Information on Cattleyas

Cattleyas are known as the “Queen of Orchids”.  Two typical examples are the small 50mm flowers of the orange Cattleya aurantiaca and the mammoth 275mm purple or white flowers of Cattleya gigas.  They occur as epiphytes in open savannah and rain forest from sea level to 1500 metres from Mexico to Argentina and Peru.  The genus has been divided into two groups.  Labiates or one-leafed Cattleyas have large flowers with showy broad petals.  Bifoliate or two-leafed Cattleyas have smaller flowers and narrower petals, but are frequently more highly coloured with greater substance.  Cattleyas are probably the best orchids for the beginner as they seem to be more tolerant of cultural mistakes yet still produce rewarding flowers.

Light: Cattleyas need abundant, though not intense light, in order to grow and flower well.  Medium shade cloth (70%) is commonly used.  Early morning sunlight is beneficial to all orchids including Cattleyas.

Air Movement: Air circulation is essential at all times to avoid stagnant air pockets and reduce shadehouse temperature.  The evaporation of moisture from the plants reduces leaf temperature.  Spotting of flowers can be prevented with good air circulation.

Temperature: The ideal temperature in the daytime is between 20ºC and 32ºC, with a night temperature between 10ºC and 20ºC.  They tolerate short periods outside this range. High humidity and good air movement can prevent plant stress from short-term excessive temperature.

Watering: Over watering is probably the biggest single cause of orchid fatalities in orchid collections.  In nature, orchids thrive in an environment of high humidity and being epiphytes, they have time to dry out between showers.  Misting and damping the floor between waterings can increase the humidity.  In order to approximate the natural watering cycle, Cattleyas must approach the point of dryness prior to their next watering. This is achieved by using a potting medium that drains well.  The length of time between waterings will alter with weather changes.  With fine weather the following is quite reliable:

Winter: Water every 5 – 7 days

Spring: Water every 3 – 5 days

Summer: Water every 1 – 3 days

Autumn: Water every 3 – 5 days

Winter watering should be done by 9.00am; summer watering should be done early morning before 7.00am.

Fertilizing: Over fertilizing may produce lush growth with flowers of poor quality. Fertilize your plants every third watering at half the recommended strength.  Use a higher nitrogen fertilizer in the warmer months and a higher potassium fertilizer in the cooler months to promote flowering.

Propagation: Mature plants should be cut into divisions of at least three bulbs.  Cut surfaces should be treated with a fungicide or commercial sealant to prevent entry of disease.

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