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Growing cattleyas

Published:Thursday | May 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM

CATTLEYAS are among the most commonly grown orchids, and their culture is often used as the basis for comparison with other types of orchids. Like most other cultivated orchids, cattleyas are epiphytes, or air plants. They have well-developed water-storage organs (called pseudobulbs) and large, fleshy roots. They should be potted in a porous, free-draining medium. The most commonly used are charcoal and tree-fern fibre. They also grow well mounted on tree fern or hardwood logs (guava, and cedar are good) or in trees in the garden.

Bright light (and some sun) is important for healthy growth and flowers. Plants getting enough light are naturally erect, and of a medium olive-green colour. Dark green, limp foliage indicates too little light.

Plants must dry out between watering. If you think they need water today, wait until tomorrow.

In feeding, use a balanced fertiliser "weakly, weekly." That is, fertilise every week at half of the strength recommended on the package. You can try using Tropi-Gro Orchid Plus fertiliser which has a guaranteed analysis of 20:10:20 (NPK).

Cattleyas grow by means of a branching, creeping rhizome with thick, clinging roots. Repotting is stressful, and a plant will usually take a season to recover, so only repot when necessary.

When repotting a cattleya, make sure there is enough room for the rhizome to produce at least two new pseudobulbs before it hits the edge of the pot. Typically, repotting is done between February and April, at the beginning of the growing season. Always repot when new roots are just peeping out, as the plants will rely on these. Too soon and they may not "take" and too late the new roots will be damaged. Be sure to secure the plants so that they cannot wobble around - and this will bruise the new roots. So tie the plants securely with wire or string twine.

Contributed by Michael duQuesnay, Jamaica Orchid Society.Interested in learning more about orchids? Send us your questions and LIKE us on Facebook @ and