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Surefire Ways to Bloom and Grow Cattleya Orchids

If you thought Cattleyas were too tricky, think again

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how to grow cattleya orchids

Once upon a time, the Cattleya orchid was THE corsage orchid. It’s easy to see why – large, long-lasting, colorful blooms grace this orchid. Now, it’s your turn to bloom and grow this classic favorite. But sometimes it’s hard to know what to do.

You wonder if you can properly care for your cattleya. Let alone if you’ll ever get it to bloom. The key to blooming and growing cattleya orchids is to provide bright light and appropriate temperatures. You need to know how to water, fertilize, and pot your cattleya. Let’s talk about how to do this.

Follow these steps and discover how easy it is to grow Cattleya orchids

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1- Providing Bright Light for Cattleyas

Cattleyas are notorious for their high light requirements. In fact, among orchids, Cattleya light has become a standard. Light is important because, without enough, your orchid won’t have enough stored energy to bloom.

You will know if your cattleya is getting enough light by the leaf color. Look for leaf color that is bright, light green. Dark green means that the orchid is not getting enough light. In other words, if you want to get technical, cattleyas require 2000-4000 foot candles of light.

If you are growing cattleyas in your home you have two choices. You can either grow your cattleyas in a windowsill or under lights. Both options can work. 

Growing Cattleyas Near a Windowsill

Place your orchid near a window with lots of bright, yet indirect light. If you are moving your cattleya from a lower to a higher light location, protect the leaves from sunburn then, gradually increase the amount of light. 

A simple way to gradually increase light to prevent sunburn is to place a sheer curtain over the window. Over time, open the curtain for longer periods of time until you can remove the curtain altogether.

Cattleya Orchids That Grow Well in a Brightly Lit Windowsill

  • Cattleya hybrids - particularly miniatures 

  • Cattleya bowringiana

  • Cattleya aurantiaca

  • Cattleya skinneri, and its many hybrids

Growing Cattleyas Under Artificial Lights

If you don’t have a sunny windowsill, you can still grow cattleyas. Artificial lights are dependable. You can set a timer for your lights to turn on and off at specific times and you never have to worry about cloud cover. To learn how to set up lights for your orchids, CLICK HERE.

Personally, I love growing orchids under lights. Artificial lights have made it possible for me to care for a much broader and larger collection of orchids than I would otherwise be able to grow.

2- Suitable Temperatures for Cattleyas

Generally speaking, most cattleyas are intermediate growers and like daytime temperatures between 70°-85°F / 21°-29°C. Avoid temperatures over 85°F / 29°C. These daytime temperatures are pretty easy for most home-growers to accommodate.

Target nighttime temperatures are between 55°-60°F / 13°-15.6°C at night. If you can provide your catts with a 10-degree temperature difference between day and night, your catts will do very well. If you live in an area with appropriate temperatures, crack a window at night. Setting the air conditioner to 55°F / 13°C at night seems a little excessive.

Just as light is important to bloom orchids, so is temperature. Cattleyas are considered intermediate growers. Here is a breakdown of ideal temperatures ranges for cattleyas:

  • Winter
    • daytime – 60°-70°F (15.5°- 21°C)
    • nighttime – no colder than 55°F (12.8°C)
  • Summer
    • daytime – 65°-75°F (18.3°-23.9°C), though 85° is okay, above 90°F (32°C) is harmful
    • nighttime – 65°-65°F (18.3°-23.9°C)

3- Watering Catts

One thing I like about growing cattleyas is that they don’t require a winter rest. This means that you can water your cattleyas year-round without worrying about overwatering. Here’s what you need to know about watering cattleyas. 

Notice that Cattleyas have thick “stems,” these are called pseudobulbs, and leaves. Both the pseudobulbs and the leaves store water. 

What this means to you and me is that Cattleya roots like to dry out a bit between watering. When you water, let the water flow freely and thoroughly through a free-draining potting mix. Then, let the mix dry out before watering again. Plan on watering 1-2 times a week. 

Watering is especially important when new roots, pseudobulbs, and leaves are growing. It is good practice to try to water only the roots and not the rest of the orchid to prevent bacterial and fungal growth.

4- Give Your Orchid Water in the Air – Humidity

In my opinion, because I live in a dry climate, providing enough humidity is the hardest part of growing cattleyas. Cattleyas require between 40-70% humidity. Because I don’t want to grow mold and ruin my walls, around 50% humidity is my target goal–with a humidifier.

To increase humidity around my orchids, I set my humidifier to low and then place my cattleyas as near as I can to the humidifier without water condensing on the leaves.

You will know if your orchid is getting enough humidity because the leaves will be thick and fleshy, without any wrinkles.

5- Feeding Your Cattleya – Fertilizer

To help ensure vigorous roots and leaves, and plenty of flowers, fertilizer at ¼  the recommended strength, 3 out of 4 weeks. On the 4th week, flood the potting media to rinse fertilizer salts. For orchids potted in bark use a high nitrogen fertilizer (9-3-6)

Fertilizing is especially important during the spring when new roots, leaves, and pseudobulbs are growing. Decrease fertilizing when the cattleya is not actively growing – such as during the winter.

6- Air Movement to Prevent Disease

Orchids love humidity. They need water in the air to make up for water lost through the pores in their leaves (called stomata). But it’s not just orchids that thrive in humidity – so does fungus and bacteria. Air movement, in the form of a fan – set to low, pointed away from the orchids, will help keep your orchids healthy – free from fungal and bacterial infections.

7- Avoiding Pests

Keeping your orchid free of disease with good airflow is one way to keep your orchids healthy. Another way to be vigilant about your orchids’ health is to regularly check for pests.

Mealybugs, scale (my personal nemesis), thrips, aphids, slugs, and snails all enjoy feasting on orchids. Regularly inspecting for any signs of pests will help you to catch bugs before they become an infestation and spread to other orchids. To learn how to treat pests, CLICK HERE.

8- Potting a Cattleya

Potting an orchid can be as intimidating as it is essential. And, I know you CAN do it!

Because cattleya roots need plenty of airflow, use an open potting mix, such as fir bark, supplemented with small bits of wool rock for added moisture and charcoal to keep the mix from compacting. There are two main methods for “potting” cattleyas – mounted and potted.

Mounted Cattleyas

Cattleyas naturally lend themselves for mounting for several reasons.

  1. Many cattleya varieties grow rather large. (Choose a miniature hybrid for a smaller plant.) Large cattleyas will quickly outgrow a pot but can spread out on mounts.
  2. You can go for years without potting if you use mounts. Yay!
  3. Though mounted orchids can go years without potting, they can take daily care when it comes to watering. If you choose to mount your cattleya be prepared to daily water or mist the roots. Likewise, mounted orchids need more humidity than potted orchids.
  4. Cattleya rhizomes grow horizontally making mounts ideal. 
  5. Cattleya roots love oxygen and mounted orchid roots are exposed to the air.
  6. Cattleyas are epiphytes and grow on trees. A mount closely resembles their natural growing habitat.

To learn how to mount an orchid, CLICK HERE.

Potted Cattleyas

If daily watering and providing high humidity just isn’t in the cards for you and your cattleya, you can always pot it up. Unlike most orchids that grow best in a tall, narrow pot, grow cattleyas in a shallow, wide pot or basket. 

Before choosing a pot, keep your growing environment along with your cattleyas’ needs in mind. Specifically, remember that orchids love humidity, yet they also like their roots to dry slightly between watering. 

  • Slatted baskets dry out the fastest, and allow for lots of air to the roots. 
  • Clay pots don’t dry out as quickly as baskets and provide good airflow to the roots.
  • Plastic pots dry out the slowest but provide the least airflow to the roots.

After potting, you may find that a rhizome clip is helpful for keeping the cattleya down inside the pot until the roots become established in the pot. One one end the clip snaps down on the side of the pot. The other end is straight and sits between pseudobulbs holding the orchid in place.

To take a look at my recommended potting kit for orchids, CLICK HERE.

9- Cattleya Orchids are Sympodial – Why this matters when potting

Sympodial orchids grow from a thick stem, called a rhizome, that grows horizontally along the surface of the potting media. Pseudobulbs grow up from the rhizome. In fact, most orchids are sympodial, rather than monopodial. Phalaenopsis and vanda orchids are monopodial and from a single stem. 

Sympodial orchids, including cattleyas, grow laterally, ideally from one end of the pot to the other. That’s why when potting it is important to place the cattleya with the oldest growth against the side of the pot and the newest growth towards the center.

Sympodial orchids that are in pots that are too small look like they are climbing out of their pot as the rhizome grows over the edge of the pot.

A wide pot allows cattleyas to grow laterally. A shallow pot dries out more quickly than a deep pot and helps prevent the pot from holding too much moisture. Bonsai pots are both wide and shallow and can be used for potting cattleyas.

10- Potting Success – New Roots 

To most successfully re-pot a cattleya:

  1. Pot before the potting media breaks down.
  2. Re-pot at the first sign of new roots. This is when the cattleya will most readily accept potting and will bounce back the most quickly from the trauma of potting.

For a step-by-step guide to potting orchids, CLICK HERE.

11- Flowering Success – Preventing Bud Blast

Occasionally, you may notice the sheath that covers the bud begin to turn yellow. Use a sterile razor blade and carefully cut the sheath away. Use extreme care not to damage the newly forming bud within. (Don’t cut yourself either.)

Bud blast is caused by fluctuations in the orchid’s environment such as changes in water, temperature, and even pollution. To learn more about bud blast and how to prevent it, CLICK HERE.

12- My Favorite Tip for Choosing Cattleyas, Plus 4 More

My Favorite Tip: Choose an Award-Winning Cattleya

Because cattleyas have been heavily hybridized, there is tons of variety. This means that some hybrids are better than others. So, no matter which cattleya you choose, you may as well chose a proven winner. Here are some cattleyas recommended by William Cullina in his book, Understanding Orchids and Mark Hachadourian in his book, Modern Orchid.

Beginner Cattleyas

  • Cattleya Skinneri

  • Cattleya Intermidia

  • Cattleya Aurantiaca

  • Cattleya Mossiae

  • Cattleay Canhamiana 'Asure Skies'

  • Cattleya Cernua

  • Cattlyea Dinard 'Blue Heaven'

  • Cattleya Drumbeat 'Heritage'

  • Cattleya Mari's Song

  • Cattleya Cattleya Melody Fair 'Carol'

  • Cattleya Mini Purple

  • Cattlianthe Gold Digger 'Fuchs Mandarin'

  • Cattlianthe Jewel Box 'Scheherazade'

  • Clowesia Rebecca Northern 'Pink Grapefruit'

1- Maturity Matters

It takes a few years for a cattleya to be large enough to produce flowers. If you’re patient and want to save money, buy a younger orchid, give it good care, and when the orchid reaches maturity, you’ll get flowers.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to wait for the orchid to grow up, be sure to ask the seller if the orchid is “blooming size.”

2- Pick a Color, Any Color

Since there are so many cattleya hybrids, they come in practically every color. If you have a favorite color, you can probably find a cattleya to match.

3- Standard or Miniature Sized

Orchids that grow in the wild, called species orchids, are generally quite large. If you don’t have the space for a large plant, choose a miniature hybrid. 

Because I have limited space, I choose to grow miniature cattleyas and have found them to be very rewarding. I love it in the spring when I see new pseudobulbs and roots beginning to grow. Later, when they flower, I feel like a real champion! My cattleya’s success is my success.

4- Fragrance

Yes, you can even choose a cattleya or cattleya relative with a fragrance.

  • Cattleya digbyana
  • Relative to cattleyas is the easy-to-grow brassavola with a lovely nighttime fragrance.

13- Final Tip – Download Your Own Care Card

Growing orchids is rewarding, though sometimes frustrating. To add more fun and less discouragement, I’ve created an easy-reference, downloadable, and free Cattleya Care Card with information on how to care for cattleyas. To get yours, CLICK HERE.

These Care Cards cover all the essential information that we’ve talked about right here including temperature, light, humidity, water, fertilizing, potting, and media.

This way you can easily access the information you need to give your cattleya orchids the very best care.

Resources

If you are curious about any of the products, such as potting mix, fertilizer, and artificial lights, I personally use and recommend to successfully grow orchids, including cattleyas, CLICK HERE

8 Comments
  1. Chantile says:

    My dad buys my mom an orchid for Mother’s Day every year, and I’m pretty sure it’s a Cattleya! I definitely want one in my home now! 🙂

    I use essential oil diffusers in the main rooms of my home. Do you think this would be enough humidity? I wouldn’t use the oils near the orchid for fear of damaging them. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Anna says:

      Chantile,
      It’s so great to hear from you! Do you know what the the humidity levels are in your home? Cattleyas do best with at least 50% humidity. I know my levels aren’t that high, but I do keep mine right next to my humidifier.
      Anna

  2. Barb says:

    I love the fantastic fragrance mine put forth. That is why I bought it 9 years ago. Quite surpringly, I got my first blooms ever in February this year. I do not use lights or a humidifier. I soak it once or twice a week depending and I feed it at every watering.

    1. Anna says:

      Barb,
      That’s wonderful! Congratulations on your blooms!!!
      Thanks for sharing!
      Anna

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have 2 cattleyas but I’m enduring the pain of not having them bloom.
    The plant I have now forms a bud, but dies before blooming.
    Please, advise…Jacques

    1. Anna says:

      Jaques,
      This tragic situation has a name: bud blast. When a bud forms, but withers and dies before blooming it is usually the result of environmental changes. The fact that your orchid is forming buds is a good sign. Now you need to determine which environmental changes you can make so that the buds will open and you’ll get flowers.
      Follow this link to learn how to prevent bud blast.
      Anna

  4. Vicky Carter says:

    why are the roots never in good shape when i buy a catt from a reputable seller?

    1. Anna says:

      Vicky,
      I can’t answer that. That is so frustrating! I wish you better luck in the future!
      ~Anna

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the ONE email you'll open every week

Saturday mornings I send out an exclusive email sharing my best tips on how to grow healthy orchids.

YES! THANK YOU!