Gardeners and blossom buffs admire cattleya orchids not only for their fragrant, showy flowers but also for the huge selection of shapes and colors available. Also called corsage orchids, these slow growers can take up to seven years to mature from seed.
In addition to its striking effect in a pot, the cattleya is also a sympodial epiphyte, meaning it can grow on trees and other structures. This opens up endless possibilities for displaying this fascinating plant.
Transporting cattleya orchids, especially those in bloom, can be tricky, as even slight environmental stresses can shock and damage the plant.
Wrap the flowers and buds in tissue paper to protect them. Place the pot inside a box or a cooler, then add newspaper or foam pieces in the spaces between the box and the pot to secure it. Strap the box in with a seatbelt on the seat of your car, but never transport it in the trunk.
Check the base of the plant. If you see new growth, wait until the blooms fall off, then replant in a slightly larger pot. Choose a medium-grade soil mix made specifically for orchids. Fir or sequoia bark, clay pebbles, horticultural-grade charcoal, gravel, tree ferns, and perlite are common additives found in orchid soil.
The cattleya thrives in bright, indirect, or filtered light, which is vital for producing its blooms. Direct sunlight not only stunts plant growth but also leads to sunburn. You’ll know the plant is receiving the right amount if the leaves are lime green in color. Leaves that turn a darker green are a sign that the plant needs more light. Yellowish leaves are getting too much.
Cattleyas are a bit picky when it comes to watering. During their growing period of spring to autumn, they need abundant and frequent watering, but overwatering will kill them.
Water again when the soil is dry to the touch two inches below the surface. Because these orchids don’t like alkaline water, some cattleya growers insist on using room temperature distilled or reverse osmosis water. However, cattleyas will do just fine with tap water, as long as it has a pH level of no more than 6.5.
Humidity is your best friend when growing cattleyas. These plants love high humidity conditions between 80% to 85% from spring to fall. Lower that to about 70% from autumn until the next spring.
Bunching other orchids or similar plants closer together can help retain humidity. Placing the pot on a pebble-filled tray with water will also help increase humidity if the air is dry. A layer of moss on top of the soil helps, too. Or, you can run a humidifier.
Some growers say orchids don’t need any special nutrients or fertilizers. Others prefer a balanced orchid food, applied at quarter-strength when watering. If you choose to feed your orchid, don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with beautiful, healthy stalks, but no flowers. Too much fertilizer could also damage the plant’s root system.
Cattleyas have pseudobulbs: thickened stems that grow at the base of the orchid. Pruning encourages the production of more pseudobulbs and flowering.
After all flowers have fallen from the plant, you can prune it. Look for dormant eyes on the stems, and cut off the stem about ½ inch above the eye. Locate the thickened areas on the stem — the nodes. If there’s an eye on the node, cut about ½ an inch above it, but leave the eye intact.
In humid regions, repot your cattleya at least once a year. For dryer parts of the country, every two or three years works well. Remove the plant from its current pot and clear away soil or planting medium stuck in the roots. The new pot should be just one size up from its current one.
Cover the new roots with the planting medium, pushing it down to secure the plant in place. Add more medium until you reach the top. Take care not to cover the rhizome.
Stem cutting is a common method for cattleya propagation. After the plant has finished flowering, select a 10- to 12-inch stem, cut it off at the base, and divide it into two or three-inch sections.
Make sure each section has a node. Allow the sections to develop roots by laying them on a layer of damp sphagnum in a potting tray. Cover the cutting with plastic to increase humidity. Plant rooted pieces in a small pot filled with orchid medium.
Unlike some other flowering plants, the cattleya doesn’t have a long list of diseases that plague it. Water molds, such as black rot, can start in the roots and spread to the pseudobulbs.
Bacterial brown spot is an infection that appears on the older leaves of the cattleya orchid: greenish spots that turn brown or black. Remove infected foliage and apply a fungicide.
Mealybugs may be big fans of the cattleya orchid, but scale is its main foe, specifically Boisduval scale. This pest creates white masses on leaves, pseudobulbs, rhizomes, or even the roots.
Red spider mites can also be an issue, sucking out chloroplasts and plant sap and leaving behind mottled or stippled leaves with a web on their undersides. Insecticidal soap sprays are an effective removal method.
Mount cattleya orchids on cork, pieces of bark, or trees. Just remember that, because they don’t store water, this type of display means your plant will need more frequent watering.
You can also show off your cattleyas in hanging baskets indoors or outdoors. The baskets allow the flowers to spill out over the sides for a dramatic and showy display.
The purple orchid tree is a fast-growing, tropical evergreen tree that doess well in zones 9 through 11. Its exotic, orchid-like purple flowers bloom from summer into the winter.
The bearded iris’ ruffled flowers are similar to those of the cattleya orchid, erupting in shades of purple, white, yellow, and peach.
The cattleya or Easter orchid is a great choice if you have little ones or pets in the home since it's non-toxic. This plant is also easy to care for and has its own built-in warning system — its pseudobulbs. If they’re plump and swollen, your plant is perfectly happy and hydrated.
The cattleya orchid also is famous for its heavenly scent, often described as reminiscent of very expensive perfume.
There are 46 species and 35 natural hybrids within the genus, many of which originated in tropical areas. You’ll discover an endless array of bloom colors among these.