Hardy lady’s slipper orchids bring exotic flair to the shade in the garden. When the noble beauties open their flowers in June, our attention is certain. This is what matters in planting and care.
Profile of lady’s slipper:
Scientific name: Cypripedium
Plant family: orchid family (Orchidaceae)
Other names: lady’s slipper orchids, slipper orchids, moccasin flower, camel’s foot, squirrel foot, steeple cap, Venus’ shoes, whippoorwill shoe
Planting time: autumn
Flowering period: June to August
Location: semi-shady to shady
Soil quality: stony to sandy, moderately nutritious
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flower beds, underplanting, borders, flower garden, rock garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 6 (-23 °C / -5 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: Yes
Plant characteristics and classification of lady’s slipper
Plant order, origin and occurrence of lady’s slipper
The genus of lady’s slipper orchids belongs to the orchid family (Orchidaceae) and comprises about 35 ground-based orchid species (terrestrial orchids). They grow primarily in the temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere as well as in South Asia and Mexico. Most of the species are endangered by illegal harvesting or destruction of the natural habitat.
Characteristics of lady’s slipper
Lady’s slipper orchids are perennial and herbaceous plants that grow terrestrially. This means that, unlike most other orchids, they grow on the ground and are therefore not epiphytes. Each leaf rosette of the lady’s slipper orchid only produces one flowering shoot. Then new rosettes form on the leaf axils, which bloom the following year.
The egg-shaped to fan-shaped green leaves of the lady’s slipper orchids are arranged spirally or in opposite directions.
The flowers appear in summer individually or in racemes, which are composed of up to twelve flowers. The single flower consists of four spreading sepals (tepals) and a slipper-shaped labium. Depending on the type and variety, they appear in white, yellow, green, brown or in different shades of red, often they are also striped or spotted.
Lady’s slipper – cultivation and care
Since lady’s slipper orchids are naturally forest plants, they prefer cool, shady conditions and also thrive on the north side of the house. The location must not be too dry.
As a simple rule: If it is a spotted-leaved and multi-flowered species, the plant should be placed on a little lighter spot (partially shaded). Green-leaved species must be shady (north window). Some species also tolerate direct sun in the early morning or late afternoon such as Lady’s slipper orchids charlesworthii. Midday sun and drafty locations should always be avoided.
Ideal is a loose, not too dry soil, in which no waterlogging occurs. You can loosen heavy and loamy soils with broken expanded clay (for example for hydroponics from specialist retailers), sand or lavalite (pumice gravel).
Potted plants need a special substrate in which to thrive. Here the ideal pH should be between 5 and 6.5. A special orchid substrate from the well-stocked garden trade offers the plants everything they need. In addition, this is already permeable enough so that no waterlogging can occur. This commercially available substrate can also be mixed by yourself, because it mainly contains:
- coconut fiber
- small polystyrene beads
In the garden
The best time to plant them in the garden is in autumn, when the lady’s slipper orchids are at rest. Dig a hole 10 centimeters (4 in) deep and spread the roots flat. The bud from which the new shoots will grow next year should be covered with soil only 2 centimeters (0.8 in) high after planting. Fill the earth loosely and – especially important – do not press it on. Then the newly planted lady’s slipper orchid is being watered. Once established, it will grow into a stately plant in a few years. As long as there are horticultural cultivations (hybrids) and no wild species, you will enjoy these exclusive plants even without special previous knowledge.
In a pot
If a lady’s slipper orchid has been purchased commercially, it is usually delivered in plastic pots in which waterlogging can quickly occur. To avoid this, the plant should be planted promptly after purchase. In this way, the orchid also receives the permeable substrate that it needs. The procedure for planting is as follows:
- create drainage
- for this, put potsherds or gravel over the drain hole
- place a plant fleece on it
- fill in half of the substrate
- remove the orchid from the pot
- remove old substrate
- place in the pot, add the remaining substrate
- immerse the entire plant in water
- drain well
In hot summers you need to water regularly. You should definitely avoid waterlogging.
You must increasingly supply the slipper orchid with the required moisture via the roots, which they get from the air at their origin. Nevertheless, the plant does not tolerate waterlogging and can quickly develop root rot if the soil is too wet. It is therefore important that the irrigation water can always drain out well. To water the orchid perfectly, keep the following in mind:
- always keep the substrate moist
- never let it dry out completely
- do not pour on earth from above
- no water should get on the leaf axils
- better briefly immerse in water
- so you can give the water evenly to the roots
- no water on the plate
- only use lime-free water
- collected rainwater is ideal
- alternatively filtered tap water
The lady’s slipper orchids are fertilized in spring with normal mineral or garden fertilizer.
Lady’s slipper orchids needs a lot of nutrients all year round and therefore you need to fertilize regularly. Since the plant blooms over the winter, it needs less fertilizer during this time than in the vegetation phase over the summer, so that it can form as many buds as possible. It is therefore ideal to fertilize as follows:
- use liquid fertilizer for orchids
- can be given during an immersion
- every two weeks in summer
- in winter every four to six weeks
To achieve a more beautiful bloom, some, especially the white blooming varieties, can also be supplied with hard lime or crushed mussels. However, caution is advised here, because the pH of the soil can become higher, so that the slipper orchid no longer feels comfortable. It is therefore only necessary to work with very small quantities. Calcareous water should not be used, as it effects the bloom.
In autumn you can leave fallen leaves. Do not place lady’s slipper orchids too close to large trees, as the competition for the nutrients in the root area is too big.
Lady’s slipper orchids needs a high humidity. Though, spraying the graceful plants is not recommended, as they could be very sensitive to water on their leaf axils. It is therefore helpful to set up a humidifier in the immediate vicinity of the plant so that the desired humidity is given.
Temperature and rest time
Some types of Lady’s slipper orchids require a drop in temperature at night when their growing season is over. This is the only way to create flowers again in the new vegetation phase. When it comes to slipper orchids, a distinction is made between groups that place different demands on their ambient temperature. Anyone who buys a plant from a specialist shop should therefore ask about the requirements regarding the temperature and lighting conditions of their plants.
1st group: spotted-leaved varieties with warm temperatures all year round
Summer: 20-25 °C / 68-77 °F
Winter: 16-22 °C / 61-72 °F
2nd group: green-leaved varieties with narrow leaves that need temperature drops at night in winter
Summer: 20-22 °C / 68- 72 °F during the day, 17-19 °C / 63-66 °F at night
Winter: 20-23 °C / 68-72 °F during the day, 13-16 °C / 55-61 °F at night
Associated species: P. bellatulum, P. charlesworthii (minimum 15 °C / 59 °F), P. leucochilum, P. micranthum (12 to 5 °C / 54-41 °F in winter)
3rd group: multi-flowered varieties with consistently warm conditions
Summer: 20-23 °C / 68-73 °F
Winter: 18-22 °C / 64-72 °F
4th group: purely green-leaved varieties with broad leaves, warm all year round
Summer: 18-25 °C / 64- 72 °F
Winter: 16-20 °C / 61- 77 °F
You can also propagate Lady’s slipper orchids directly while repotting. The propagation of the lady’s slipper orchid works simply by dividing the roots. For this purpose, the rhizomes, which have at least six buds, are separated from the plant. When propagating slipper orchids, the following should be considered:
- always use a sharp and disinfected knife
- each part should have two sheets
- plant individual pieces in orchid substrate (see above: Planting)
In the early days, just spray the soil of the new orchids with a little water. Only when they have grown new roots you immerse the plant. When spraying, make sure that the plant does not come into contact with the water.
Diseases and pests
A big problem with orchids is – like many other perennials – slugs. Therefore, you should protect the sprouting plants early enough in spring, for example by sprinkling slug pellets.
Lady’s slipper orchids suffers from root rot, which is caused by waterlogging and thus is wrong care. Too much moisture also promotes fungal attack, especially if the lady’s slipper orchid is sprayed with water on the leaf axils from above. A too solid soil also favors these diseases. Against this can be done as follows:
- remove the orchid immediately from the planter
- remove all substrate from the roots
- cut off damaged roots
- let it dry well
- then put in new, fresh substrate
- clean and disinfect the planter well
- treat plant with fungicides if necessary
In the first time after the rescue, which is unfortunately not always successful, the soil is only sprayed with water from above. Only when the orchid has fully recovered it should be immersed again, after which the water should always be able to drain well.
Winter protection is unnecessary for frost-hardy plants.
Use in the garden
Lady’s slipper orchids are suitable for shady rock gardens, peat beds or wooded gardens. But be careful: trees or large shrubs with strong growing roots are not good neighbors. Suitable planting partners, on the other hand, are witch hazel (Hamamelis) and Corylopsis as well as low ferns and perennials such as Siberian bugloss (Brunnera) as well as small-sized hostas.
Special garden centers offer slipper orchid hybrids with different flower colors from their own cultivation. This ensures that the strictly protected lady’s slipper orchids are not illegally picked at the natural site.
‘Ventricosum Pastel’ is a hybrid with ivory flowers. It forms larger clusters within a few years.
The variety ‘Ventricosum’ immediately catches the eye with its broad leaves and strong stems.
The multi-shoot women’s shoe hybrid ‘Gisela’ is particularly frost-hardy and robust and grows to a height of 30 to 45 centimeters (12 to 18 in). Barrenworts, hostas or ferns, which have similar requirements, make their large purple-pink flowers look beautiful.
The ‘Hank Small’ variety forms delicate flowers that resemble the wild variety in their play of colors.