Cattleyas, They're Easier Than You Think

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 with grace this orchid. There is something right and reassuring about this timeless orchid. It’s your turn to grow this classic favorite!

My Cattleya Journey

Despite my hesitation, a couple of years ago I purchased two mini Cattleyas. Here’s why I was hesitant: I didn’t know if I could provide enough light and humidity. I’m not a greenhouse grower, and I live in the desert. In the end, I found Cattleyas extremely rewarding. Here’s how I got around their high light and moderately high humidity requirements. 

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

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Providing Light for Cattleya Orchids

First off, Cattleyas are notorious for their high light requirements. In fact, among orchid growers, Cattleya light has become a standard. When I first brought home my Cattleyas I set them close to the window where they could receive the most light. To thank me for my efforts, their blooms and buds promptly died and fell off. They didn’t like the transition from the greenhouse to the window sill. But, they started growing roots like crazy.

I knew it was time to pot them. I bought a couple of orchid pots: black and cobalt blue. Whereupon the summer heat sizzled their roots. The dark color of the pots only absorbed more heat, exacerbating the problem. That’s when I high-jacked my husband’s grow lights.

Growing under lights, the roots improved dramatically. My Cattleyas had beautiful green-tipped roots galore. The fluorescent lights don’t put off too much heat and the orchids seemed much happier, except…

Cattleyas and Humidity

…except that the leaves were slightly on the shriveled side. They needed more humidity. Cattleyas require between 40-70% humidity. Living in the desert, getting around 50% is my target goal–with a humidifier.

All I had to do was to move my humidifier closer to orchids. I didn’t turn the humidifier up. I just moved it. The leaves improved. Not as quickly as the roots, but still, I am happy with the way my Cattleyas’ leave now look: thick and fleshy, no wrinkles.

That’s all well and good, but that year I didn’t get a single flower. Back I went to the drawing board.

Lighting Adjustments = Flowers

As you may know, light is the #1 reason orchids don’t bloom. This last winter I adjusted the light timer correlates with the seasons. This is one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do moments. I know, I should have done it long ago, but it’s such a PAIN.

Being desperate for my Cattleyas to flower, I adjusted the timer for the lights. What do you know, but it made all the difference. This past winter I set the timer so the lights turned on at 7 am and off at 6 pm. Now that it’s getting lighter, I’ll change the timer back the summer schedule of turning on at 5 am and off at 8 pm. My flowers still look fresh, and they’ve been in bloom for a couple of months.

To make things easier so I wasn’t so reluctant to adjust the timer, I got a new one. This timer is much easier to use than my last one.

Cattleyas with dark green leaves indicate that they are not getting enough light. Cattleya leaves should be light green – even tinged with red along the pseudobulbs. 

Proper Temperature = Flowers

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)

NOTE: Humidity and air movement play an important role in moderating warm temperatures.

Cattleya Buying Guide

For best results, don’t buy just any Cattleya. There are a few things to consider:

Size – If Space Is a Consideration, Grow Miniature Cultivars 

Some Cattleyas can grow to be quite large. Ask the seller how large the orchid will grow and make sure you have enough space. With a growing orchid collection and limited space, I am sticking with minis. But don’t hold me to that!

Hybrids – Go for Award Winners

Cattleyas have been popular for a long time. The Victorians adored them. Hybridization has resulted in stellar cultivars, and some unreliable ones as well. Buy a proven winner. If you’re purchasing from a reliable vendor, they can tell you how reliably the hybrid will bloom.

Maturity – Blooming Size

Cattleyas won’t bloom until they reach maturity. When purchasing, ask the seller if the Cattleya is blooming-size. This means that the orchid is old enough to bloom.

Cattleya Recommendations

Here are a couple of Cattleya recommendations. These are varieties of good choices for beginner Cattleya growers.

  • Cattleya skinneri
  • Cattleya intermedia

Buy Cattleya Orchids

Just imagine yourself successfully caring for the queen of orchids, the Cattleya. By following the tips on your Cattleya care card, you’ll be able to do just that.




In a Nutshell

Here’s how I made Cattleyas work for me. First, I’m growing them under lights. Second, I’ve placed them near my humidifier. Third, I adjusted the automatic timer to reflect the season. Result: green-tipped roots, full, fleshy leaves and flowers. With a few modifications, the most significant being lights. I firmly believe you can grow Cattleyas indoors. 

Remember to buy a proven cultivar, one that’s the right size for your space.

  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:

      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.

  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:

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

  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:

      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.

  4. Vicky Carter says:

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

    1. Anna says:

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

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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.