Lycaste are beautiful plants that produce multiple-bloom spikes from the base of mature pseudobulbs in the winter and spring months. Their flowers are large, reaching 3 to 6 inches wide, and both long-lasting and fragrant. Large specimens produce multiple spikes and can be quite impressive! It is useful to support the spikes before they bloom, or the flowers will cause them to sag downwards. Many Lycaste are deciduous and will lose their leaves in the winter to early summer months. It is not unusual if the leaf tips to turn brown before the leaves fall off.
Light and Shade
Lycaste need abundant though not intense light in order to grow and flower well. Growing in an east window is ideal, as the early morning sun is very important. However, a south window will also be suitable, so long as the plant is provided with light shading from the middle of February to the end of October using a sheer curtain. Lycaste can be grown outside from June to late fall in areas with filtered light, such as through a pine tree or shrub in early morning or afternoon. Be careful not to exposure these orchids to prolonged direct sunlight, as the leaves will sunburn. If using artificial light to grow indoors, LEDs are the best option for Lycaste. The artificial light market has expanded greatly in recent years, so a quick Google search will result in a variety of lighting options and price ranges.
Temperature and Humidity
Lycaste prefer a day temperature range between 68°F and 75°F (20°C to 24°C). At night there should be at least a 10°F (6°C) drop, as Lycaste enjoy nighttime lows from 50°F to 60°F (10°C to 16°C). This lower night temperature will help initiate flower buds in winter and promote stronger growth. Keep in mind, these are not frost-tolerant plants, and should not be exposed to temperatures below 35°F (2°C). When bringing Lycaste indoors in the fall, place them in a bright, cool section of your home, preferably in a south or east-facing window. Lycaste benefit from humidity levels of 50% to 70%. This can be achieved at home with the use of a humidifier or a Humidity Tray and Grid. Just make sure that the plant is not standing in water or the roots will rot.
These orchids enjoy a moist growing medium at all times. The media should never go "bone dry". A fine spray over the foliage, in addition to pot watering, is beneficial during sunny weather. Observe the pseudobulbs - as long as they are full and plump, you are watering correctly. If they are shriveled, you may be under watering, or the roots may be rotting from over watering. Keep the plant slightly dry between watering from November through January. Resume normal watering once you see flower spikes beginning to form to encourage their development, which typically occurs between January and March.
When repotting your Lycaste during the active growing season, do not water the media for at least 3 days. This allows cuts and breaks in the roots to callous and avoid rotting upon being watered.
We always recommend watering in the morning, as this gives the leaves time to dry and avoid bacterial growth overnight. If possible, use water low in alkalinity, such as rainwater, distilled water, or reverse osmosis water. If you have a dehumidifier in your home, the water that collects in the tray is excellent for watering orchids.
We highly recommend Green Jungle Orchid Food, specially formulated to provide orchids with the nutrients they would naturally encounter in their wild habitats. This is the fertilizer that we developed to use on our own plants in production, with excellent results for decades! This formula works best with water low in alkalinity (such as rainwater, distilled water, or reverse osmosis water). However, you may use tap water, keeping in mind that mineral buildup will require repotting more frequently, on the order of every 1 to 2 years.
If potting in bark mix, fertilize every time you water during the summer growing season, flushing with non-softened water once a month. This rinses the media of salt and mineral buildup. If potting in sphagnum moss or rockwool mix, fertilize every 3rd watering during the growing season. Stop feeding in September to introduce your Lycaste into its winter rest. This is essential for a successful flowering event in late winter or early spring.
Lycaste thrive in a light, porous medium, capable of holding moisture while draining thoroughly upon watering. At Orchids Limited, we recommend potting these plants in New Zealand Sphagnum Moss, the Medium grade of our Traditional Orchid Bark Mix, or our Modern Moisture Retentive Mix (contains rockwool).
These orchids do best when the root system is left undisturbed, so repot only when the medium has broken down. When plants need to be divided and repotted, do so in the summer after the plants have finished blooming. Lycaste produce an extensive root system and may be "over-potted" more readily than other orchids. Select a pot which, once the plant has been placed in the center, allows space for at least two years' growth. Remove all dead or dying roots from the plant, carefully taking off the old compost without causing damage to the live roots.
Lycaste may be divided once they develop 6 or more pseudobulbs. The old bulbs can still produce new growths eventually, but may take up to a year to do so. Should you wish to divide your plant, each section should have three or four green bulbs in addition to any new leads. Old leafless pseudobulbs should be removed if the procedure will cause no damage to the rest of the plant. You can watch our video on dividing orchids here.
To avoid the transfer of orchid diseases, it is standard procedure to sterilize all cutting and potting instruments before using them on a plant. This can be done by flaming pruning shears with a butane torch, or by spraying with rubbing alcohol and wiping with a clean paper towel.
The main pest that Lycaste attract is scale. The best way to monitor your plants for scale is to remove any dry, papery sheaths from the pseudobulbs so the insects have nowhere to hide. The best treatment for scale is often a systemic pesticide.