Paphiopedilum Orchids: Care & Feeding

Overview

Native to the cool humid forests of tropical Asia, Paphiopedilum is a genus of nearly 60 different species. Today, orchid enthusiasts and breeders enjoy many complex hybrids or grexes of this group of orchids that generally need the same care as an African violet. Great as a houseplant, a Paphiopedilum orchid (sometimes nicknamed a "paph") produces a flower with an upright sepal, two spreading ear-like petals and a lower petal pouch that resembles a slipper.

Lighting

Paphiopedilum orchids need very bright but indirect light when grown outdoors in tropical, frost-free gardens or as a houseplant. The gentle early morning or sunset rays can reach the leaves of this orchid without harm, but during the midday no direct sun can reach the leaves or flower. In the home, an eastern window is particularly good, as is a southern window with a sheer curtain or the orchid place far enough away to just avoid any direct sun. The American Orchid Society also recommends using fluorescent lighting: place two to four bulbs above the orchid about 6 to 12 inches away.

Temperature

While there are species of Paphiopedilum native to hotter coastal rainforests as well as cooler mountain woods, in general these orchids all grow well in temperatures we humans find comfortable in our homes. For example, an easy-to-remember guide is 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night and about 75 degrees during the day.

Watering

Typically Paphiopedilum is grown in a well-draining potting mix comprising fine bark particles, perlite, sand and sphagnum moss. This medium must remain constantly moist but be neither soggy nor dry to the touch of a finger. The American Orchid Society's culture sheet for this orchid type suggests a general guideline of one or twice per week. Allow water to warm to room temperature and don't use chlorinated water--allow the chlorine to dissipate first by sitting exposed to the air for at least an hour. From spring to fall, water as needed, but consider watering less frequently during the winter months.

Feeding Tips

These orchids should be fed on a regular basis with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as 30-10-10, according to the American Orchid Society, although any orchid fertilizer product suffices. Mix the water soluble fertilizer in with the water as part of a typical watering event. Either fertilize at one-fourth the strength one each week or one-half the strength every two weeks in the warmer spring and summer months. In fall and winter, fertilize no more than once per month. To prevent root damage from the buildup of fertilizer salts in the soil, flush the roots in purified water once a month and allow it to fully drain away.

Air Quality

Besides temperature, air movement and humidity levels round out the needs for the Paphiopedilum orchid. The warmer the room or outdoor environment or more sultry the humidity, the greater the need for air movement via a breeze from a small fan or ceiling fan. In cool weather, less air movement is needed. This orchid also benefits from a humidity level of 40 to 50 percent. In the home such a high level isn't typical, so place plants atop a shallow tray of pebbles and water to elevate the humidity. According to the "A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants," do not mist the plants.

Keywords: growing orchids, orchid house plants, paphiopedilum care, tropical ladyslipper orchids

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.