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How to Grow Lady’s Slipper Orchid

Updated on June 24, 2014

Lady’s Slipper

The lady's slipper is a wonderfully unique orchid that produces extraordinary blooms for decades once it's established.

Lady's slippers have gorgeous blooms, coming in pink, mauve, greens, yellows and browns. They can bloom for months under the right conditions

While it may seem to be a difficult plant to grow because of its outer characteristics, it's not really that hard to successfully grow, although it does take patience to wait for it to mature.

What is particularly peculiar to lady's slippers is the pouch of the flower, which is in reality a modified labellum. Being similar in shape to a slipper, this is where it gets its name.

How it works for the flower is it traps insects inside it in a way which makes them climb up another direction, past the staminode, which in turn results in the insects fertilizing the orchid.

In some parts of the United States it is also known as the "moccasin flower" for the same reasons it's name a lady's slipper, because it appears to look like one.

Lady's Slipper Orchid Photo


Lady’s Slipper Propagation Choices

Because some species of lady's slippers take seven years to produce a flower and another seven years to produce seed, it's the best choice in my opinion to buy a lady's slipper from an outlet that sells them than attempt to propagate them from seed.

Some lady's slippers will cost a little bit more than most usually pay for a flower, but it's really worth it to bypass some of the time element required to wait for results from the plant.

That's for the more unusual species though, other lady's slipper varieties can be quite inexpensive as well. It depends on the species you want to grow.

Either way, your patience will pay off, as lady's slippers will live for decades, up to 100 years old.

Choosing Your Lady's Slipper

Your decision on which variety of lady's slipper to grow is mostly determined by whether you're going to grow it in a pot or in the ground.

A general rule of thumb that works in most cases is to choose a variety with variegated leaves for growing lady's slippers in pots, and those with darker green leaves for those you want to grow outdoors.

Lady's slipper varieties with darker green leafs usually prefer colder temperatures, while those with variegated leaves will grow well in temperatures normally used in the home.

While both can grow outdoors of course, it's more important for those growing lady's slipper indoors to choose the variegated varieties, than the other way around.

This is advice mostly for those who want a more laid back experience with their indoor plants. For lady's slippers, this is the best way to go about it.

More Tips on Lady's Slipper Selection

Other things to look for when deciding on which lady's slippers to buy include taking a good look at the foliage to see that it's healthy and has no tears.

Most plants will look good in this respect, but there are always some that incur some damage during the shipping and handling process, and there's no reason to choose a plant that has any type of foliage damage.

Other things to look for with foliage is if it has any disease. Look for off-color areas - usually brown - on the base of the plant or the leaves.

Most of us tend to look fairly closely at the leaves, but the base of the lady's slipper is just as important, and we should not buy a plant that is discolored in that region, or on the leaves.

Next look for any signs of insect activity on the flower. Anything like what appear to be black droppings, white fluffy patches, or places on the plant that are sticky, all point towards probable insect issues.

If everything else looks good, the final step is to take the plant and give it a little pull to see if the lady's slipper is rooted strongly. Assuming it is solid in the ground, it points to a solid root system. If it yields too easily, make another choice, as it's a sign the roots are probably fragile.

Planting Lady's Slipper Orchids in the Garden

Where to Plant Lady's Slippers

Most lady's slippers varieties thrive in a woodland environment in the wild, and similar to jack-in-the-pulpit, need to have that type of area replicated for best results.

What that means for the yard or garden is choosing an area that is mostly shady, although some early morning sun is acceptable.

Think of the way trees are overhead in the woods with the sun peeking through to get an idea of the best place to plant your lady's slippers. Total shade isn't good, and neither is direct sun, other than in the early morning as mentioned.

You'll know if the plants are receiving enough light if the leaves are stiff and have a green hue. Pale green is okay.

A pH in a range of 6.0 to 7.0 is considered optimal for the flower.

Since the lady's slipper thrives in forest conditions, including leaf compost as part of the organic make up of the soil will help the plant a lot, since the leaves from the trees fall and are a big part of the soil conditions conducive to healthy lady's slippers.

As a matter of fact, the root system of a lady's slipper can rot if it's placed in a heavier soil, so be sure to mix in some compost which replicates decaying forest matter.

Dividing Lady's Slipper Orchids in the Garden

When to Plant Lady's Slippers

Lady's Slippers are a little different that many other plants because of the verifiable practice of having to move them in all parts of the growing season to protect them from a variety of circumstances.

That means they are successfully transplanted during any time; although they do better if it's near the end of the summer as the weather starts to cool.

So if you have a choice, plant lady's slippers in the latter part of summer or the early part of fall to get the highest rate of success.

If your options are limited, you can plant them when you have to, especially if you're saving one from the wild. Be aware that there are legalities involved in some states, so you will want to check to see if there are any laws prohibiting the removal and transplanting of lady's slippers before doing it.

How to Grow Lady's Slipper

When transplanting a lady's slipper be sure to be careful in handling the plant, as damaged roots can result in the plant dying, although it could take a couple of years to finish the process. The reason is it loses its storage of food reserves located it the roots.

Damaged roots will stop growing and could and become vulnerable to infection. So be careful when taking the plant from another spot or a pot to transplant it.

Don't plant lady's slipper too deep, as it thrives in a lighter soil, one which in the wild will include decaying matter around its roots. Be sure to amend the soil as mentioned above, adding leaf compost to the soil.

If your potted plant is has a deep root ball, water it and allow some of the mix to fall away. From there spread the roots out in a hole no more than several inches deep.

Digging a hole about an inch deeper than the roots of the plant will suffice.

You can dig deeper in the area your're going to plant it in order to see where the thicker soil begins to give you an idea exactly how deep you should plant the flower.

When placing the plant in the hole, spread out the roots carefully on a horizontal plane (flat in the hole on the ground).

Cover it up and water it, and then leave it alone. Some people recommend watering it every couple of weeks afterwards, but if it's placed in a shady location with only an hour or two of sunlight in the morning on a daily basis, you should only have to water it occasionally. Even so, you do want to check it to be sure it's getting enough water, especially in the hot, summer months.

Pink lady's slipper is one species that requires less watering than others.

Lady Slipper Orchids

Pruning Lady's Slipper

The first step in pruning lady's slipper is to diagnose the plant correctly in the first place.

This is mostly in relationship to yellowing leaves, which gardeners may remove too quickly, before they find out the source of the yellowing.

If you have a potted lady's slipper, move it into a more shady area to see if that takes care of the yellowing leaf problem, as many times it's the exposure to too much direct sunlight which causes the yellowing of leaves.

For lady's slippers in the ground, you have to observe to see if they are hit by a lot of sun throughout the day. They should only be receiving a little sun in the early morning. If they are receiving more, you may have to transplant the orchids to a shadier area of the yard or garden.

Just cut the off-color leaves off at the base when you're convinced they are through, or in the case of brown leaves, diseased.

Individual flower spikes should by pruned when they turn brown or yellow. That means they won't generate any more blossoms. Cut them about a quarter of an inch above the highest node. (A node refers to a little bump on the stem of a plant where new flowers will emerge.) Do this after the lady's slipper is through blooming.

One other consideration with flower spikes is it's worthwhile taking a look at the stem. The reason why is if it's still green, it may still produce some flowers. Percentages are less than usual with the discolored flowers, but it's still something to think about if you want to try to get more blooms.

Lady's slipper stems should be pruned back when they no longer have any parts of it that are green. They should have some green areas or some green nodes to be considered viable. If not, cut them back to about an inch from the base of the stem.

If there are still buds on the stem, cut it back to about a quarter of an inch of the closest bud.

For best pruning results, doing it in October and November is best practices.

Propagating Lady's Slippers by Seed

I wouldn't recommend attempting to propagate lady's slipper by seed. Even some of the more experienced gardeners and experts have difficulty successfully growing this orchid from seed, as will those who have less experience.

The other reason is the time it takes to enjoy the plant if it is able to be germinated, as it could be 7 years before it blooms, and another seven years before it's ready to seed.

Very few people are willing to make that commitment, and most aren't aware it takes that long, depending on the species of the flowering plant.

Some species are more conducive to being grown by seed, so if you want to take the plunge, be sure to do some research on the variety you want to try to germinate before doing it.

Also check to be sure the lady's slipper variety you're attempting to grow by seed is good for your zone. Some varieties do better in more tropical environments, although most do better in cooler and more temperate regions.

Lady's Slipper

Growing lady's slippers is one of patience, although if you acquire some which are already growing in pots you've eliminated a big part of the waiting picture.

Once you see the beauty of a lady's slipper, you'll definitely catch the bug, and if you place them in the right location they will provide extraordinary beauty to your landscaping scheme, offering up their color for decades because of the amazing longevity of the plant.

Lady's slippers are definitely worth the time and effort to grow.


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