I love Paphiopedilums. I hate how slow they grow.
If you’re here, you’re probably looking for tips on caring for paphs. I’ll avoid the boring back story of the slipper orchid grouping–you can read that on every other website.
Perceived difficulty – Are Paphiopedilums hard to grow?
Paphs get a reputation for being difficult to grow. That said, the people who have mastered their care, feel they’re very easy to grow. So what its it? Hard or easy? Well…that depends on your expectations of the plant and your ability to provide consistent care over a long period of time. Let’s break that down so it makes a bit more sense…
Expectations of Paphiopedilums
- They grow slowly: generally 1 or two new growths per year on younger plants. They grow about a leaf every month or two. Some species will take 2 years to develop a mature growth.
- They spike once per leaf set growth: each new growth will spike and flower once only from the crown toward the end of its growth. A spike may put out a series of sequential blooms or many blooms opening at the same time, but you will only get one flowering and once that spike dies it will not flower again from that same growth.
Paphiopedilum Care – Consistency is Key
- Understanding that paphs are both slow growers and that they only spike once per new growth, comes the next tricky component. Paphs need consistent care year round. You can’t forget about them for half the year and start watering them in the spring. They grow slowly but need very consistent conditions to maintain that growth through the spring, summer, fall and winter. If you’re the type of person who frequently forgets to water your plants…don’t start with a paph. It’s not going to go well for you or your plant. The problem is, by the time you can see that it needs to be watered (withered/leathery leaves), the damage is done.
- Paphs are great for people with a routine.
Basic Care for Paphiopedilums
- Watering: You want moist roots, but not wet or dry. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN??? This was very confusing for me at the start…understanding “not dry, always moist, but not wet” especially because in my climate the difference between all three extremes is literally a matter of waiting 48 hours. The first thing that will help clarify this…don’t let the roots hard dry! If it’s bone dry like a phalaenopsis, you should have watered yesterday. Don’t let the roots soak in water for longer than 20 minutes. If you’re watering it, you can let it soak for a bit, but then drain the pot, wait 15 minutes and drain it again to make sure no residual water is sitting in the bottom, then put it back on the shelf.*Tip: If you find the medium is drying out too quickly (like you have to water every 2 days), you can add about a 5-10% ratio of milled Canadian peatmoss to your mix. Mix it thoroughly with the rest of the medium and then pot the paph up. Don’t just dump it on top…it will not work out well for you.
- Watering Frequency: “How often should I water my paph?” – For me, I’ve perfected a potting mix that allows me to water once per week (sometimes twice for the seedlings). For you, it will depend on your potting mix, your climate, and your lifestyle. What works best for you? If weekly waterings are best, find a potting recipe that stays moist all week, but is approaching dryness by the weekend. That will be your key to success…finding what works for you. If you LOVE watering and it’s humid where you live, use a mostly inorganic mix and don’t add peatmoss or sphagnum moss.
- Light: Everything I read says paphs like “low light”. In my experience they like intermediate light…bright enough to encourage vibrant leaves and vigorous growth, but not HOT enough that it will burn the leaf. So what does that mean? East-facing windows with direct sun for a small portion of the morning. Or South/west windows with a sheer cloth that will block some of the hot and intense mid-day/evening sun.*mottled leafed paphs will deal better with low light.
**strapped-leafed (multi-floral) paphs will generally need brighter light.
- Potting Medium: I use orchiata bark (because it lasts longer and retains water more reliably than pine bark which can get soggy) at a ratio of 50%. I add about 40% inorganic medium (pumice, perlite, and charcoal), 5% canadian peat moss, and about 5% sphagnum moss. I also use to top-dress the medium. You can read more about paphiopedilum potting mixes here.
- Fertilizer: very weakly, weekly. Some paphs are known to be sensitive to high fertilizers and salts in the water. I use tap water that’s pretty hard (7.5-8.3pH w/ 200-250ppm total dissolved salts) so i have to make sure I keep my overall additives down so I only fertilize at about a ratio of 1/8 tsp of fertilizer per gallon(4litres) of water. I do add a bit of gia green all purpose organic fertilizer to my mix a couple times a year, and i’ll add a bit of bloodmeal (nitrogen) to that. Just a sprinkle per pot.
Other Paphiopedilum Care Requirements
Some paph species are warm growers, some are cool growers, some require very bright light, some are very slow growers…you really need to research each species to tweak the requirements for each. In general though most of the above care is applied to my paphs and I haven’t lost any since I stopped growing semihydro.
Photos of Paphiopedilum