Welcome to my 2020 Catasetinae Culture Guide

 

This is my basic culture guide for growing Catasetinaes.  It is not full proof and it is influenced by my growing experience of blooming 4 of 9 different Catasetinaes from 2019 mixed with a variety of resources from the Internet.  As this is a guide, you will need to adjust for some conditions depending upon where you reside.  I can only speak to conditions experienced in the Sacramento area of northern California.  If you decide to grow in strict moss and the type of pot or hanging basket you can grow Catasetinaes in, you will have to make some adjustments.

 

Sacramento climate

Generally speaking, humidity throughout the year is less than 20%. To accommodate this while the Catasetinaes are coming out of dormancy and for as long as possible, they are in a make shift "mini-greenhouse" that has been treated with a greenhouse paint mostly to establish a growing area higher in humidity.

 

Temperatures

March - May

When not overcast or overcast with "wimpy" rain, some would describe this as drizzle, day time temperatures can reach a high of the mid-60's with overnight lows approaching and even dipping below freezing. Like any tropical orchid, Catasetinaes are vulnerable to cold temperatures.  I protect them by parading them to my kitchen where it is warmer. If the weather is overcast the next day they remain in my kitchen.  Should it be a sunny day, even if morning temperatures are below 55-degrees, I wait for the temperature to limb above 55-degrees and then the Cattasetinaes migrate to their outside growing area.  Just before sunset, everything returns to the kitchen.

 

June - September

Peak growing for Catasetinaes (in Sacramento) with night temps around 60-degrees if not lower. By late June it is no longer a concern to move the Catasetinaes.  Day time temps can be as high as 95-degrees (but low humidity) so in the mini-greenhouse" humidity is much higher and temperatures can be close to 100-degrees.  "If you are sweating, the Catasetinae is happy" says Fred Clarke.  One thing I pay attention to is the dampness of my growing medium.  Catasetinaes take in a great deal of water during this time to grow a robust bulb. Deprive of water during this period, the bulb will not reach it's maximum potential for supporting blooms and next year's new growth.

I use portable fans to move and vent the air in the mini-greenhouse.  I suspect, that "shaking leaves" of Catasetinaes prevent leaf burn from them being exposed to high light.

 

October - November

Temperatures drop, daylight gets shorter and a majority of the orchids are in bloom and leaves might start to yellow - the plant thinking time to rest (dormancy).

 

December  - February

Dormant plants just need protection from freezing temperatures.  It is also nice to not worry about watering like I had done during peak growing season.  When necessary, a little misting to prevent bulbs from shriveling.

 

Lessons Learned from 2019

 

Focus on vertical Growth 

One thing I noticed last year is that a majority of the Catasetinaes grew more towards the horizontal then the desired vertical. Some might consider this insignificant, however, it causes the leaf spread to take up space and sometimes become twisted.  It also affects the potted orchid to be unbalanced and I can only describe the feeling of a broken spike as a "unexpected gut punch".  If you have more then one spike and one gets broken, you can still enjoy the blooms.  Otherwise a plant with one spike is done for the year.  This results in waiting until the next growing season to see your pride and joy in bloom.

 

To defeat this unintended result I will focus on rotating my Catasetinaes to favor a vertical growth over the dreaded horizontal growth.

 

Dormancy

My 2019 orchids will remain in their pots instead of being stored bare-root during dormancy.  This will prevent them from becoming too dry and the bulbs shriveling.  I did not notice this occurring the last dormancy period, but why roll the dice?  I miht do the same with the "Class of 2020" Catasetinaes as well.

 

Potting medium

For the 2019 growing season I used moss.  My experience with using moss for a number of other orchids usually results in a coffee cup full of plant tags from drowned orchids.  When the Catasetinae is in it's growth stage it is virtually impossible to over-water them as they are natural water hogs.  This would make moss the preferred potting medium.  However, as I carefully watered my Catasetinaes in the kitchen sink by pouring water slowly onto the moss, I noticed the moss compressing, dropping and exposing the bottom of the bulb.  In my humble opinion this compression was adding pressure around the roots below the surface of the moss.  This pressure could result (opinion again) in preventing the roots from conducting gas exchange when photosynthesis is halted at night.

 

For the 2020 growing season I will use S/H clay pellets and lightly apply moss the top 2-inches or less of my Catasetinae pots (process explained below). 

 

 

 

Re-potting the Catasetinae

 

I get a majority of my Catasetinaes from Fred Clarke at Sunset Valley Orchids.  He offers Catasetinaes in 3-inch pots that are ready for potting up in January for the year's growing season.  In fact in late spring he has a sale appropriately titled "save me from doing all this work potting up Catasetinaes". Below is my process of re-potting. 

 

A typical Catasetinae from Fred Clarke's Sunset Valley Orchids (not all arrive with new growth this well developed).

 

This example has 2 growths so it is a safe bet it is about 3 year from de-flasking.  Last year's new growth is significantly larger then the previous year's growth.  The new growth is well established and being sustained by water and nutrients from last year's bulb.

 

Plenty of roots can be observed and the purpose for re-potting is to provide a little more room for this year's roots.

 

I typically dip the entire orchid in clean water, use a soft-bristle toothbrush to gently clean the old bulb(s).  In my opinion, cleaning the bulbs allow them to conduct photosynthesis and support the new growth.  

 

 

 

A different angle with a look at the bottom of the same orchid showing the exposed root zone.

 

A Catasetinae fact is that when re-potting, don't be too concerned with damaging the old roots.  Do take great care to not damage any roots that originate from the new growth.  The previous year's bulb have only one purpose at this point and that is to proide all the water and nutrients the new growth requires.  It will not absorb any new water.

 

I remove the styrofoam peanuts by using my fingers and digging it out.  I try not to break roots, but if it happens I am not all that concerned.  I leave the old moss root ball in place.  Some remove all the old roots except a few so they can use those to help anchor the plant in place in the new pot.  I just use all the old growth roots as an anchor.  Why disturb the root zone any more than necessary? 

 

 

 

Same orchid with a view from above.

 

I position the orchid with the new growth centered in the new pot as close to possible and correct for any leaning by making sure the new growth is as close to vertical as possible.

 

It is difficult at best to identify where spike(s) will originate on the new growth so as they begin to develop, the use of toothpicks inserted into the root mass will provide a secure anchor to guide that spike as it grows towards, eventually past the edge of the pot and gravity inspire it to grow down the side as it would in nature.

 

 

 

The styrofoam is removed and the remaining roots form what could best be described as a void or pocket of space.  Any blackened, rotting (very rarely seen) roots simple get cut away.  Do not be tempted to pull on them like pulling loose threads from a sweater.  Protect at all cost any small new roots that may be emerging from the new growth because those roots are key to absorbing water to achieve a healthy bulb.  Broken roots from the new growth could result in poor bulb development and even worse, and the full potential of blooming can be diminished.

 

The growth season for Catasetinaes is short and absorbing, creating a space to store water is a high priority for the orchid.  Do not hinder this process as the current year's new bulb growth will be stunted, blooming may bot occur and next year's new growth will already be adversely affected.

 

 

 

 

The best way to determine the minimum level of the clay pellets is to eyeball the depth of the bare-rooted orchid and get an idea of how high a level for the clay pellets. Add the pellets to the desired level and then spend some time shaking and tapping the pellets to allow for "settleing". Then position the orchid and add moss as needed.  The end goal is that the base of the new growth equal to or just barely below the edge of the pot.  Settling of the clay pellets might cause the orchid to drop a little.  To help with the settling, after I add the desired moss I submerge or fill the entire pot so that water is almost spilling over the edge.  Draining will allow pellets to work into that space that used to be occupied by styrofoam and the roots help anchor the orchid. 

 

 

 

My initial placement of the Catasetinae in it's new pot.

 

Moss is a difficult potting medium to get a handle on with regards to using it correctly.  Normally, I just place damp moss around the edges and then using a finger "pack it in".  This is wrong.  Moss should be very lightly pushed into place allowing it to expand and fill the space.  I would take a pinch of moss in my hand, roll it into a small ball, then place it in the space around the edges of the pot.  I would start at the noon, three, siz and nine o'clock position and then work my way around the pot filling the space.  I resist trying to force it into place.  Instead, submerge the orchid, allow the moss expand a little and then use a handy tool like the thick end of a chop stick to work the moss around.  Then lay some moss across the top to protect the roots.

 

I insert this pot into another one and fill with water because the clay pellets will rise a little and the moss expand.  Draining the water causes everything to settle.

 

Lik I said, this process takes practice.  Good thing it is only done once every two, maybe three years.  Then again because it is done so infrequently, we don't get the practice to make it right the first time.  

 

 

 

Nobody gets this right the first time when they pot an orchid.  It takes practice to position an orchid the desired way when the potting step is completed.  If you are not happy with the first try, try again.

 

I only want to use moss for the top two inches of the pot, maybe less.  The rest of the pot is clay pellets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The re-potted orchid positioned with the new growth as close to being centered as possible.

 

I will wait a couple weeks and carefully lift the orchid and add some pellets and / or moss to raise it in the pot and reposition as necessary.  I would like to look across the edge of the pot and see the base of the new growth be level or just below the edge of the pot.  This adjustment will be useful in preventing the spikes growing into the edge of the pot as I rather the spike grow over and beyond the edge of the pot.

 

 

 

A view of the newly re-potted orchid from above.

 

The new growth is centered as much as possible.

 

I will wait a couple weeks and adjust the orchid so that the new growth is as close to vertical as possible. 

 

 

 

My pot of choice is a basic 4-cup liquid storage container found in any grocery store.  it has a nice feature of no-slip grips.  I use the 1-cup line as a guide for poking 2 holes on opposite sides for controlling the water level and drainage when needed.  It can also be slipped into a common sized hanging pot when displaying the blooms.

 

The clay pellets are smaller in size then a U.S. quarter.

 

I use the blue tag to indicate what side I want facing the sun to ensure vertical and not horizontal growth.  The green tag distinguishes this as a "new acquisition" separate from previous acquisitions 

 

 

 

Catasetinae Plant Culture
Cycnoches, Catasetums, Mormodes, and Clowesia

 

The cultural information below is a generalization and will apply in most situations; however each grower and growing environment is different. I encourage you to make adjustments based on your own experience and growing conditions.

Catasetinae have a distinctive growth and rest period (dormancy). For best plant growth it is important to understand and respect these growth phases. When the plants are in active growth maintain constant root zone moisture and fertilize regularly. This is essential to optimizing the development of new growth. When the plants are dormant little or no water is needed as the pseudobulbs store enough moisture and nutrients to survive the dormancy.

Catasetinae plant culture is not difficult. All it takes is an understanding of the seasonal growth patterns. The plants' vegetative state signals to the grower their changing needs. Interpret the signals and make the appropriate cultural adjustments. Here is what to look for:

 

Early spring:

Catasetinae begin their new growth in early spring. However, watering should wait until the new growth has well-developed new roots. This means you should let the new roots grow to an approximate length of 3-5” before you begin watering. Let me emphasize this point. Wait to water until the new roots are welldeveloped. The waiting to water is not easy; my natural instinct is to begin watering when I see new growth, but I have learned through trial and error that it is better to wait to water than start watering too soon. I also believe that Catasetinae roots deteriorate during dormancy, and in the following year they are not as effective at taking up moisture and nutrients. This makes the new roots vital in the plants' health. This reinforces the message about not watering too early.

 

Mid-Season:

Once the new roots are sufficiently developed, this is the period where the plants are rapidly developing their new pseudobulbs. There is a surprising amount of growth that occurs in these 3-4 months; often the plants will double their size. Due to this, the plants require constant moisture and regular fertilization. In most cases, irrigation will be needed 2 or 3 times a week. A balanced fertilizer at full strength is suitable for this rapid growth. Light levels at or above those suggested for Cattleya will help insure strong good growth and flowering. This is the time when the fruits of your labor will begin to pay off as the flowering season is in underway.

 

Late Season:

Sometime after flowering, in the late autumn the plants will begin to enter the dormancy phase. Understanding the signals of the onset of dormancy and the factors triggering it are important to a healthy plant culture. The plant's first signals are the yellowing and browning off of the leaves, at this time stop fertilizing and reduce watering by one-half and when most leaves are yellow/brown and have dropped off cease watering altogether. The general rule to follow is: by the 15 th of November stop fertilization and reduce watering by one-half.  Most leaves should have yellowed or fallen off by the 1 st of January. However, if the plants still have leaves all irrigation should be stopped at this time.

The onset of dormancy is caused by several factors; the maturity of the pseudobulb, shorter day length, cooler day/night temperatures, and a reduction of root zone moisture. In most of the country dormancy occurs naturally; however when the plants are cultivated in warm growing areas such as in South Texas, Florida, Hawaii, or in the home or under lights sometimes dormancy needs to be encouraged. I have found that stopping watering in early January regardless of the number of green leaves will trigger the dormancy.

 

Note: Watering during dormancy should only be done it the plant shrivels severely. Usually a single irrigation is sufficient to restore the bulbs.

Here's a summary:

  • As the new growth develops wait to irrigate until the new roots are well-developed and are 3 to 5” long. (Don't be in a hurry to water; it is better to wait)
  • Irrigate and fertilize frequently while the plants are in active growth.
  • Stop fertilization and reduce irrigation by one-half around by mid November.
  • Cease watering by the 1 st of January.

 

Light levels: Catasetinae like light levels comparable to Cattleyas at about 2500-4000 foot candles (fc) However, the plants are widely adaptable and do well with light levels as low as 1500 fc and as high as 5000 fc. For optimal growth I suggest a Southern exposure or a location where all the plants will receive plenty of bright, filtered light

 

Potting mix: For mature plants I have been using a 3:1 of mix of fine ‘Kiwi Bark’ and medium Perlite. For seedlings up to a 3” pot size I like to use New Zealand sphagnum moss with the bottom 1/3 of the pot filled with Styrofoam peanuts. However, this genus is not too particular in what it is potted in, and any well drained media will work well.

 

Containers: I prefer to grow in plastic pots; however clay pots, baskets, and cork slabs will all work. Catasetinae don't like to be over potted; select a pot size that will allow for 2-3 years of growth.

 

Fertilizer: When in active growth, regularly use one teaspoon of your favorite fertilizer per gallon of water.

 

Air movement: Catasetinae enjoy abundant air movement. If you are growing in a green house use air circulating fans. Also, hanging the plants allows for maximum air movement around them and often they do best hanging.

 

Repotting and Dividing: Is done as the new growth is just starting to develop and before the new roots start to show. (Remember no watering until the roots are well established, 3-5” long). Unlike most orchid plants Catasetinae do well when divided in to 2 bulb pieces. Divisions are made by cutting with a sterile tool or by pulling the bulbs apart. I try to keep the size of my plants between 2 and 5 bulbs.

 

Insect pests: Catasetinae are generally pest free. However spider mites are attracted to the soft leaves of these plants. Spider mites are quite small.They live and feed on the undersides of the leaves. Take care in checking for them as the plants are developing the new leaves and control them with a recommended mitcide from your garden center. Although the leaves will drop off during dormancy this is not an excuse to not treat for them.

 

 

My Growing area

 

 

 

 

Resources and further reading;

 

Catasetinae Plant Culture, Cycnoches, Catasetums, Mormodes, and Clowesia (see above, this is from Sunset Valley Orchids)

 

Catasetinae Plant Culture

 

Care & Growing Catasetinae in Dry Climates

 

Stephen's Catasetinae Culture

 

 

 

 

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