Cattleya Orchids

Learn tips for growing the classic corsage orchid.

Cattleya Orchid

Orchids require special care to thrive.

Photo by: Image courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Image courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Orchids require special care to thrive.

Celebrate beauty by growing one of the most recognized flowers, the cattleya orchid. This orchid type is well known because it produces the blossoms used to create corsages. Cattleya orchids are sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Orchids.” The flowers are large and frequently fragrant, and they come in a rainbow of colors thanks to the efforts of plant hybridizers. But the original cattleya orchid species opens flowers in the bright purple shade that coined the color “orchid.”  

Cattleya orchids grow on tree branches in the American tropics and subtropics, where the orchid’s roots are exposed to air. This type of growth pattern is known as epiphytic, meaning that cattleya orchid roots thrive with air movement. The need for air around roots is probably the main reason cattleya orchids don’t make it. They need an orchid potting mix that provides good air flow to roots.  

Consider blending expanded clay pellets with other orchid potting mix elements, such as tree fern bark, hardwood charcoal, perlite or redwood chips. There really isn’t one correct orchid potting mix to use with cattleya orchids. The ideal mix is one that works with your growing conditions and the type of container you use.  

Many growers have success raising cattleya orchids on slabs or in slat baskets. Both of these growing techniques provide excellent air flow to roots. With any orchid potting mix, it’s a good idea to replace it every so often. Cattleya orchids tend to need repotted every two to three years. When you’re repotting orchids, use that time to inspect slat baskets or slabs for signs of rot.  

In the home, give cattleya orchids a spot near a bright window. The plants prefer high light in the morning and early evening, but need protection from the sun’s hottest rays at midday. The rule of thumb for providing light to cattleya orchids is to aim for bright shade, with sunlight early and/or late in the day.  

Cattleya orchids experience cycles of wet and dry growing conditions in their native forest settings. Rain storms blow in water, followed by gusts of wind that dry plant roots. Cattleya orchids have thickened stems known as pseudobulbs. In the wild, these pseudobulbs store moisture for the orchid plant to use during the dry season. In a home setting, pseudobulbs still store water, so it’s important not to overwater plants.  

These pretty orchids have actively growing and dormant times in their annual growth patterns. The dormant, resting time can last for a few weeks or months. During the active growth time, provide regular water and fertilizer. For orchid fertilizer, use a balanced fertilizer (numbers like 20-20-20) that contains micronutrients.

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