Zygopetalums are fragrant and exotic new world orchids that grow in a cool rainforest environment. They like moderate light levels and somewhat more water than cattleyas. In the greenhouse, Zygopetalums require some shading to prevent their thin leaves from overheating. In the home, however, they need bright light. Placing them outside under the shade of tall trees during the summer months is very beneficial. Do not place them in full sun, however, or the leaves will burn. In the home, placing Zygopetalums in a room with relatively cool temperatures will help guard against dehydration. They are happiest with night temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees and daytime temperatures in the mid 80’s or below.
In watering Zygopetalums, it is best to soak the potting mix thoroughly and wait until the center is almost dry before watering again. In warm weather this can be as often as every 2-3 days and in the winter as little as once every 5-7 days.
Plants in this group should be given a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer about once a month during the growing months. Do not feed plants when dormant. It is best 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. 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.
We have had good luck with the following growing media:
- Three parts long fibered New Zealand or Chilean sphagnum moss
(Soak for at least 24 hours, drain and squeeze out excess water)
- One part volcanic or ‘Dyna’ rock, rinsed (1/4” to ½”)
- One part #3 perlite (sponge rock)
- One part loose medium tree fern
We pot the plants loosely to allow for good drainage and air flow around the roots. Always make sure the newest growth is touching or slightly below the top of the medium. Unlike epiphytes, plants in this group will not grow ‘air roots’ and in order for the new roots to thrive, they must be in or directly on the growing medium. Repotting should be done when a new growth is showing and during the temperate seasons, spring or fall. Depending on how often watering is required and your summer temperatures (temperatures of 85 or higher break the mix down faster) repotting should be done every 12-18 months. Young plants which are growing fast may become root bound much more quickly.
These growing conditions are very similar to those required for Promanaea and Maxillaria
Note: This guide is only applicable to Zygopetalums. For other varieties, please click on one of these links: