The Cattleya orchid is often referred to as the queen of orchid flowers. They are very easy to grow and flower as they thrive in our warm and humid summers and tolerate our cool winters. Cattleyas grow especially well in a shade house with about 50% shade cloth which means they like good light but generally not full sun. If a shade house is not an option placing them in broken or dappled sunlight, eg under a tree can be quite suitable.
Good air movement is essential but some protection is desirable on the western side against cold winds during winter. Position plants facing north if possible as this will provide maximum light during the day. Cattleyas require a minimum of four hours sunlight daily.
Growing medium is quite variable but the more commonly used is pine bark, perlite/peat mix, spaghnum moss or coconut fibre.
Fertilizer is required and as a general rule there is two types to use, for flowering use one with higher potassium,(eg Phostrogen) and for growing one with a higher nitrogen, (eg, Thrive). Until you become more familiar with fertilizers a simple regimen would be to use these two fertilizers alternately each week to ten days in summer and about monthly in winter.
Watering should be watched closely as overwatering can cause root rot and may result in the loss of the plant. It may be better to feel the medium, put your finger in the pot to ascertain whether you need to water or not. As you become more experienced you can tell by lifting up the pot to judge if it is dry or not. As a rule of thumb, water twice a week in summer and in winter about every ten days. Small pots would need more frequency between watering. Using spaghnum moss or coconut fibre retains more moisture than bark and feeling the dampness of these is worthwhile till you become more experienced and understand the differences between the various potting mediums.
Repotting is best done in the spring when the plants become active in growth or the front bulbs begin to put out new roots. Plants that need to be divided should be cut at the fourth bulb from the front, back bulbs can be repotted too as these will generate new growths also. Sprinkle some cinnamon ( from the pantry ) on the cuts)as this will prevent infection till the surface cut dries out. Remove any dead roots before repotting.
Pest control is required just like growing any other plants, there is always bugs around so you should be vigilant. Cattleyas are very tough but from time to time you may get some infestation so visual checks of the plants is worthwhile. An application of a systemic insecticide every four to six weeks would be beneficial in keeping the bugs away particularly in summer but lesser frequency of use in winter.
Sanitation of cutting tools is vital, they must be sanitised after use on each plant before using on another plant. A cheap but effective way to do this is immerse the tool in a strong solution of household bleach and water for a few minutes before drying and reusing.
Bacterial rot prevention is good insurance to ensure the plants don’t develop anything which may affect the health of the plant. A systemic fungicide, commercially available, applied monthly is a good option and will greatly assist in the good culture of the plants.
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