How To Repot A Paphiopedilum


A task that might intimidate and perhaps even prevent otherwise intrepid gardeners from taking up the satisfying hobby of growing orchids, specifically Paphiopedilums, or Lady’s Slippers, (the name originates from the Greek words Paphius [from Paphos, a city in Cyprus associated with the goddess Venus] and pedilon, shoes) is the repotting procedure. It does help to understand that most orchids fall into the categories of Epiphytes, growing without soil, and those that grow in the ground, terrestrials. Paphs are terrestrials, growing on the forest floor, although a few are Epiphytes, all the ones that we grow are terrestrials. Their roots will stretch and take up nourishment in light leaf litter. Getting the mix just right to grow them in pots is the key to success.


Our subject being repotted is Paphiopedilum (Starr Warr x Maudiae) ‘Pisgah’ x Paph. Dark Spell ‘Wolf Lake’. This orchid was a birthday gift from daughter Semi in 2007. There was an orchid show at the mall in Knoxville, how convenient!, on my birthday as we were strolling along just window shopping. The dealers had so many of my very favorite type, the Paphiopedilums. Every size, color and price point were available. It was so difficult to choose one.


That was also the year we decided to give up on the hill of lavender on the far east side of the property, the plants kept dying, and turn it into the Black Garden. P. Starr Warr was selected in the spirit of black, because it was the darkest flower of the lot and the foliage was extremely attractive and healthy. It was brought home and placed on the long wall behind the main house for a photo shoot. The camera used was the Kodak Easyshare DX 7440, before we discovered the macro function. Late April is a glorious time in the garden, as you can see in the background. (Except for 2007 when a late freeze devastated many plants, including the Japanese maple on the hill that can be seen in this photo with leaves the color of toast. It died, along with three other choice specimens.)

This orchid had not been repotted since it was received. During the last three years the plant has been a reliable bloomer, so it seemed best to not fix something that was not broken. But this winter it was noticed that the roots were up out of the potting medium, and the whole thing had really outgrown the small terracotta four inch pot that we had carefully placed the whole thing into when it came to live here. It was purchased in a green plastic pot, the type most orchids are sold in. We like something prettier and less likely to fall over with the weight of the large flowers. Pulled rudely from its pot, the roots of the Paph look healthy. It appears the potting medium used was very nearly entirely sphagnum long strand moss. That requires a quick rethink from the purchased bagged mix for Paphs that was at the ready. The larger bark chunks were removed from that mix and a couple of handfuls of the moss, on hand, were well wetted and mixed in with the smaller bits of the bagged mixture. A slight detangling of the roots found none that were black or damaged. If any had been found, they would have been cut off.This type of sphagnum has been used to top off all of the paphs here. It can be found for sale in small bales with the indoor potting supplies at the big box stores. Initially we used the little clay balls seen in the Salvia cutting post, to view it click here-How To Take Salvia Cuttings, but found that those did not keep the roots moist enough. The goal is to water infrequently but thoroughly, about once a week during the cold winter, more often on warmer sunny days. The moss keeps the roots moist but not soggy which is the most crucial aspect of growing this type of orchid. The container selected was a six inch Guy Wolff orchid pot #2, which was freed up after the abandonment of several orchids that were deemed no longer worthy of greenhouse space in the winter. The size is perfect, slightly larger than the previous home, but not too roomy. The pot was purchased at the now defunct Smith and Hawken store in Houston, Texas in 1997, the date stamped on the pot itself.
In the before shot the roots were exposed. In this, the after shot the roots are snuggled under a blanket of moist moss that has been sprayed with a weak, extremely weak solution of organic liquid fertilizer, concentrated on the node where the new flowering growth will emerge. The new growth will always be opposite the oldest flower stalk, look for the smaller young leaf shoots there. The spray bottle of weak fertilizer is aimed at the newest growth when feeding the orchids in winter. That is where the new flowers are forming and the best use of the spray. It is best to not overfertilize, too little is way better than too much. You might note that the plant is not centered in the pot, but is placed with the old growth nearer the side of the pot to allow room for several new shoots to grow and bloom before the next repotting.


In the big reveal it has gone from the darkness of pre dawn where the camera flash insists on being used to natural daylight outside the windows of the sunroom/greenhouse. The Paph is happily ensconced and joins its tribal siblings. But this is not an adequate final shot for a Fairegarden post, is it?


Seen here in August 2008, after being prepped to come inside for the winter with fellow fall bloomer Paphiopedilum Honey ‘Newberry’ x Paph. primulinus ‘Lemon Glow’. The treatment to debug the orchids can be seen by clicking here-Hot Tub Of Death.

A permanent page is under construction up for the orchids that will show photos of the blooms and the name of each. Click to view it here-Plants We Grow-Orchids, or look on the sidebar under the heading Pages. A long term goal, unattainable but admirable in scope is to have pages for each type of plant grown here. Deciduous azaleas and daylilies have pages somewhat complete. Chip, chip, chip away at it is the methodology.

For other How To posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.

Frances

In the spirit, (note: I am reading Dan Pearson’s book Spirit, Garden Inspiration so have that word on the brain) of dear friend Jodi of Bloomingwriter’s post about featuring new to us blogs, may I present to you My Weeds Are Very Sorry, They Promise Not To Do It Again by Laurrie. The title of her blog made me laugh out loud, and her posts were very entertaining as well. I think you’ll like her style. And spirit. 🙂

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39 Responses to How To Repot A Paphiopedilum

  1. Edith Hope says:

    Dear Frances, Another very informative and workmanlike posting which I have found totally absorbing and fascinating.

    Although I do not grow orchids, nor have ever had them, I am now seriously tempted.

    Hi Edith, thanks so much. Workmanlike, that suits my Taurean sensibilities perfectly. While I can be very flighty, no nonsense could be used to describe me as well. The hope was that even those without orchids, or paphs specifically to repot, would be entertained by this post. It is sort of a niche though, I agree. Do give the Paphs a try, they are easy, smaller than most orchids and have prettier leaves, the mottled ones anyway, than others.
    Frances

  2. Les says:

    The bloom is indeed spectacular, but I would grow this one just for its foliage. Thanks for sharing!

    Hi Les, thanks. That is a big selling point for me about these Paphs, the mottled ones anyway. They are attractive even when out of bloom. The blooms can last for several months in the greenhouse in winter, when I am looking at them. During the summer we forget about them, over at the far side of the house. Occasional watering when we have gone more than a week without rain, if I remember to do it is all they need then. Easy peasy! 🙂
    Frances

  3. Darla says:

    I have admired these orchids from afar. Just haven’t tread that area of gardening yet…very informative Ms. Frances. I will visit Jodi..she does have a great blog name!

    Hi Darla, thanks. Maybe someday you will give them a try. But if you see a Paph, grab it! Oops, I am trying to lead you down the addictive path, sorry! Do visit Jodi, and Laurrie of My Weeds Are Sorry. 🙂
    Frances

  4. Laurrie says:

    Thanks so much for including my little start up blog in your post. Jodi Bloomingwriter’s suggestion to feature new blogs is really taking off, I’m seeing & enjoying recommendations everywhere. 5 days into this blogging enterprise I’m still tinkering with the look & feel of mine, what I want to include, and will fiddle with it until it’s really much better. But even at this early stage it’s been great fun. Thanks for the shout out on your blog!

    Hi Laurrie, it is my pleasure to feature your blog here. Getting the blog the way you want it is part of the fun. I would suggest to do it early on, before your readers are used to it being a certain way. 🙂
    Frances

  5. Randy says:

    Frances,
    Great posting! I’m amazed you can remember details back to 1997 simple as buying pots. Your the first I know to get reblooms on orchids too!

    Hi Randy, thanks so much. I remember silly stuff like that, and forget more important things. As for the reblooming orchids, well, the ones that did not rebloom have been too numerous to remember. We had the best luck with the Paphs, that is why we grow them. But the needs did have to be figured out and met, the key to all gardening success. 🙂
    Frances

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I admire those that can grow orchids. I can keep them alive but they never rebloom for me. WHINE… I have given up growing them. I will pop over to Laurrie’s blog and have a look. Cheers.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. It takes some detective work to figure out the orchids secrets of success. I am trying to help here, for they are very worthwhile. Especially during the winter. I hope you enjoy Laurrie’s blog too. 🙂
    Frances

  7. Frances, what clear instructions. The next time someone comes into the flower shop and wants to know exactly how to repot their Paph, I can send them to you to get very helpful step by step instructions. Watching someone do it makes it so much easier for others to try.
    Thanks, I’m off to Laurrie’s to have a peek.
    Deborah

    Hi Deborah, thanks. I really enjoy doing these how to posts, hoping someone might get some help from them in the future. Seeing it is much better than hearing it, or just reading the words without photos. I hope you like Laurrie’s blog too. 🙂
    Frances

  8. Gail says:

    I am having a serious case of greenhouse envy! On a chilly, damp and gray day (like today) it has to be the best place to spend time! Do you have a chair and lamp so you can read? Orchids are strangely attractive~~but, would perish under my care;) I hope you are already out in the garden…xxgail

    Hi Gail, thanks. I am going out soon, but will have to bundle up. This will be the only day that it can be done for a while, according the weather people. I have a list of chores, but am easily distracted by looking for bulbs poking up! The greenhouse barely has standing room, LOL. 🙂
    Frances

  9. Janet says:

    I learned a lot reading this. One day I hope to have some Paphiopedilum…yours is quite stunning. There is supposed to be a big orchid place not too far from my new digs. Will be checking it out once we get there.
    Will look at the new blog. I like the title too.

    Hi Janet, thanks. If you are talking about Carter and Holmes as the big orchid place, do go! That is where we got several of these orchids and the first time I ever saw Paphs in person. It was love at first sight. While I bought many others, it was the paphs that I have stayed with, after 13 years. I still have the three that I bought the first time we visited, Raven, Quasky and Denehurst. I mail ordered Honey from them and would order again. I am so excited at the thought of you living by there, if that’s the one. Green with envy. 🙂
    Frances

    • Janet says:

      Just checked—it is Carter and Holmes!! How fun. We are across the lake from Newberry. Will be checking it out for sure!

      Hooray! You are so lucky to live near there, someday! What a great place. I am moss green with envy. 🙂
      Frances

  10. When I first read the title “How To Repot A Paphiopedilum” I thought the word repot was actually report. I was trying to figure out why you would report a Paphiopedilum!

    Hi Dave, how funny! I think our minds work in very different ways. 🙂
    Frances

  11. Sweet Bay says:

    Fantastic orchid Frances. It goes so well with the color scheme in your garden. How big are the flowers? Pink Lady’s Slippers grow wild in my parents’ yard and I’m always surprised by the size of the flowers.

    Hi Sweet Bay, thanks. How nice that your parents have those wild ones. These are somewhat different, with the slipper not being as large as the natives but the whole flower slightly longer. Paphs vary.
    Frances

  12. tina says:

    Orchids are so darned cool but I don’t think it is an area I would ever venture into. I’ll enjoy yours from afar:)

    Hi Tina, thanks. Feel free to enjoy them anytime. 🙂
    Frances

  13. Balisha says:

    I’ve always had orchid failure. Maybe I need a Guy Wolff pot 🙂 I used to see him on Martha Stewart’s show. We visited his studio with Martha…Balisha

    Hi Balisha, they are easy to fail with, so different from other garden type plants and houseplants. A good book about orchids helps, but nothing works as well as experience. I remember well the Guy Wolff segment on the old Martha show. It was a reason that we bought the pots when we saw them. 🙂
    Frances

  14. There’s something truly deficient in me, Frances because, although I enjoyed reading this post and found it very clear and informative, I just can’t bring myself to like orchids. They have such a good and exotic reputation yet I find them gruesome, repellant even. I hope mentioning you on today’s Esther’s Boring Garden Blog is ok.

    Esther

    Hi Esther, thanks for the link and thanks for letting me know. WordPress sometimes has a list of linkings, but it rarely works right and I miss them and then feel terrible about it. Orchids are not for everyone, kind of an acquired taste. I fell head over heels for the paphs when I first saw them at a large orchid nursery. They were not my first orchids, but I still have the first ones I ever bought, 13 years ago. The love has not faded. 🙂
    Frances

  15. Ladyslippers are my favorite orchids & this dark one is sumptuous. Alas I have not managed to keep any of mine alive longer than a year. Call me a black thumb orchid gardener!

    Hi Linda, thanks. The orchids are tricky. I have lost many, and killed many on purpose by leaving them out in the winter too. We have found the paphs to be the easiest to grow with the conditions in my greenhouse, cool and moist.
    Frances

  16. Jen says:

    You are a amazing fountain of information.

    And I must admit to being envious of your ability to grow this beauty that you have there.

    I have managed to kill most of my orchids. But, I do have one left over, and it must be quite the survivior. A phalanopsis, with I think someone called it a “pup”, a new orchid growing on the old stem. Having had it for almost a year, I am celebrating it as something of a garden miracle. Seriously.

    I seem to be great at growing perennials, it’s the indoor stuff, that I ignore.

    Jen Muddy Boot Dreams

    Hi Jen, thanks so much. You are too sweet! Orchids are so different from regular houseplants, even with several books on how to care for them, trial and error has worked best for me. Good deal on your pup. Getting them to rebloom is the gateway drug that will lead to the addicition. I don’t grow any other houseplants either. My cat eats them and I am just not interested. Just the orchids, and really just the Paphs. The others will be discarded when they fail to bloom. Now watch them always bloom, of course. 🙂
    Frances

  17. Kathleen says:

    You know I am a BIG fan of your orchid posts Frances. Wowee on ‘Lemon Glow!’ I think I love the lady slipper orchids the best too although being at a show (such as the one you describe) would be intoxicating and who knows what choices would be made in the heat of the moment? I will raptly follow your orchid page too ~ so glad you decided to do that!!! You’re always so generous with your knowledge.

    Hi Kathleen, thanks. I was thinking of you as I was writing this post, and others who might need the info on how to repot someday. I do love all the orchids at the shows, and knowing that I will only buy this type keeps me from wasting money on something that will not do well here. I know, for I have tried nearly all the other types that are readily available. The best of luck with your beauties. 🙂
    Frances

  18. Catherine says:

    I’ve never tried orchids, but I always look at them at nurseries. They’ve always seemed a little daunting to me. Maybe it’s the fear of that one beautiful stem being broken by one of my kids. You have some real beauties in your collection!

    Hi Catherine, thanks. We once accidently cut a budded stem off, confusing it with the spent bloom stem in the early morning darkness in the greenhouse without the glasses on. I wrote a post called Punish Me. Click here to view it. We do stake the flower stems to help keep them safe, but even after the cutting of the stem, the orchid made a new flower the next year that was better than ever. You just have to wait and be patient. It’s not the end of the world. 🙂
    Frances

  19. Deirdre says:

    I use the “small” bark for terrestrial orchids. It works for me.

    Hi Deirdre, thanks for that. We used to use that too, we have tried everything I think. The way we want to water, infrequently, to help preserve the walls in the greenhouse works best with the moss. It has made a big difference in the health and blooming of the paphs once we started using it.
    Frances

  20. Kiki says:

    Wonderful post! And what a gorgeous color that is! Amazing and deep..cool!

    Hi Kiki, thanks so much. This paph was nearly black compared to the others at the show, and I was into black flowers right then so it was the chosen one. I hope they have that show again around my birthday. 🙂
    Frances

  21. Teresa O says:

    I do adore lady slippers, but I’ve never grown them or any orchid and probably won’t any time in the near future. Instead of growing, I’ll just stop by Faire Garden from time to time to soak in the exquisite beauty.

    Hi Teresa, thanks. Feel free to stop by for your orchid fix anytime. I have made it easier now with the orchid page. All the orchids under one roof. 🙂
    Frances

  22. Joanne says:

    Frances A very informative post and I do love Orchids but haven’t had a lot of success growing them. My daughters put me to shame I think from neglecting theirs and my Father had several hundred plants in his collection. I still manage to keep a couple of Dendrobiums going but even they don’t flower so well these last couple of years.

    Hi Joanne, thanks. Wow, your father must have been a very good grower to have that many! I love all the orchids, but so many, including the Denrobiums are so large and seem harder to rebloom under my conditions. We settled on this one type to help control the addiction. 🙂
    Frances

  23. joey says:

    I’m in love with your paph, Frances! I *sigh* lost mine over the winter … my fault for overwatering … sniff! Have you tried watering your orchids with ice cubes (interesting theory) ? Tried it on my last Phalaenopsis but, alas, it now is no longer with me either. Also, again this year, my local garden center touts Feb as National Orchid Month (my last yr post comes up when Googled … embarrassed if not so) … most other sources say April. Any ideas?

    Hi Joey, thanks. I am so sorry about your losses, but do feel that ice cubes and orchids do not mix, ever, no matter what may have been written. If they are tropical orchids, as most are, they do not want that cold on their roots. As for which month is the REAL National Orchid Month, I saw both February and April, but April seems to have been chosen by the AOS, who should know. Here is the article that seemed to know what was up. I have no idea, personally. Getting the watering right is the hardest thing about growing orchids, IMHO. Knowing what regimen works best for you helps with which potting medium to use. The moss has really made a huge difference with our paphs, rather than the prescribed finely ground bark bits. Two paphs that had gone ten years without reblooming spiked and bloomed after being topped with the moist moss. I added the moss to all the paphs after seeing that Starr Warrs was potted in it. Don’t give up! 🙂
    Frances

  24. This is a great informational post (What beautiful orchids), Frances! I’ve three plants right now that seem to be doing pretty well. Actually, one must be very happy as it’s growing two new stems!! yea! 🙂

    Hi Shady, thanks. Hooray for your new stems! You don’t say what type of orchids you have, but you must be doing it right. 🙂
    Frances

  25. You make it sound (and look) so easy! 🙂

    Cameron

    Hi Cameron, thanks. It is easy, but you have to know what the orchids need and their needs are so different than regular plants, people have to learn something new.
    Frances

  26. Beckie says:

    Frances, very informative post. Almost makes me think I could grow orchids. NOT! And I refuse to try anymore as I hate seeing the poor things suffer a lingering death. I will just ahve to enjoy them thru you. 🙂

    After reading Jodi’s posts, I too thought it would be a neat idea to feature a new garden blogger once in a while on my sight. (if I ever get to posting regularly again) I shall visit Laurrie!

    Hi Beckie, thanks. You could grow orchids if you could give them the right conditions. Knowledge is power! It is gratifying to see that yesterday 20 people clicked on Laurrie’s link! 🙂
    Frances

  27. Kathleen says:

    I had to come back and re-read this post Frances. So much to absorb. I went to buy an orchid pot for the paph my brother just gave me and the lady at the nursery said “never, ever re-pot an orchid in bloom.” Have you heard this and do you adhere to that rule/advice?? I bought a pot anyway and for now have set the ugly plastic pot down inside it. I don’t want to mess anything up tho!

    Hi Kathleen, come back all you want! HA As we are fond of saying, never say never! HA again. What we do here is ever so gently remove the orchid from the plastic pot and ever so gently place it in the terra cotta pot, holding the potting mix with my right hand around the roots while holding the leaves with my left. I am left handed. Afterwards I water thoroughly, setting the pot over the drain so there is never standing water, a bad thing. What you have done is okay, but harder to tell what is going on with the moisture level that way.
    Frances

  28. Rose says:

    I haven’t been brave enough to try growing an orchid yet, Frances, but this is valuable information for anyone who does. I love the foliage on this paph, and how cool that it is named after Venus’ favorite city.

    Good for you for following through on Jodi’s suggestion! Laurrie’s title is certainly intriguing me–I’ll have to check her out, too.

    Hi Rose, thanks. The foliage is a big bonus on the mottled paphs. They are easier to rebloom than the green leaf ones too. Hope you enjoy Laurrie’s blog. 🙂
    Frances

  29. Liisa says:

    Frances,
    Thank you for this informative post. Your orchids are just beautiful. I have a Paph, Beallara, and Oncidium, all of which are due to be repotted. I must confess to procrastinating as I have not done this before. You have helped in making this task seem much easier, and I hope to be as successful as you! 😉

    Hi Liisa, thanks. These instructions are for the Paph only. I am not familiar with Beallara, but have grown the Oncidiums. The Onicidiums would need a very different potting mix. Good luck! 🙂
    Frances

  30. Dan says:

    Frances – As one that can stare at a Rose in bloom and just be amazed, to see some of your flower photos are almost overwhelming. Whenever I add a flower photo to my blog I often like to check yours to see what you’ve got going. Some of the current photos are quite amazing! You can see my simple Rose shot at (http://alifeoftraining.blogspot.com/2010/02/exercising-with-my-wife-exposing-my.html)
    Keep up the Great work. -Dan

    Hi Dan, thanks, nice to see you. I will check out your simple rose! You are too sweet. 🙂
    Frances

  31. skeeter says:

    I call Dave at the Home Garden the Propagating King so you must be the Orchid Queen! You have such luck and patience with these beauties! Wait, you may be the Lily Queen with all your different lilies, hummmm. Gee, you get my brain working too much. How about just being a Queen? 🙂

    Hi Skeeter, thanks so much. I have been called a queen before, with another not so nice word along with it, rhymes with stitich. HA See, you thought I was going to say witch. HA 🙂
    Frances

  32. Gavin says:

    That is one stunning looking orchid. After seeing that I’m convinced I need one. I didn’t know they could be so eye-catching.

    Hi Gavin, thanks and welcome. The paphs are the most interesting, IMHO. Do get one! 🙂
    Frances

  33. Hello Gail,

    I need that tutorial. I am rather new to growing orchids and have not had to repot any yet, but soon.

    Hi Noelle, I’ll tell Gail you said hi. HA Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I would not rush to repot your orchids is they are not growing out of the pot like this one was. It can set back the reblooming time while the roots get settled in. I did not disturb the roots much, if they are healthy they don’t need to be manipulated. Hope this helps. 🙂
    Frances

  34. You just answered several questions that were keeping me from approaching three orchids crying out for attention. I will be less intimidated by them now. I thank you, and the orchids thank you.

    Hi Ricki, thanks. I hope you will give your crying orchids attention now. If they are growing out of the pots, they should be repotted. Sometimes you can just top up the Paphs with wet moss. I have done that with good results. I know that the experts insist the Paphs need repotting every year. I don’t do that and they bloom well. I think it is the moss, it does not break down as fast as the bark mix and so allows drainage but also holds moisture. Sort of a conundrum, but that is what the Paphs need to be happy.
    Frances

  35. Rebecca says:

    There is no way that thing is real! You photoshopped that, didn’t you…she said jealously.

    Love your blog, BTW

    Thankss Rebecca. You give me too much credit, I would not know how to photoshop anything. I would like to be able to have a black and white shot with one element in color however. One of these days…. 🙂
    Frances

  36. dirtynailz says:

    How did I miss this post?
    Frances, that paph looks very much like one of mine, although mine is: Impulse “Knight” x Red Magic “Merlin.”
    I thank you for the invaluable re-potting info. Mine don’t need it yet, but when they do, I’ll use your terrific instructions!
    (Could it be that those abandoned orchids were recalcitrant oncidiums?)

    Cynthia

    Hi Cynthia, thanks. Don’t you think that many of these paphs look so much alike? Finding one that is different is difficult, without getting into the megabucks prices. And yes, there were a couple of oncidiums that were given the frost treatment. Deemed not worth the space. Dendrobiums, catts, vanda alliance, phals, all gone. Just the three catts that bloom no matter what and the paphs are left. And a ghost orchid that has never bloomed but is tiny and still holds my interest. 🙂
    Frances

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