Laelia is a genus in the orchid family. It is not a very big genus, but its members are highly sought after in the floral trade. They are comparatively easy to culture and Laelia orchid care is not very difficult as long as you are prepared to do some reading. The Laelia orchids are close relatives of the Cattleya orchids and the only main difference between them is the number of pollinia.
The Laelia orchid develops one or two leaves from each pseudobulb. The leaves can reach a length of up to 20 cm (nearly eight inches) and are leathery with a waxy coating. The inflorescence can be even longer and produce up to eight flowers. The wild Lealia orchids have pink to purple flowers with a purple lip that is white near the column. There are also albino variants of these orchids.
Laelia orchids should be frequently watered when they are growing, but leaving them “with their feet wet” can easily cause root rot and decay. Try to mimic the natural habitat of Laelia orchids when you water. A majority of the Laelia species hail from environments where the rainfall is moderate to heavy from spring into autumn, and then declines in late autumn. The winter season is usually dry and lasts for 2-3 months. There is however still moist available from the dew. Reduce the waterings during the winter season when the orchid is resting but never allow the orchids to remain completely dry for long periods. Providing your resting Laelia orchids with occasional mistings in the early morning to mimic dew is an important part of good Laelia orchid care.
The Laelia orchid should be given a high-nitrogen fertilizer from spring to midsummer. In late summer, it is time to switch to a fertilizer high in phosphate and continue to use it through fall. During the winter no fertilizer should be added to the water. Start again with a nitrogen rich fertilizer when you resume heavy watering in spring.
Laelia orchids grow in subtropical as well as temperate regions in Mexico and Central America, including high elevations. It is therefore always a good idea to research your particular Laelia orchid to find out more about its exact requirements when it comes to temperature. If your Laelia orchid is a species used to high elevations, it will appreciate fairly cool conditions, combined with dry air and plenty of sunshine. If your Laelia orchid instead is a species native to the rainforest it will prefer warmer temperatures (and plenty of moist) during the summer and dry cool winters.
Generally speaking, Laelia orchids benefit from a resting period during the winter when they have finished blooming. If your orchid hails from higher elevations it is ideal to provide it with temperatures in the 69-73°F (21-23°C) range during the day and 52-53°F (11-12°C) during the night. As spring returns, you can gradually increase the temperature up to 75-79°F (24-26°C) during the day and 61-63°F (16-17°C) during the night. If your Laelia orchids come from lower elevations, they will prefer warmer temperatures.
Laelia orchids need bright light, especially if they hail from higher elevations. For some species, not even a full sun window will be sufficient in northern parts of the world. In other parts of the world full sun can scorch the leaves between 11 am and 3 pm and filtered or diffused sun is recommended.
A majority of the Laelia orchid species grow on trees (epiphytes), but some grow on stones (lithophytes). What both types have in common is that their roots will rot if they are forced to stand in a soggy potting medium. Picking a well draining potting medium is therefore an essential part of good Laelia orchid care. Ideally use a coarse and open medium that allows the orchid roots to dry quickly after each watering. If you still encounter problems with root decay, add chopped tree-fern fibre and broken pieces of sandstone to the potting mix.
The pot you use for your Laelia orchid should be a small as possible since large pots retain water more efficiently and can increase the risk for root rot. Repot the orchid when it outgrows the pot. The best time for repotting a Laelia orchid is when new roots are just beginning to grow. The same is true for dividing the plant.
The Laelia orchid is believed to be named after one of the Vestal Virgins in Ancient Rome, but it can also have been named after the female members of the Roman patrician family of Laelius. Vestal Virgins were holy priestesses responsible for maintaining the sacred fire of Vesta.