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Caring for Cattleya Orchids

The Cattleya alliance is one of the most widely varied groups on the orchid family tree.  Genus include Cattleya, Brassavola, Laelia, Sophronitis, Broughtonia, Epidendrums and Encyclias just to name a few.  In addition, there are multiple genera such as Potinara, Hawkinsara, Iwanagara, and Brassolaeliocattleya that are produced by combinations of the above.  The wide variety of colors, sizes, and growth habits ensure that there is something that everyone can appreciate.  No matter whether you are a beginner or advanced grower you can find one that will suit your conditions.

Like most orchids, the majority of this group is epiphytic and in nature will be found growing in trees. Because of this we recommend most cattleyas grow in a fir bark based media that has excellent drainage.  The size of the media particulates will depend on the size of the plant you are growing and the pot size.  Meaning miniatures and young seedlings should grow in smaller pots with finer media and larger standard sized cattleyas will prefer bigger more open media.  Whenever you repot your cattleya, never allow for more than two years worth of growing room.  Sometime this means only changing an inch or so in pot size at repotting time.  (For more info see our Bare Root Repotting Care Sheet)

Temperature requirements for this group can range from 55 degrees at night to the low 90’s during the day.  Those that are miniatures bred from Sophronitis are less likely to appreciate the warmer day temperatures.  Mini-catts (usually 12” tall or less at maturity) will do well in the average home 65-75 degrees and slighter cooler at night.  Keep in mind large standard cattleya require a night time drop in temps to promote flowering their season.  If you keep your thermostat the same year round, day and night, your cattleya may not bloom.

Cattleyas especially must adhere to the common ‘wet-dry cycle’ many orchids need.  When watering these orchids, it is best to drench the potting mix thoroughly and wait until the center of the pot is relatively dry before watering again.  Most mature orchids in fir bark-based mixes will need watering no more than once every 5 to 7 days. Smaller pots and miniatures may need water as often as every 4-5 days.  The more overgrown or pot-bound your plant is the more water will be needed.  If you consistently keep the potting media wet through the middle of the pot, the roots will eventually succumb to rot and the plant will start to decline.

The best place in the home is a south or eastern facing window where the light is bright but not direct.  Direct sunlight for long periods can cause burn on the leaves of most orchids.  As long as the foliage is not damaged the brighter the light the better. Sunrooms, bay windows or a screened in porch are also good places to grow these.

All plants can be fertilized safely with a weak solution of urea-free fertilizer such as Growmore 20-10-20 or Dyna Grow Orchid Pro 7-8-6 once a month. Always water before fertilizing and remember that it is better to under-fertilize rather than to over-fertilize. With the lower light and drier conditions in the home, orchids cannot use as much fertilizer as they can use in the greenhouse and only every 6-8 weeks might be necessary for happy plants. Some growers like to increase the humidity around their orchids in the home by using "humidity trays or trays of wet gravel around or under the plants. Pots should not touch the surface of the water.

Note: This guide is only applicable to Cattleya Orchids. For other varieties, please click on one of these links:

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