Culture Column: Miniature Cattleyas

There is perhaps no group of orchids more recognized by the public as orchids than Cattleyas.  Starting with that first bloom found on a plant used as shipping material in the 1800’s, this group’s large showy flowers have captured the eye of collectors the world over.  Indigenous to Central and South America, this group presents a wide variety of shapes and colors.  If you are interested in growing these beautiful plants but intimidated by the large standard Cattleyas, starting with the miniature varieties can give you the foundation to start to build a collection.  The miniatures have a number of genera in their background making them adaptable and forgiving.  Their diminutive size allows them to be grown under lights or in windowsills making them an ideal plant for those just starting with this family.

Light:

Perhaps the single most challenging part of growing cattleyas for a new grower (especially if you are growing under lights) is ensuring your plants are receiving enough light at a strong enough intensity to thrive and produce blooms.  If you have leafy plants that either don’t bloom or tease you with empty sheaths, then you likely need more light.  When using the shadow test, you should have crisp clearly defined edges on the shadow of you hand.  Sometimes moving the plant another four inches closer to the light source is all it needs to trigger a bloom.

Potting Media:

As natural epiphytes, these plants need a loose airy mix that will allow good air flow around the roots and allow the media to dry.  These plants don’t like wet feet or a wet mix.  They will do will in a medium to large bark mix but also can be growing quite successfully with mixes that contain or replace the bark with coconut husks.

Water:

Generally, one watering per week will be all these plants need.  If your plant’s pseudobulbs (the bulbous portion below the leaf that runs to the roots) begins to shrivel then the plants aren’t getting enough water.  They should be plump and firm throughout the season.  For these plants if you aren’t sure if they need to be watered you a better skipping the watering.  Overwatering will create cultural issues for these plants, ultimately killing them.

Fertilizer

Overfeeding will lead to root damage and death, so a less concentrated but consistent regimen is recommended.  Using a ¼ to ½ strength mix of a low nitrogen (the first number of the three shown on your fertilizer label) is recommended.