How to Grow Cattleya Orchids

potted cattleya orchids

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

In This Article

When many people think of orchids, they probably picture a flower from the Cattleya genus. Cattleya orchids typically feature showy, fragrant flowers that come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and color combinations. Many of the species sport quite large blooms that stretch several inches across while others have smaller but no less beautiful blooms. Cattleya orchids usually only flower once a year with the timeframe varying by species, though some hybrids have been cultivated to bloom more than once. 

These orchids are epiphytic, meaning they naturally grow attached to other plants, such as tree branches. Their foliage is typically a dull green color. The plants grow from pseudobulbs, which store nutrients and water. Cattleya orchids are generally long-lived plants and slow growers, taking roughly between four and seven years to mature. The best time to plant these orchids is once new growth appears after they're done flowering. Seeds generally can be started at any point.

The Cattleya orchid is an Indigenous species of plant from Brazil. Horticulturist William Cattley is associated with this plant's name for accepting a shipment of this beautiful flower in London in a withering state and nursing it back to health. He further popularized the plant by having it catalogued and published in journals.

Botanical Name Cattleya
Common Names Cattleya orchid, orchid, corsage orchid, Queen of the Orchids
Plant Type Perennial 
Mature Size 0.25–2 ft. tall and wide
Sun Exposure Partial
Soil Type Soilless media, well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic
Bloom Time Varies by species
Flower Color All colors except true blue
Hardiness Zones 10–12 (USDA)
Native Area Central America, South America
closeup of cattleya orchids
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
base of a cattleya orchid
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

Cattleya Orchid Care

Cattleya orchids are not difficult to care for, and even beginners can find success with getting them to flower. They make lovely houseplants, but they can also live outside year-round in tropical climates and during the warmer months in areas that experience frost.

The key to growing them successfully is providing the right amount of light, maintaining the proper temperature and humidity, and watering and feeding adequately. The orchids typically don’t have any serious problems with pests or disease if their growing conditions are suitable. But watch out for some common houseplant pests that can cause foliage damage, including scale, mealybugs, and spider mites. Plus, keep an eye on the pseudobulbs (the swollen storage organs on the stems), which can give you clues about your plant's health. A plump pseudobulb indicates a happy, well-hydrated plant.

Light

These orchids need bright indirect light for optimal growth. When grown as a houseplant, an east- or west-facing window that gets a lot of light is ideal. However, any harsh midday sun that comes through the window should be diffused with a sheer curtain. Similarly, the orchids like outdoor sunlight in the morning but should be protected from the strong afternoon sun. Cattleya orchids that aren’t getting enough light will have darker than normal foliage, and they often won’t flower. The foliage of orchids that are getting too much light often will turn yellowish or even be scorched brown or black in some areas. 

Soil

Cattleya orchids will thrive in a commercial growing mix made specifically for orchids. This usually includes fir or sequoia bark and potentially perlite, horticultural charcoal, coconut husk chips, tree fern fiber, clay pellets, gravel, and more. When grown outdoors cattleya orchids can be slab-mounted, a technique in which the orchid is manually attached to a tree host. To mount the orchid, wrap the roots in moss; wire the plant on top of a shelf (made of organic materials, such as driftwood or cork bark); and attach it to a branch, tree trunk, or log. 

Water

These orchids require a moderate amount of moisture. Water whenever the growing medium is fairly dried out; typically a weekly watering is sufficient. Do not let the orchids sit in a consistently wet growing medium, which can cause root rot. At each watering, water deeply so that the water sprays the foliage and runs through the container drainage holes. Many growers prefer to sit the orchid container in a sink to do this. It’s best to water in the mornings, so the foliage has time to dry in the light. Otherwise, lingering dampness can cause mildew and other disease.

Temperature and Humidity

Cattleya orchids prefer daytime temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder temperatures and frost can kill a plant. The orchids can tolerate temperatures up to around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, though it’s important that they have good air circulation and high humidity in such heat. In general, they like a humidity level around 40% to 70%. Many growers raise humidity around their plants by placing the orchid’s container on a tray filled with pebbles and water. The foliage also can be misted in the mornings. Some growers also place a humidifier in the room with the orchid. Plus, these orchids are excellent to grow in greenhouse environments.  

Fertilizer

Some orchids have been known to grow and even bloom for years without fertilizer. But minimal yet consistent feeding will give your plant the nutrients it needs to thrive. Many growers recommend using a balanced orchid fertilizer at a quarter strength weekly at each watering. Too much fertilizer can cause the plant to focus on foliage growth and send up stalks that don't produce flowers. Excess fertilizer also can damage the orchid's roots.

Potting and Repotting Cattleya Orchids 

These plants don’t like their roots disturbed, so repot only when it’s essential. Once the roots are growing over the edge of the pot and/or the growing medium has decomposed (which causes poor drainage), it’s time to repot. This typically will occur every two years. Choose a slightly larger container with adequate drainage holes. Then, carefully loosen the roots from the old container, and shake off as much decomposed growing medium as possible. Place the orchid in the new container at the same depth it was previously growing, and pack fresh orchid potting mix around the roots.

Cattleya Orchid Varieties

There are many orchid species and hybrids within the Cattleya genus that vary in appearance and bloom time, including: 

  • Cattleya labiata: Known commonly as the crimson cattleya or ruby-lipped orchid, this species is medium in size and produces big, showy blooms often in shades of pink, lilac, or white.
  • Cattleya iricolor: This species is notable for its very fragrant flowers in pale yellow or creamy white that have long, narrow petals.
  • Cattleya mossiae: This species is known as the Easter orchid because it’s usually in bloom around Easter time.
  • Cattleya percivaliana: This species is commonly called the Christmas orchid because it blooms in fall and winter often in a pale lavender color.
  • Cattleya schroederae: This is another species that has the common name of Easter orchid for its spring blooms; its showy flowers are up to 9 inches across.
purple and yellow cattleya orchids
 sKrisda / Getty Images
red cattleya orchids
Corey O'Hara / Getty Images