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Captivating Cattleyas - once flowered, never forgotten

It's all very easy to pontificate on how various orchid genera should be grown, but we must all be aware that what works for one grower for some reason may not always work for another. How often have we come away from lectures, having sat through an hour of the most impressive colour slides, and having looked enviously at the quality of the plants on the speaker’s sales table, all in pristine condition, pseudobulbs glistening and bursting with energy, with not a blemish in sight. We go home, determined to follow all of the speaker’s instructions to the tee, thinking that we have at last found the ‘secret’, only to be disappointed with the results after a further year of this experimentation. Nevertheless, perhaps we do stand a better chance of achieving success in our culture by imitating the techniques recommended by an obviously successful grower rather than by charging ahead without any logical thought going into what the plants really need to be happy.

And so, all I can say is, this is how I personally grow cattleyas, hopefully achieving reasonable success but always knowing that, in the words of my old headmaster, I ‘could do better’. My interest lies mainly in the big and brash standard cattleyas both of the multi-flowered bi-foliate Central American cats. and also of the more showy hybrids of the Brazilian mono-foliates. I am not into growing the now more fashionable ‘mini-cats.’ which require cooler conditions than their larger cousins. Cattleyas generally grow high up in the forest canopy and therefore benefit from high levels of light, difficult to achieve in our hazy island atmosphere. Don't ask how many lumens are required; in any case, how many of us have a meter to measure this by? Just as bright as you can get it without burning the leaves through the glass. I find that keeping a layer of bubble-wrap on the roof panes all year round prevents this burning. During the winter months I am sure that extra light from a 300 or 500 watt floodlight from early afternoon until bed-time helps promote stronger growth.

Temperature seems to be OK if held around 60 degrees, and if you can afford it throughout the wintertime, 65 degrees would obviously be an improvement, but allow it to drop by 5-10 degrees throughout the hours of darkness.

Sufficient air movement is most important and since a domestic fan and the small amount of power used to drive it is so relatively cheap, there is no excuse not to provide any amount of tree-top breezes that the orchids would expect in the wild.

Humidity is another essential, but it is probably better to spray the floor and under-bench foliage rather than to spray over the plants, which otherwise may leave them coated in limescale after a few days. This also avoids damping-off caused by water entering a flower sheath which has just started to open under the pressure of those glorious buds which have taken so many patient months in their formation.

Now, correct watering, I think, is the greatest of challenges. Cats. in the wild have to go through successive periods of being drenched and then being dried out completely . Most of us find it hard to hold back on watering, and I believe that we never allow sufficient drying out between waterings when using impervious plastic pots. I am a great believer in using old-fashioned clay pots that can then be flooded almost at will knowing that they will quickly dry out.

I have acquired cats. beautifully grown in other media such as peat or Rockwool, but I personally can’t get on with these media; for me, mature cats. require to be grown in as large pieces of chipped bark as possible.

But the greatest of problems is attack by numerous greenhouse pests, mainly scales, against which I now strongly believe in monthly spraying both top and particularly the undersides of leaves with soft soap with the very occasional addition of a little fungicide. Once a leaf blemish has occurred, it is there for the next five years or so before it has grown out.

Finally, a few old-fashioned slug pellets need to be used against the odd missed snail that inevitably appears from nowhere to sniff out your prized bud just about to break.

Stephen Taylor

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Miniature Cattleya


These beautiful small plants are now available in a rainbow of colours. In Hawaii it has become big business for commercial breeders.

Understanding the following three species will help you grow these hybrids successfully.

Sophronitis coccinea, Laelia pumila, Cattleya walkeriana.

Sophronitis coccinea and its hybrids such as Sc. Beaufort (Soph. coccinea x C. lutcola) grow better with slightly more shade then most cattleyas and also need more even moisture to the compost to do well. Its hybrids will grow better if the nights are little cooler . Temp around 52-56F. Good water quality is also very important with low dissolved salt around 350ppm. They will not tolerate salty or stale conditions at their roots.

Laelia pumila and its hybrids grow the same as Soph. coccinea but need a little more light and a lift in temperature by a few degrees in our winter. Using L. pumila does enhance the colour of its hybrids, but it is not as successfull as Soph. coccinea in reducing the size of the plant, it does minimise the distance between the pscudo bulbs, making it a more compact plant.

Cattleya walkeriana and its hybrids, these plants have thick roots and therefore need more very open compost so it can dry put between watering. They need fairly high light levels and must be kept warm night temp. 60F +; try to keep drier in the winter.

Feed: all miniature cattleyas need a balanced feed once every two weeks in the summer and every month in the winter at ½ strength. For example Peters 20-20-20. This is a powder feed and need to dissolve well before use. Dyna- Grow Liquid Grow 7-9-5 is a very good feed as it contains a supply of calcium and is urea free.

Pests: These plants are not too bad for pests. Keep your eye out for the odd insect they will be more active in the summer than in the winter. Cleaning the foliage regularly will stop pests from becoming a problem.

Compost Mixes:

Sophronitis coccinea & L. pumila and its hybrids

1 part fine bark , 1 part perlite or pumice, 1 part New Zealand Sphagnum Moss

Cattleya walkeriana & its hybrids

3 parts medium bark, 1 part New Zealand Sphagnum Moss

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