How to Grow Ladyslipper Orchids

Admittedly, ladyslipper orchids are not for everyone. First, they are expensive to buy, often the price of a nice tree. Second, they are difficult to make happy. I have bought them, grown them, and lost them. And I have bought them and had them give me great joy. This week, I had a white showy ladyslipper (Cypripedium reginae) bloom, one I had purchased last year, and it made the investment worthwhile.

A rare pure white showy ladyslipper I planted last year, blooming now.

Pink ladyslippers (Cypipedium acuale) are the most fussy. They require a pH of 4.0 to 5.0, roughly a thousand times more acidic than my garden soil (pH is a logarithmic scale). I’ve seen plenty in the wild, both on Cape Cod and Prince Edward Island. There they grow under pines in very sandy soil, but I can’t mimic that. Their flowers have darker "wings" above their pouch, not the white ones that showy ladyslippers have.

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Showy ladyslippers are much easier to grow. They like soil that is neutral (pH 7.0) or slightly alkaline (up to 7.5). The soil should be rich, dark, and stay lightly moist. In the wild they grow in fens, or alkaline bogs with plenty of water. Mine? I grow them where I grow my candelabra primroses (Primula japonica). They are in dappled shade under old wild apple trees.

I just planted this showy ladyslipper this week.

I bought another showy ladyslipper this week at E.C. Brown’snursery in Thetford, Vermont. The one that I bought last year is a pure white variety, which is nice, but I wanted a pink one, too.

A word of warning: do not try digging wild ladyslippers. It's illegal, and you probably will end up killing it. Buy from a reputable nursery, and feel free to ask where it came from, and how it was propagated. Showy ladyslippers can be divided like hostas, if raised for propagation. 

We never know what is going to grow and flourish in the garden. What I do know, is that I love ladyslipper orchids, and I will keep on trying to keep them growing for me. 

See photos of 6 summer beauties and learn what makes them bloom by clicking here.

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