I began growing mini-cattleyas because they are less demanding than many other orchids during the warmer weather. I’m often away from home for extended periods, and I find that mini-cattleyas can cope quite well without water for a day or two if necessary. In addition they reward growers with very pretty, long-lasting, colourful flowers that are quite large for their relatively small plants. Mini-cattleyas take up much less space in the orchid house than their larger-growing cattleya cousins.

Generally speaking, most cattleyas of the bifoliate type (two leaves per pseudobulb) are easier to grow in cool conditions than the unifoliate type (one leaf per pseudobulb), which often grow better with heat. Hybrids with the cool-growing genus Sophronitis in their pedigree will often grow cool – these will most likely have the prefix Sic. {Sophrolaeliocattleya), Sc. (Sophrocattleya) or SI. (Sophrolaelia) preceding the variety name. Plants with a smaller growth habit are usually easier to grow than the taller ones, which often need heat.

All cattleya hybrids will grow and flower better with a minimum temperature of 6-8°C; however, most mini-cattleyas can be grown successfully in Melbourne without artificial heat. In my experience, the minimum requirements for their cultivation are a shade house with a solid roof and provision of fairly good light. You can always bring the plants indoors in very cold weather, and certainly bring them inside and enjoy them whilst they are in flower.

Depending on the character of the potting mix, watering may be carried out as infrequently as once a week during cooler weather but watch your mini-cattleyas carefully and if the plants appear dry, give them a drink. In warm weather you may need to water every day or two. Repot in the warmer weather when the new growths are at least 25 mm tall. Take care, as the new growths are very brittle and are easily broken. I use any available fertiliser and in addition use Seasol® frequently.

Mini-cattleyas don’t like to be cold and wet in the cooler months and a cool, damp atmosphere will cause spotting of light-coloured flowers. As with your other orchids, you should keep a keen eye open for pests, particularly scale, slugs, snails and caterpillars. Few orchids will tolerate direct contact with frost, and mini-cattleyas are no exception. However, they cope with extremely cold conditions better if their potting mix is on the dry side.

With regard to potting mixes, these depend very much on your growing conditions – if your plant isn’t looking healthy, try a different potting mix. My favourite mix is 75% coarse Perlite/25% chopped sphagnum moss. In my conditions this seems the best mix and has wide acceptance Australia-wide. I am also currently using 50% coconut fibre/25% coarse Perlite/25% pine bark and have found that larger plants grow well in this mix; however, seedlings dislike this mix, and become very stunted. Three other mixes that I have used (50% pine bark/50% Absorba-Stone, 100% pine bark and 100% moss) do not suit my conditions.

Some cool-growing mini-cattleyas and two of the species used to breed them are: Sophronitis coccinea (red flowers), Laelia pumila (mauve flowers with darker lip), SI. Orpetii (red flowers), Sic. Jungle Beau (yellow flowers with purple lips), Sc. Beaufort (red, orange and yellow flowers), Sic. Seagulls Mini Catt Heaven (orange to red flowers) and Lc. Mini Purple (purple or mauve flowers). Mini-cattleyas are very rewarding orchids, and are not as difficult to grow as many people think. So why not buy a plant or two and give them a go!