How to Plant and Care For Cattleya Orchids
The biggest enemy to any orchid is water. Most orchids that die are lost because of either TOO MUCH or TOO LITTLE water. The cattleya orchid is an epiphyte. That means that it grows above ground -using other plants or objects for support. The epiphyte is not a parasite and does not cause direct damage to the plant or other object.
Unless you live in the tropics, or an environment that does not fall below the freezing point, it is difficult to grow orchids directly on a tree or other outdoor object. To enjoy the beautiful blooms, it is necessary for us to provide a growing conditions that sufficiently mimic the proper environment. That includes proper moisture, proper temperature, and proper growing medium.
The temperature for a cattleya orchid should be maintained between 50º F and 90º F. The cattleya can survive occasional dips in temperatures as low as 40º , but they do much better when they are kept above 50ºF.
The amount of moisture is another very important item. Orchids like high humidity. I keep my greenhouse at 85% relative humidity or above. That is difficult for the in home grower. One way to increase the humidity is to group several plants together so that the water vapor they give off increases the humidity in that area. Also, you can leave open containers of water near the orchid. As it evaporates, it will increase the humidity. A household sprayer is also a great item to have on hand to mist the area to increase humidity. For the most serious grower, you can purchase a small humidifier for use around the plants.
How much and how often to water? As stated above, the cattleya grows in trees. There, when it rains, the water runs down the bark of the tree. The orchid picks up tis water and then waits for the next rain. You never want an orchid to sit in water or wet medium. The roots will rot. Usually, a once a week watering is sufficient, unless the weather is hot. You will then need more frequent watering. Just be sure that when you water the water is allowed to completely drain from the container. Allow the medium to fully dry before the next watering
What medium should I use to plant my orchid in? We are using a medium mixed of 2/3 cypress mulch and 1/3 sponge rock (expanded perlite). This provides a good balance of a well drained medium and good root growth. You may also visit your local home improvement store and search for potting medium for cattleya orchids. You can purchase the potting medium already mixed in a bag that will easily fill 6 or 8 4" orchid pots. When you receive your orchids they will be bare root. That means that we have removed the orchid from the growing container and have trimmed the roots as necessary to encourage new root growth when planted.
How do I plant and grow my orchids? As stated above, these plants will be shipped bare root. We have removed the orchid from the pot in which it was growing, removed any residual medium, trimmed the roots to encourage new growth, and carefully packed the orchid for shipment. We do this for several reasons. First of all, it cost much less to ship orchids if you don't have to ship the pot. Second, the state of SC, like most states in the south east, is under a fire ant and Japanese Beetle quarantine. In order for me to ship these plants I have to bare root them.
You should obtain a pot of the same size as this plant was removed from. For the cattleya orchids on special, this would be a 4" pot. We suggest a pot with good drainage. This may be a terracotta orchid pot with the holes in the bottom and sides, or a plastic, decorative pot. Just be sure it is not too big. Orchids should be kept in the smallest pot possible. Only move to a larger pot when the orchid overgrows the existing pot.
Step 1. Fill the pot 2/3 full of potting medium. Test to see if when the orchid is placed on top of the medium, the base of the is about even with the to of the pot. The roots should just touch the top of the medium and you will need to support the orchid at this time to verify it is at the proper height in the pot. If it is too low, add a little more medium. If it is to high, remove a small amount. When the level is correct go to the next step.
Step 2. While holding the orchid upright add additional medium around the roots up to the base of the plant. Use you thumbs to firmly pack the medium around the roots. When properly packed, the plant should stand in the pot on its' own. However, you may need to add a small stake ( a bamboo skewer makes a great stake) and tie a leaf section to it. Make sure the medium is packed.
Step 3. Thoroughly water the newly planted orchid. Allow water to run through the pot and out the openings in the bottom. This washes out the fine material that clogs up the medium. Once it has finished draining, again use your thumbs to make sure the medium is well packed.
Step 4. Add a small amount (1/2 teaspoon) of time release fertilizer to the top of the medium. Set the plant in a bright location, but NOT in direct sunlight. Check the plant every few days to see if it is dry. If it is thoroughly dry, you may water it again.
Watch your plant grow and look for bloom spikes to form. When the plant blooms, you will be glad you went through all this trouble!
If you are in the Aiken, SC area or passing through, and would like to purchase your orchids as potted plants, please contact me via email with the specifics of when you would like to visit. I will work with you to get just the plant you need.
Click here to Return to the Cattleya Page