Cattleya Culture

Most Cattleyas are grown in greenhouses, but they may be grown successfully as house plants.  Except for humidity and light, conditions in the home are generally favorable for Cattleya growth.  In the spring, summer, and the fall they may be grown outside if protected by lath or shade cloth.  They need 40%-50% of direct sunlight.  In San Diego County there are many areas where you may grow Cattleyas outside all year.  Keep in mind the few hot days, and the few cold nights that you may experience during the year might require some extra effort.

TEMPERATURE: The optimum range for Cattleyas is 60 to 80 F..  They will grow satisfactorily between 55 and 90 but temperatures above 90 can be very harmful.

WATER: Because Cattleyas can stand long drying periods, they like to be alternately well watered, then dried out.  A mature plant needs a good watering about once a week. Smaller plants will generally need water about twice a week during the growing season (March to October).

HUMIDITY: The ideal humidity for plants in a greenhouse is 40% to 80% or even above.  Most greenhouse humidistats are set at 50% minimum for Cattleyas.  Plants outdoors should be misted daily during hot or dry spells.  In the home, humidity is obtained by placing the plants on gravel in a tray containing water.  The evaporation of water around the gravel provides sufficient humidity.

LIGHT AND SHADING: Give the plant as much light as it will take without burning the leaves.  The foliage should be light green rather than dark green.  If kept in a sunny window, it may be necessary to shade with a lace curtain, cheese cloth or similar material.  If the plant refuses to flower, it may be a sign of not enough light.  There are of course other factors that do affect the flowering of Cattleyas.  2500 to 3500 foot candles of light are acceptable.

POTTING: The media most commonly used for potting Cattleya orchids is fir bark.  Some growers incorporate small pieces of charcoal, perlite or volcanic rock in their mix.  This is for better drainage. On plants up to 3" pot size use 1/8 to 1/4" (fine) orchid bark.  4" pots and up, use medium size bark. It is recommended to moisten the media before potting.  Also, never over-pot.

REPOTTING AND DIVIDING: Any of the three conditions are necessary in determining when to repot Cattleyas:

  1. The roots are growing over the edge of the pot.
  2. The plant is starting to make new roots at the base of the old pseudo-bulb.
  3. If the plant is not doing well, and the bark in the potting mix is broken down, and it has finished flowering, then repot.

Generally, if your plant is growing well repotting every two years will suffice.

When you do repot and divide allow 3 to 5 bulbs to a division.  This size will allow the division to fit into a 5" or 6" pot.  In order to allow for two years growth, place the division with lead growth in the center of the pot.  Surface of the mix should be about an inch below the top of the pot.  In making the division make a clean cut with a sterilized cutting tool.  Remove all dead roots and pack the new mix firmly about the remaining roots.  Place the plant in a well shaded warm, humid area.  Spray leaves lightly daily.   Resume normal watering after the plant has started to make new roots.

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