Cattleya (Kat-lee-ya) are among the most popular orchids. Their culture is often used as the comparison with other types of orchids.
Cattleyas (cats for short) and their related hybrids come in many colors, shapes, forms and sizes. Culture varies only slightly among most of these. Like many other cultivated orchids, cattleyas are epiphytes, or air plants. They have developed water-storage organs, called pseudobulbs, and have large, fleshy roots covered with a spongy, water retentive velamen. They need to dry out between waterings, therefore they should be potted in free-draining media.
Light is the most important factor in growing flowering cattleyas, whether in the home or on the lanai or outside. Filtered sunlight, thru a screen or through leaves on a tree will provide adequate light for most cats. Midday sun here in Florida is too hot and bright for these plants and will result in their leaves being burned. Leaves should be a medium green-yellowish color and pseudobulbs erect.
Our Florida temperatures are just about ideal for growing cattleyas. With 80% humidity, breezes and constant hot weather in the spring, summer and fall they will thrive. They are remarkably resilient to the cool nights in the winter when the temperature dives into the thirties. Colder than that requires some protection.
Water should be provided in two ways: in the pot by watering and in the air as humidity. Watering in the container is dictated by many criteria: size and type of pot, temperature, light, etc. Mature cattleyas need to dry out between waterings. If in doubt, it’s best to wait a day or two until watering. Plants in active growth need more water than plants that are resting or when the weather is cooler. NEVER use softened water to water your plants. The sodium in the water will kill them.
The saying “Orchids should be fed weakly, weekly” is appropriate. A feeding once a month with a “Bloom Booster” is also recommended. At Sundance we also use a drop per gallon of Super Thrive when we feed. This product acts as a supplement of micro nutrients which all orchids need. Since our potting medium contains a majority of fir bark as its top ingredient, a fertilizer with a moderately higher N (for nitrogen) number is best allowing for the decomposition of the bark in the mix. Our potting mix also contains sponge rock, aliflor, charcoal as well as the fir bark.
The question is often asked, ‘how often should my cattleyas be repotted?’. Several factors influence that decision. First of all, if the potting media has broken down and seems more like dirt than bark, then it’s time. Also, if the plant is climbing out of the pot, it needs repotted. Generally, cattleyas need repotting about every 2 years or so. By letting the plant continue to grow out of the pot, when repotting it will be misshapen and will be difficult to repot into a new container. Additionally, if your plant is looking sick, dried out, or just in poor shape, the first place to check its health is in the pot. If the roots are dead and/or in poor shape, by all means repot now.
The ideal time to repot your orchid is when it has finished blooming. They usually begin to develop new roots then, an ideal time for the old ones to be cut off and for the plant to have new potting media to stimulate the growth. Keep them in a shady area when first repotted until you notice new, bright green roots emerging then gradually shift them to a more sunny area. You should then resume weekly feeding and watering.
Many cattleyas bloom once a year. We like to suggest that to begin a cattleya collection, you might buy a few blooming plants each month of the year you are in Florida. After a year, your recently purchased plants will start reblooming again since they usually bloom approximately the same time each year.