Cattleya care update

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Nov 28, 2009
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Cambridge, UK
After the problems with rot etc that I had last year I thought that I would update everyone on the progress since. The plants were nearly all repotted into fresh orchiata and every plant now sits in its own larger individual pot, the trays have all been banished.
In addition there were some new plants imported via Germany from South America and these needed more care to get them on northern hemisphere time.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussions, especially Dr Leslie, they have really helped.
Another factor is that I have recently taken early retirement and it’s now easier to spend more time with them.
First up is a cattleya dowiana, a plant imported from South America. These are the first two photos. When it arrived late last year there were the two small growths you can still see but very little root. When it started to produce fresh roots, I repotted and held my breath. You can now see that in the last few months the root growth has been very vigorous and we even have a new shoot that is much more on European time. I am super happy with this. I have never owned a dowiana and they have a reputation for being finicky.
Next up we have a labiata rubra that lost all its roots due to my lack of knowledge. It should have been repotted much sooner. Last autumn when I came to repot it there were no live roots at all. I had read online about sitting backbulbs in water to encourage rooting so I did this with this plant for about four months. The rhizome was touching the water for all that time. Nothing much happened until this spring. There was no visual evidence that the rhizome took up water or that the bulbs swelled. On the other hand, they did not deteriorate. So this spring it suddenly produced a flush of new roots so was immediately repotted. As you can see, root growth is good and a new growth bud is just emerging.
Next we have a small division of lueddemanniana ‘sarita’ that was struggling when it tried to grow in the pot of the mature plant. I had cut the old rhizome to encourage a new growth but it was tiny. The plant was repotted into this small clay pot with sphagnum and sat with the seedling phrags under a T5 light. It responded by sending out a flush of new roots and the new growth looks promising.

Last we have another South American import, this time cattleya mendelli. It was on the same time clock as the dowiana and had produced a small new growth last autumn, after travelling across the pond.
Again, when the new roots started out I repotted it, this time into a new style of pot full of ridges and holes. It may well work out ok but the roots are now growing through several of the holes so it will be a tough to repot in a couple of years. Root growth with this plant is not quite as vigorous as the dowiana but still it’s good and we also have a new growth just starting and again it much more on european time. As can be seen in the photos as often sit moss under the base of the new growths to encourage rooting into the bark.
So thanks for all the help, I am now much more confident about the culture of my catts!
Very good job, but i ended with them because of virus.Congrats on good growings, my personal experience that catts love orchiata, 18-25 mm, and high humidity with moderate waterings.I look forward to your nice catt flowers!!!Friendly reg. Istvan
Fantastic work on them David!

I am so impressed with the dowiana spurt! That new growth has a thick base so may throw a sheath. Give it the brightest light you can, short of burning. We may see flowers!
David, it would be nice if there were 3 or 4 simple steps to follow to get each type of orchid to grow well for us, but I think each of us has to explore/experiment with our own particular growth conditions to figure out what works. Clearly, the appropriate light is essential. Then, the right temperature. Then, a potting mix that gives the correct amount of air at the roots for the type of orchid, followed by us figuring out the correct fertigation frequency for our humidity and growing media. I think it takes years to figure this out! I may be getting close and have it after this year. I haven't yet been able to bloom my dowiana, but an early new growth has my hopes. My Triumphans (dowiana x rex) is about to open but that may just be "hybrid vigor" or the effect of rex, although I don't know that rex is that easy either.
While I grow my Cattleya collection in bark, I have recovered many with “no or rotten” roots by potting them in Spaghum and after a few months roots return. It’s a miracle!
you can see your advice in the development of the new growths! I am very impressed with the dowiana.
The vigor of the roots is quite amazing for a species. It will fill the pot in a matter of a few months.
I did give the plant a south facing window initially but it was too much sun with the poor roots and the two thin new growths showed some black on the surface of the leaves so I moved the plant to the east window.
So far so good but maybe now with the better roots it is time to move it back to the south window?
Terry, it’s what makes this hobby so absorbing and why we don’t all grow geraniums. If it was easy then everyone would do it and there would be much less sense of achievement!
I am constantly surprised orchids you can grow indoors on windowsills Given some care and attention.
Leslie seems to be suggesting that dowiana needs a lot of light for successful flowering. Your triumphans may be easier to flower due to the F1 hybrid vigour. That can count for a lot with catts. I grow another primary hybrid, canhamiana and that is really vigorous. I had over 20 flowers on it one year before it was divided.
Tom, I am going to use sphagnum much more now on the catts, especially if they are struggling. A top layer on several plants during summer in the south facing window will help them root and cut down on water loss.
Congrats on the root growth, but it is wise to mix having a layer of bark, and a layer of sphagnum? One layer drains, and one layer retains moisture. I've seen bark and moss mixed somewhat evenly, but never like it is in your photos.
I water the sphagnum like I would do bark. It is allowed to dry out between waterings. The clay pot ensures that it dries out in about a week.
The addition of a surface of sphagnum is a tip from the eminent grower Keith Davis on his cattleya web site. He puts some under the new growth to help it root into the bark. The pots in the south facing windows dry out very quickly, som in a little as two days. This helps them stay damp for a little longer.
Here is another Cattleya trianae that is being resurrected after a trip from South America. It too had almost no roots when I bought it from eBay last year.
The sphagnum really helps the new roots develop but for my conditions it would be too much to have an entire pot of it. So a top layer of sphagnum with the rest as bark works well.
Jerry Fisher told me that for any environment for cattleyas, you must have a compost capable of drying out fully in ten days. Otherwise you run the risk of rotting the roots.
I mentioned in the previous posts on how I grow some cattleyas swc with moss on top inch. It definitely helps roots go inwards, most of the time. See the Cattleya lawrenceana flamea pic below.


David, with regards to sun for dowiana, increase slowly and to apple green color. Watch that it doesn’t heat up and burn. Needs very good air movements around plants with this increased light.
Great growing David, thanks for keeping us posted. I have the most difficult time linking up all the details of when I received a plant and what I did to each one, each season. You keep very close tabs on all your culture and it shows. Dowiana is very impressive, I'm still struggling with this species and can never get it past second gear. I've lost so many over the years that I am scared to look at mine for too long. Seriously, I should try to follow this lead, looks like a very strong flush of roots. I've also been slowly switching all my orchids over to grodan grow cubes, I've noticed the roots drop into the pot like the sphagnum rather than crawling out of the pot. Keeping that top layer a little moist really helps get those roots settled in. Thanks for sharing.
I mentioned in the previous posts on how I grow some cattleyas swc with moss on top inch. It definitely helps roots go inwards, most of the time. See the Cattleya lawrenceana flamea pic below.

View attachment 27470

David, with regards to sun for dowiana, increase slowly and to apple green color. Watch that it doesn’t heat up and burn. Needs very good air movements around plants with this increased light.
I see a lot of hard work ahead for getting this one out DrL. ;)
Congrats on as well culture as retirement! The latter, I'm sure will result in the former to flourish even further, David! :)

As I've never imported Catts from the Southern hemisphere, I was quite fascinated by your paragraph on adjusting the "jet lag" of such plants. Would you care to expound a little further on the subject: do you mainly just wait for the plants to adjust to the their new surroundings - or do you follow a specific regime to further this happening?
I follow general recommendations from growers in Germany. The plants are six months away from the growth cycle that we would like. They also lose pretty much all their roots, so some adjustments are required which may take up to two years depending on the plant.
Regina Elsner recommended potting the plants into the smallest pot possible and using pure sphagnum. Sit them in your normal growing conditions but out of the sun. Water carefully and watch for growth.
Repot when you see significant root growth into your regular potting mix. This could take three weeks or three months, depending on the plant. Some need to make a new growth before rooting whereas others can root fairly quickly.
My purpuratas acclimatised very quickly and made a growth with flowers straight away. Other species take much longer and may need to make two new growths before they have fully adjusted.