Lycaste Culture: Growing and Flowering Lycastes

Wilford B. Neptune, MD

When growing lycastes, I use plastic pots in a size that will accommodate the rootball. I will use bulb pans or geranium- or azalea-type pots, as long as the size is correct. However, I use enough crocking so that the depth of medium will only be at most 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm). Some believe that this creates a swamp at the top level of crocking, and should be avoided. I believe that it only increases drainage, and any swamp effect is beneficial in humidity and cooling of the roots. I have never seen the roots invade this area, something that is common with some genera, such as Cattleya. On large plants, I usually place an inverted web pot (similar to the cone on Rand paphiopedilum pots) in the bottom center of the rootball, for added air to the rootball.

The result of paying attention to details when raising a specimen is evident in this amazing plant of Lycaste skinneri ‘Trident’s Beauty’, CCE/AOS. Grower. Wilford B. Neptune, MD.


I use a bark mix with a water-retention additive, chunky peat. To seven parts of 50:50 medium and fine fir bark, add one part each of medium perlite, medium charcoal, medium tree-fern fiber and one-and-a-half parts of chunky peat. This allows excellent drainage, but provides some water retention.


In an article in Orchid Digest, Steve Gettel says to grow these orchids warm: 60º to 85º F (15.5º to ºC). I grow Lycaste Brugensis (longipetala × skinneri) warm (minimum night temperature of 65º F [18º C]), on the advice of Henry Oakeley (personal communication), but all others are in the cool house during autumn and winter, where they receive a minimum night temperature of 48º F (9º C).


I do not dry these out as long as there are leaves present, although I may allow some drying of the surface of the medium after the pseudobulbs have matured. During warm weather (active growth period), I may water every day. For the small-flowered yellow species from Mexico, which become deciduous, I withhold water after the leaves are gone, but for no longer than four weeks. Otherwise, too much crenation of the pseudobulbs occurs.


These are large fast-growing plants and need a lot of fertilizer. I apply 200 ppm (parts per million) of nitrogen (N) per week in a ratio of 24-9-9, the entire year, if watering, but may substitute 200 ppm of N in a ratio of 9-30-25 for one fertilizing per month after maturation of the pseudobulbs.

Lycaste Wyld Wine ‘Ruby’, AM/AOS. Grower: Wilford B. Neptune, MD.


I am a strong believer that light is the most important aspect of culture for the production of flowers. I put all lycastes outside after night temperatures are above 45 to 50 F (7 to 10 C), in the spring. They are placed on a flagstone patio without any shelter from the weather where they receive full east sun until about 1:30 or 2 pm, and with bright, indirect light the rest of the day. There may be some burning of the previous years’ leaves, but only rarely will there be any burn of new growth. When the plants are brought back inside in autumn, most are placed up on hangers in as bright a spot as possible. My greenhouse is on the north side of my home, and receives no direct sun November through January; however, sun is present the rest of the year. I use no shade cloth on the greenhouse, and between fans and a large wet-pad cooler, the temperature in the cool house seldom is above 85 F (29 C), even on hot days in the summer. Large sun-requiring plants, such as laelias, are positioned overhead to shade lower-light requiring plants below, such as paphiopedilums.


Lycastes are clean plants and need little grooming. There are ways to improve presentation of flowers, however. The foliage will grow toward the light, as will the flowers; therefore, when feasible, grow them in one position, and turn them around for the emerging flowers and the blooms will be free of the overhang of leaves. Otherwise, I tie the leaves together and out of the way for a better view of the flowers.


Since these are grown as tightly as possible in their containers, they may need repotting every year. However, I do not disturb the rootball, but rather simply pot up as needed. At this time, there is seldom much medium and usually there is only a mass of roots, and one merely adds a small amount of medium around the rootball. Only when dividing do I really repot, and even then, I may simply saw the plant into the desired pieces. (When cutting orchids, always use a sterilized blade to help prevent spread of virus.) I have specimens I have managed this way for more than 15 years without any problems with rot.


I have not used a fungicide in the greenhouse for more than 10 years. I use a preventive spray, however, in autumn prior to bringing the plants inside. My only problem with the lycastes has been slugs, and these are managed reasonably well with regular usage of a metaldehyde bait. (Be sure to keep this toxic bait away from pets and children, and make sure it’s stored out of their reach. Some growers may want to try natural controls.) — Wilford B. Neptune, MD, is well-known for his superb specimens that have won many cultural awards. He maintains his mixed collection in a greenhouse in Massachusetts.