Lady slipper orchids are some of the most astoundingly beautiful and exotic orchids in a group of flowering plants that are known for its stunning blooms. While many of them are finicky in their growth requirements and also quite expensive, these days it is becoming possible to buy lady slipper orchids for quite cheap. I have seen these orchids for sale at Trader Joe’s for less than $20. Hardy hybrid varieties have been developed that are also quite easy to grow at home without any specialized equipment, as long as they get some morning sunlight from a east facing window. It used to be that lady slipper orchids were once considered the province of the experienced orchid grower, but today some varieties make excellent choices for the novice, and for those who are not prepared to spend big bucks on their orchids.
One of my favorite lady slipper orchids (these are also called lady’s slipper or simply slipper orchids) is Paphiopedilum delenatii. This orchid is from Vietnam and until a few years ago was quite rare, and even thought to be extinct. Thanks to horticulture, it is now widely available. You can order Paphiopedilum delenatii from Amazon.com for only $16.00, and the plant is also often available at garden stores. It has beautiful long-lasting and delicate white blossoms infused with pink. These flowers are so named because they have an elongated petal that resembles a woman’s slipper from another era.
P. delenatii is a fairly hardy plant, and quite easy to care for. Unlike some other slipper orchids, it does not need a constantly moist potting medium in order to thrive. The plant also produces shoots profusely, so you will probably have to divide up the plants every two or three years as they will overrun their pots otherwise. Still, no one can complain about having too many slipper orchid blooms! They also make excellent presents, and you could probably make some nice pocket money splitting up the new shoots, repotting them and selling them, as they propagate so readily. Indeed, these plants even seem to put up with quite a bit of abuse, which is rather unusual for slipper orchids that tend to be a somewhat delicate bunch. I have had mine dug up and partly shredded by squirrels repeatedly, and have still managed to revive and regrow them by sticking the shoots back in the potting medium.
Although P. delenatii will probably do okay in your window sill with occasional watering and fertilizer application, a little extra tender loving care will help you get a lot more out of this plant. You can leave the pots outside the home from spring to fall, as long as night time temperatures don’t dip below about 60F. Do not leave them in a location where they will be exposed to the late morning or afternoon sun, as they prefer diffused light. A shaded but bright location with daytime temperatures in the mid-70s to 80s F is best. In the cold season, bring them indoors. To get them to really thrive, you can grow them under full-spectrum fluorescent lights on a timer in winter, exposing them to about 8-10 hours of light a day. Water them about once a week, allowing them to almost dry out between waterings. If it is very dry in the house, consider installing a humidifier near your orchids. Putting trays or bowls of water around them, as well as putting the pots on trays with pebbles and then filling the trays with water, will also help maintain the ambient humidity. The pebbles are to make sure that the base of the pot is not under water, as this might cause the roots of your orchid to rot out. All these instructions apply to many species of orchids, but Paphiopedilum delenatii seems to be ideally suited to these conditions and will thrive under them, which makes them an ideal and economical lady slipper orchid to buy for your home.