In the past I have difficulty in growing Cattleya orchids. NOT ANY MORE I have observed, researched and experimented and now I am growing healthy Cattleyas.


Cattleyas readily grow outside of their pot. When they do grow outside their pot usually that part of the plant inside the pot is in poor condition with little or no viable psuedo bulbs, whilst that part of the plant growing outside of the pot is healthy. If you remove the plant from its pot the potting medium has broken down and often turns into mud and the plant has little or no viable root system within the pot. I have on occasions thrown cattleyas out in that condition under the orchid bench or into the garden, thinking that they are dead.  Occasional they recover sending out new shoots and regrow back to viable plants. If that portion of the plant that was growing outside of the pot is re-potted back into the pot the plant struggles and eventually dies. The potting mix often used is an inferior potting mix purchased from a retail store because it is cheap.

 Bark and perlite is commonly used as a potting medium suitable for all orchids. The pot used is often used is fully enclosed with very little drainage, port pots are also used, which is a better choice as they have good drainage.

Cattleya roots growing on the outside of the pot.

These are the roots tyhat are supporting the plant

Cattleya inside the pot in poor condition

Plant would be lacking a viable root system

Cattleya roots in poor condition.

Potting mix has composted into mud.

Roots are uanable to breath


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Cattleyas grow in the rainforests of South America. They are both epiphytes (an epiphyte is a plant that lives above the ground on another plant, using the plant for support, they are not a parasite they merely use the plant for support and obtain their nutrition for the environment.) and lithophytes (lithophytes are plants that grow in or on rocks, again obtaining nutrition for the environment.) The majority of Cattleyas are epiphytes growing high in tree canopy of the rainforests, where they receive indirect sunlight. Cattleyas have a horizontal rhizome and regardless of whether they grow on trees or on rocks the rhizome freely travels along the branches or over the rocks. The root system grows from the rhizome securing the plant to its host whilst at the same time obtaining nutrients from the atmosphere. The rainforests are high in humidity and subjected to heavy rainfall almost all year round. Even during the heaviest of rainfalls the water runs straight off,  the roots never remain wet, they dry out between rainfalls


The rhizome freely travels along the branches or over the rocks. 

The root system is not enclosed but is exposed to the environment.

The roots must dry out between watering

The plant requires regular water and bright indirect light. 


The  Cattleya above:  The potting mix has turned to mud and would be killing the roots. Remove all the old potting mix, use a hose if necessary.


Time to put the gardening gloves on. The gloves not only protect your hands but they stop the dirt from getting under your finger nails. I like to use disposable gloves, they fit like a second skin and it is a lot easier to work with than ordinary garden gloves. 


Submerge the entire pot in water for 20 minutes, this will soften the roots making the plant easier to remove.

If the plant is growing outside of the pot and the roots have attached themselves to the pot, use a filleting knife and just like filleting a fish hold the knife on an angle then using the point of the knife put the knife between the pot and the attached roots and run the knife down behind the attached roots. Don't worry if you do damage some of the roots in want matter, quite often you may even need to cut some of the roots.

After removing the attached roots from the pot hold the plant with one and and with the other hand hit the rim of the pot with a rubber mallet (If you don't have a rubber mallet, an ordinary hammer is OK) the pot should then come away from the plant quite easily.

If the plant is covered in ants spray with Killyptus Ant and Spider spray, the s[ray will immediately get rid of the ants and will not harm the plant


Remove as much of the old potting mix as possible. Start with your hands and finish off by using the garden hose, hosing will not hurt the plant and you can really get the roots very clean. 

Examine the plant and cut  off any dead roots, dead pseudo bulbs, dead flower stems and any leaves that may have a fungus disease. 

I prefer not to divide the plant, a large plant with many flower spikes is much more spectacular than several smaller plants with only one or two flower spikes. By dividing the plant increase the risk of losing the plant.

If you want to divide the plant cut the rhizome, ensuring the plant has at least 4 phsodo-bulbs on each side of the cutting. Seal the cut on both pieces with  a paste made from Mancozeb fungicide.

Soak the plant  for approx. 20 minutes in a mixture of water and Multicrop Plant Starter. The Multicrop Plant Starter will assist in developing new growth buds. 

Sprinkle Root Extender on the roots, to encourage root growth.


Sprinkle the Root extender on to the damp Roots of plants


Root Extender is  a Plant of Health Product.

The Diatomaceous Earth has been added by Orchid Den.

What is root extender?

Root Extender is 100% natural. It contains blended mycorrhiza and other beneficial live fungal spores. 

Mycorrhiza is essential to the germination and the growth of Orchid Plants.

Root Extender - Benefits. 

Encourages root development – Ideal for potted plants. 

Root attaching fungal filaments that protect roots and increase moisture and nutrient access to plants. 

What is Diatomaceous earth?

A naturally occurring deposit of fossilised diatoms, silica rich ancient marine creatures, that absorb amorphous silica in their outer shell & exoskeletons. It is a naturally occurring, soft.

Food grade Diatomaceous earth is a very useful form of pest control and a rich source of plant Silica . 

Silica promotes stronger, healthier plants that can mature more quickly.Absorbent – it can absorb up to 150% of its own weight in water.Air penetration – the microscopic porous structure of the granules provides aeration and effective thermal insulation to the plant’s root zone. These physical properties provide air movement and prevent root rot.

The tiny skeletons of microscopic creatures can be a gardener’s best friend when it comes to organic pest control. 

Food-grade diatomaceous earth does not contain toxins or chemicals, but it is an effective pesticide against a wide variety of garden pests including aphids, mites, thrips, ants and squash bugs to name just a few.

Orchiata Bark - 18-25mm

10 Litres - $14.00

20 Litres - $25.00

40 Litres - $45.00


Different Orchid Genera have different growing requirements, there is no Orchid potting mix that suitable for all the different types of Orchids. To use the same Orchid mix for all the different Orchid Genera is a sure way of killing Orchids. Always use a good quality bark, don't be tempted to buy Orchid Bark from retailers that don't specialise in Orchids, just because it is cheaper and is labelled Orchid mix. You may be purchasing a mix that is inferior or is unsuitable for the type of orchid that you are re-potting.  Purchase your Orchid Bark from a vendor that specialises in the growing of orchids. Orchid Den has an excellent range of potting mixes, mixed by Orchid Den to suit the requirements for different orchid varieties.

As mentioned earlier in this article Cattleyas in nature grow on trees and on rocks, their roots are free to wander without being inhibited by pots or by small orchid bark. In nature their roots dry out quickly they hate being in damp potting mix that never dries out. 

Orchid Den recommends growing Cattleyas in either in Orchiata 18-25mm Orchid Bark, in Scoria rock or a combination of both.

Orchiata Bark, is a N.Z. medium to hard bark that does absorb some moisture. The 18-25mm is a large bark that requires no additives, it will absorb some moisture without remaining wet. The size of the bark allows the mix to have plenty of air space and the roots can easily meander through the mix and into the atmosphere as in nature. Although the Bark requires no additives the addition of large charcoal and Soria rock is beneficial.

I prefer Scoria rock. Cattleyas grow on rocks in nature and by growing Cattleyas in the Scoria rocks we are growing them nature's way.  Scoria rock is a porous volcanic rock, that will absorb a small amount of moisture. In nature Cattleyas grow in rain forests where they receive moisture from the atmosphere and heavy tropical rains. The rain runs straight off and the roots dry out. By growing in Scoria you will need to simulate the wet conditions by frequent watering, you cannot over water by growing in Scoria. I have been getting great results by growing in Scoria, new root and phsudo-bulb growth in 6 weeks. My customers are reporting similar results.

The addition of Plant of Health's - Fertiliser Plant Assist to both the Bark and the Scoria  potting medium is beneficial. Plant Assist contains essential elements and microbes to assist the plant after re-potting.

New root and phsudo-bulb growth on Cattleyas growing in scoria rock

Note the wire holding the plant firmly in place.


Cattleyas do not like being in an enclosed pot, the potting mix remains too wet, breaks down a rots the roots. Cattleyas like to get their roots into the atmosphere and have difficulty in getting their roots into the atmosphere in an enclosed pot.

Cattleyas tend to have shallow roots with an horizontal rhyzome that travels sideways.

I prefer to use square vanda pots they are perfect. Not too deep, have good drainage, and the Cattleya's roots can easily meander through either the Scoria rock or the 18-25mm Orchiata Bark and into the atmosphere where they belong naturally.

Laleias and Laleia hybrids tend to have longer roots and are more suitable to a deeper pot.

Lc. growing in a Multi-purpose web pot

Cattleya growing in a square Vanda Pot

Cattleya growing in a square Vanda Pot

Horizontal wire stake holds the Cattleya firmly in place.


Plant of Health, Organic Link, 100% organic slow release  fertiliser.  Use safely on the whole garden, including lawns native plants native trees, lawns garden beds, and potted plants including Orchids. I am convinced that the use scoria combined with Orchid Link when re-potting Cattleyas is the reason for their rapid root and shoot growth.

CONTAINS:- • Blood and Bone • Lime, Gypsum and Dolomite • Natural Potash • Natural Humates and Carbon • Natural Water Retainers • Trace Elements • Silica • Neem Cake • Natural Rock Dust Minerals & Zeolite. NOW Organic Link has been further improved by the addition of beneficial MICROBES including genera from the Mycorrhiza & Trichoderma species. These, all important, beneficial microbes have a symbiotic relationship with plants and soil where they help build soil fertility and assist with supplying of nutrients to their host plants. They also may assist in helping protect plants & roots from pathogens, pests and assist with healthy root growth.


Now that you have decided on the type of pot and the type of potting mix, time to pot the orchid. If the roots are long don't be afraid to give them a hair cut. Cutting the roots is beneficial as it encourages new root growth. Similar to when you prune a bush, the pruning encourages new growth. Place a small amount of the potting mix in the bottom of the pot.  Cattleyas will normally grow in one direction, the direction that it has grown from is placed against the side of the pot to allow the plant sufficient room to grow. When using square Vanda pots I like to grow the plant diagonally by placing the end that it has grown from in one corner. Hold the plant so that the horizontal rhizome is just below the rim of the pot. Whilst holding the plant in that position cover the roots with potting mix, pressing firmly. The horizontal rhizome should be sitting on the top of the potting mix, do not cover the horizontal rhizome with the potting mix. Do not worry if it looks as though the plant will fall over or fall out of the pot we are about to secure the plant in the pot. To get good root growth the plant must be held firmly in the pot and not allowed to wobble around. Due to the shallow pot and the large mix you will not be able to stake the plant in the normal manner. 

Examine the horizontal rhizome and select a place on the horizontal rhizome where you can secure the plant with a wire over the top of the rhizome. Drill a hole on one side of the pot and pass a piece of wire through the hole, over the top of the rhizome and through another hole in the opposite of the pot. Do not pre-drill the second hole. After you have fed the wire through the first hole and over the rhizome you will be able select the correct position for the second hole. The second hole should be placed  so that you need to press down on the wire to get it into the hole. By pressing down on the wire will secure the plant firmly in place. Cut off any excess wire. Sprinkle Orchid Link fertiliser on to the top of the potting mix and lightly water.



Disclaimer:    The above article is provided as an Orchid growing guide only.Orchid Den is located on the Gold Coast in S.E. Qld. our environment is sub tropical.Local conditions in your area may require modification to suggestions in this article. Orchid Den is not responsible for the results of your cultivation practices.Orchid Den accepts no responsibility for loss or damage of any kind if any person decides to use cultivation or control measures described in this article.