Phragmipediums are either epiphytic, lithophytic, or terrestrial orchids found across different parts of Central and South America. It is a beautiful orchid genus with many different varieties.
Read our comprehensive Phragmipedium culture guide and find out its exact growth requirements.
What Is Phragmipedium?
Abbreviated as ‘Phrag’ in many journals, Phragmipedium is a genus of the Orchidaceae family. The name Phragmipedium comes from the Greek words phragma meaning ‘division,’ and pedium, meaning ‘slipper,’ giving it the common name Lady’s Slipper orchid.
Some of the popular Phragmipedium varieties are Phragmipedium Besseae, Phragmipedium Lindleyanum, Phragmipedium Longifolium, and Phragmipedium Caudatum.
– Size and Growth
In the wild, Phragmipedium orchids can be found growing in volcanic clay, rocks, and curved barks of large trees. Some of its varieties also get submerged in the water due to heavy rains. Its stems grow about 30 to 32 inches long and lack pseudobulbs. Each stem bears two to three flowers.
Lady’s slipper orchids are sympodial, meaning that it has a bifurcating branching pattern along the stem. The stems are short, with six to eight leaves on each stem. Some of its hybrids can be 30 inches wide and 30 inches long. The seedlings take one to two years to mature.
Phragmipedium has gorgeous foliage, with the leaves becoming as big as 32 inches. Brown leaf tips are usually an indication of dehydration. The leaves will be a bright green color if the soil medium is kept moist at all times during the day.
Phragmipedium has exquisite flowers that bloom the most during the spring season. The flowers have unique mustache-like petals and a three-locular ovary. It has a large pouch-like lip that is curved inwards.
The flowers come in various colors, from magenta to bright orange and green. The flowers are long-lasting, with some blooming for over a month. The flower spikes can go as high as 3 feet, and the flower petals hang down below up to 12 inches.
Phragmipedium orchids have a fibrous root system. The roots are soft and break easily. If the roots appear dark gray to black, they could be dead or dehydrated. Slipper orchids do not produce aerial roots.
Phragmipedium Care and Culture: Its Growth Requirements
– Light Requirements
Like Vandas and Cattleyas, most Phragmipedium orchids require bright, indirect light to grow well. While providing bright light, make sure you do not put these in the harsh sunlight of noon. They can tolerate the winter sun, but its leaves will burn if the sun is too harsh in summer. Place your orchids according to the temperatures and humidity in your area.
When the temperature goes beyond 95 F, bring your orchid to a shadier spot in your greenhouse surrounded by other plants.
– Water Requirements
Keep the soil moist all year round, and do not let the soil dry out completely. Some growers use trays filled with water up to 1 inch in drier areas and put their pots in the trays. During the intensive growth period, water your orchid frequently to keep the soil mix moist during the day. Reduce the watering frequency in the winter season.
Since these orchids do not have pseudobulbs to store water and nutrients, it becomes essential to keep their substrate moist at all times. On average, you can water the orchid every two to three days in summer and once every week in winter. This frequency can change according to the prevailing weather conditions in your area.
In some Phragmipedium orchids, such as Phragmipedium Caudatum, if the plant does not dry out by evening, it will lead to bacterial rot. So while watering, be careful not to keep the soil mix soggy for too long, especially during the latter half of the day. You can prevent root rot and bacterial rot by maintaining good air circulation around the plant. Use fans around your orchid to keep the air moving. This process will help the plant to dry out fast.
Phragmipedium orchids are sensitive to the high chlorine content in water. So use filtered water to water your orchid if the tap water in your area has high chlorine.
– Soil Mix
Phragmipedium orchids are divided into two categories – dry and wet groups. Both have different watering and soil mix needs. The dry group includes orchids such as Phragmipedium Caudatum and Phragmipedium Sargentianum that need the standard bark chips mixed with perlite.
You can also use river sand and vermiculite to make a soil mix for the orchids under the dry group. The wet group includes orchids such as Phragmipedium besseae and Phragmipedium Schlimii that need three parts sphagnum moss, one part volcanic rock, and one part perlite.
Semi hydro is a great system for the Lady’s slipper orchids. But it will again depend on the weather conditions in your area. It might not work for you if the weather is too warm and dry.
When it comes to temperatures, Phragmipedium orchids can tolerate temperatures on both the extreme sides. To be on the safer side, never let it sit in temperatures below 50 F and above 100 F. They cannot tolerate frost, so ensure that the orchid does not sit in frost in cooler temperatures.
It requires cooler nighttime temperatures to initiate flowering. So, the ideal temperatures in which Phragmipedium orchids live comfortably lie in the range of 60 to 80 F.
Phragmipedium grows in very humid conditions in its natural habitat. But it can tolerate humidity levels as low as 35 percent. Try to keep the humidity level above 50 percent to keep the orchid healthy. With high humidity, maintain good air movement around your plant. If there is no ventilation, the roots will rot.
– Fertilizer Requirements
Phragmipedium orchids love to get fertilized quite frequently. But avoid over-fertilizing because it can cause the leaf tips to burn. In case of over-fertilization, due to salt accumulation, the leaf tips burn and die.
Use a well-balanced liquid fertilizer to fertilize these orchids. We recommend applying a liquid soluble fertilizer over a solid fertilizer because solid fertilizers are slow-release fertilizers and cause poor root growth. Liquid fertilizer alternated with seaweed extract works well for its proper growth. Apply the fertilize biweekly for best results.
We recommend repotting Phragmipedium orchids every year or year and a half. To repot your orchid, use just one size bigger than the previous pot so that the roots sit have just enough space to accommodate themselves. This is because the flowers bloom better when they are slightly root-bound. Remove any dead or decayed roots and wash the old soil mix away with water. No part of the old soil medium should remain in the roots.
Repotting is required every year because the soil medium starts to decompose. If you notice your orchid overgrowing the pot or its soil medium appearing decomposed, understand that it is time to repot it. Use a new mix of bark chips and perlite to make a loose, airy soil mix.
While repotting, you can propagate the plant by dividing it. While dividing the plant, make sure that every division has at least three growths. This process will ensure that the new plant grows fast. Since these orchids hardly have aerial roots, it is crucial to bury the plant from where the roots appear.
Spider mite infestations can be a major problem for the Slipper orchids. If you notice the back of your orchid’s leaves having a slightly reddish color and grazed upon, the orchid may be infected by mites. You can use miticide to get rid of the mites. But its success rate is not too good. If the infestation is not on a large scale, use a wet paper towel and rub it gently over the affected leaves to remove the mites.
Add the South American slipper orchids to your garden if you want to have an easy-to-grow orchid with minimum care. It will reward you with stunning blooms in the active growing season.
- Phragmipediums are epiphytic, lithophytic, and terrestrial orchids found in South America.
- It prefers bright, filtered sunlight to grow well. Occasionally, it can tolerate full sun.
- It loves abundant watering and does not like to dry out in between waterings.
- Use appropriate soil mix according to the group (wet or dry) the orchids fall.
- It is tolerant of extreme temperatures, but the comfortable range of temperature is between 60 and 85 F.
- It prefers humidity levels above 50 percent to grow well. Maintain good air circulation to prevent root rot.
- Fertilize your orchid using a well-balanced liquid orchid fertilizer biweekly for best results.
- Repot your plant every one or two years, depending on whether the plant has outgrown the pot, or the soil mix has started to decompose.
- Spider mites are a problem for these orchids. Treat them with a miticide.
Now that you know all about the growth requirements of Phragmipedium orchids, we hope you will get your hands on one of these beauties!
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