea and how each of is unique.
-"Chemical Compounds in Tea"
written by Tony Gebely,
published on Tea Epicure
the chemical side of what tea is made of. It's very explanatory and after reading that article, will make you a firm believer of drinking tea.
-Plastic-Free tea bags: Which brands are and which aren't?"
written by Emma-Louise Pritchard
and published by Country Living
, talks about the hazards of the plastics found in tea bags.
Tea bags aren’t the only way to add fertilizer supplements to orchids. In this article,
I mention how to use eggshells as an orchid fertilizer
. I explain the various methods of using the eggshells: crushed, baked, boiled, and added to the water supply. If you want more information about fertilizing, how about downloading a 14-page guide that is totally free?