How to grow and take care of Cattleya Orchids

Cattleya orchids are among the most beautiful and fulfilling of the orchid species to grow and care for. Their care and culture is easily learned by the beginner, and with simple growing conditions most of us can obtain outstanding results. Adding additional Cattleya orchids to your collection is easy, since their care and culture varies only slightly among most of the hybrids. Once you learn how to grow, bloom, and care for Cattleya orchids, then you can easily learn to grow any other genera of orchids.

Many people have asked how I grow such beautiful orchids. While many books have been written about how to grow and care for Cattleya orchids and other orchid species, this is how I grow mine:

Cattleya orchids (and other orchid species) that have been hard grown will have bigger, brighter, sturdier blooms and the inflorescence will be stronger and not require staking. Hard grown means that the orchid plant was not babied in any way. Temperatures were allowed to be above the maximum and below the minimum. The orchid plants are given outside conditions to toughen them up, and all of the orchid fertilizer they can handle. This makes them able to withstand extremes, and it shows up in the orchid blooms. Unlike the orchid plants you normally are offered, these Cattleya orchids have very sturdy leaves. The orchid leaf can break like a celery stick. Rarely are hard grown Cattleya orchids such as these offered for sale.

Care Conditions:

Light: This is the most important factor in growing and flowering Cattleya orchids. From May though September, I cover my growing area with 60% shade cloth. On the 1st of October, I remove the shade cloth to increase light levels throughout the winter. This allows the orchid plants to get bright sunlight, making sure they do not get any direct sun in the middle of the day.

Temperature: This ranges from 48 degrees in the winter to over 95 in the summer. The orchid plants are open to the environment and thus can tolerate the temperature range.

Water: In my experience, more orchids are killed by over watering than from lack of water. Mature Cattleya orchids need to dry out thoroughly before being watered again. From about October 1st through May, I water once a week. From May though September, I water twice a week. Please note; in both May and September, I use a bamboo skewer to check before watering. I pick an average pot, push a dry bamboo skewer into the middle, and let it set for 10 seconds. I then pull it out and touch my cheek with it. If the skewer is cool to the touch, I wait a day before watering. This method is not of my own invention, but one of the many things that I have learned on the Internet.

Fertilizer: I am currently using Peter’s 20-20-20 with micro-nutrients. When new growth is developing, I fertilize ½ strength (1 teaspoon of Peter’s per gal) each time I water. I also water with just plain water once a month to flush out excess fertilizer salts.

When I remove the shade cloth, I reduce my watering, still continuing to fertilize once every two weeks for the winter.

Twice a year, I water with Epson Salts at a mixture of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water (it adds magnesium to the soil-less mixes that we all use). If you can find a fertilizer with calmag in it, then don’t add the Epson Salts.

Potting: The mix I use is 5 parts medium bark, 2 parts sponge rock, 2 part coconut chips, and 1 part charcoal. This mix works very well for my growing conditions. As a general rule, I re-pot newly purchased orchids even if they come from a reputable dealer.