Why Do Lady Slippers Turn Yellow? 5 Reasons

Lady Slippers are some of the most beautiful and elegant orchids you can grow in your backyard garden. However, they require some maintenance and care; otherwise, things can quickly take a turn for the worse. They might suddenly turn yellow, for example. So you might ask: Why do Lady Slippers turn yellow?

Lady slippers turn yellow for a variety of reasons—the most common of which are too much sunlight, too little water, or too much water. Other factors, such as soil quality and pH, might play a role in the yellowing by worsening your Lady Slipper’s overall health or causing damage to the plant.

Lady slippers provide a beautiful display when properly cared for, and a yellowing plant may be a cause for concern. The remainder of this article will discuss in more detail why lady slippers turn yellow and what you should do about it. I will also mention some additional points of concern.

Why Your Lady Slippers Are Turning Yellow

Lady slippers, also known as slipper orchards, come in multiple varieties, species, and genera. One of these varieties is yellow by nature. In this article, we assume you don’t have the yellow type, and the ones you do have show signs of gradual yellowing.

In this scenario, the yellowing is likely an indication of damage. If your plant is also wilting, and there is rusting and crisping the leaves or flowers, you can be almost sure that there’s something that needs your attention.

The two most common causes of lady slippers turning yellow are intense sunlight and extreme (too little or too much) quantities of water.

Your Lady Slippers Have Inadequate Sunlight

While they ideally need a few hours of sunlight daily, Lady Slippers don’t do all that well under full sun. They are best positioned in areas that either get only a few hours of sunlight daily, provide partial shade, or provide indirect sunlight.

To better understand why it can be helpful, think of the type of environment that lady slippers tend to inhabit in the wild: rainforests.

In rainforests, the thick forest canopy provides them protection from direct and intense rays of sunlight, and so they haven’t evolved to be able to protect themselves from the scorching sun.

If temperatures in your area are high, you should be especially careful about letting your lady slippers out in the sun for too long, especially during the afternoon, when the rays of sunlight hit the ground in your area at their most direct angle.

Transitioning into intense summers or having relocated your lady slippers recently might hint as to why they have begun turning yellow – it might be the sun!

You Have Under Watered Your Lady Slippers

Water is the second of the two most common reasons lady slippers turn yellow. Lady slippers are orchids, and many commercial lady slipper varieties (such as the very popular Paphiopedilum) do not have internal water storage organs.

This lack of water storage means they rely entirely on the soil they grow in to provide a consistent water supply. We can again use the plant’s natural growth environment, the rainforests, as an example to understand this better.

First of all, it rains a lot in the rainforests. The name implies that much.

But secondly, the soil in rainforests itself has extraordinary moisture-retaining abilities. And orchids need precisely that type of soil and, in this case, lady slippers. Lady slippers need moisture-retaining soil.

If you plant your lady slippers in soil that has at least some ability to retain moisture, they will likely be dehydrated unless watered very frequently.

Now, you might be thinking about water-retaining soil. If you’ve been gardening for a while, you probably already know that gardeners tend to stay away from water-retaining soil in most cases.

Could it be beneficial in this case, given that lady slippers need a consistent water supply?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. While water-retaining soil could provide all the water lady slippers could ask for, it would make their roots soggy, damage, and eventually destroy them. 

So the best soil for lady slippers would be moisture-retaining soil that can still drain water. The good news is that there are soils with these properties available on a widespread commercial basis. There are also additives you can add to regular garden soil to cause a change in properties. 

While the primary culprits in turning your lady slippers yellow are most often sunlight and watering issues, other factors might be contributing to the problem by causing damage to your lady slipper.

Several factors can influence the health and growth of your lady slipper – it’s worth giving them some attention when health seems poor.

Humidity and Temperature Changes 

Sudden rises and drops in temperature, such as during extreme weather events, can cause immediate damage to your slipper orchards. Lady slippers are most comfortable when grown in a temperature range between 60 to 85℉ (15.5℃-29.4℃). They can tolerate temperatures slightly lower or higher than that range.

Plant Stress From Repotting

This issue applies if your lady slippers are potted and not planted in your garden. Pot soil mixture breaks down over time, so it becomes necessary for lady slippers to be repotted from time to time. However, this procedure causes high-stress levels in plants which may result in symptoms such as wilt and color changes such as browning or yellowing. 

Your Lady Slippers Are Yellowing Due to Age

This issue shouldn’t come as a shocker – no matter how well your lady slippers have been taken care of, they are still subject to the laws of nature. Although most varieties of lady slippers are perennials and tend to last a long time, their leaves will eventually turn yellow or brown and fade away as they grow. 

When they near the end of their lifespan, you can expect the yellowing or browning to be widespread.

How To Fix Lady Slippers That Turn Yellow

Unfortunately, once the leaves of your lady slippers turn yellow, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to make those leaves turn back to green (or to their original color) again. It would be best to allow the leaves affected to wither away on their own, which shouldn’t take too long if they are entirely yellow.

Entirely plucking or removing the yellowed leaf is not advisable in this situation; it might cause unnecessary damage to the plant. At most, you should trim the leaves to keep the plant looking fresh.

Here is what you should do as a remedial action to the yellowing.

If You Suspect Sun Damage

Suppose the yellowing is due to exposure to intense sunlight. In that case, while there isn’t anything you can do to reverse the immediate damage, you can relocate the plant to a better position or provide it with partial shade. 

This solution is more manageable with potted plants, but you may have to relocate your plants to ensure their survival if sun damage is the issue.

If You Suspect Overwatering

If you suspect your lady slipper has been affected by water damage (over-watering), remove the block, soggy, and damaged roots with a sharp object such as a knife. Again, make sure your soil does not let water stagnate.

If you want a definite answer as to whether the yellowing is due to overwatering or not, you can dig up some soil around the plant to analyze its roots.

If the roots are healthy and undamaged, the yellowing is likely due to something other than water damage, such as sunlight, temperature, or pests.

If Temperature and Humidity Are the Issues

Temperature and humidity, or weather-related damage, may have caused the yellowing of your lady slipper. One solution to this problem is to build an enclosure around your orchid for the recovery period—it would be easier to keep these factors in check. If your plant is potted indoors, you could find an area more suited to the plant’s requirements.

If Your Plant Experiences Repotting Stress 

Ideally, you should not repot your lady slippers more than once a year. The ideal time for repotting is right after they finish blooming. Also, make sure to use a pot that is not too large. 

Repotting them too often and at the wrong times will cause unnecessary stress and damage. 

Old-Age and Yellowing 

Lastly, if the yellowing is simply because of old age, try not to worry too much about it. It’s a part of every living creature’s natural life cycle, after all. Lady slipper seeds can be tricky to germinate, so you might have to consider replacing your lady slippers with a new plant. 

How To Prevent Your Lady Slipper Yellowing

Proper maintenance and attention are the keys to successful and abundant lady slipper plants. You can ensure that your plant remains healthy to avoid the issues of ill health that may cause your plant to yellow. Here are some tips for keeping your lady slippers healthy and yellow-free:

  • Monitor your plant regularly for any signs of ill health or pests.
  • Water your flowers regularly and appropriately.
  • Ensure you have proper soil parameters.
  • Fertilize your lady slippers every couple of weeks in Spring.

Final Thoughts

There are many potential causes for the yellowing of Lady slippers; however, two factors stand out in particular – sunlight and water. 

Lady slippers tend to grow in rainforest-like habitats in the wild. This habitat preference means they need only a few hours of sunlight daily. It can’t be too intense.  

Their lack of water retaining organs and the vulnerability of their roots to water means they need moisture-retaining soil that does not allow water to stagnate.

Aging is another factor likely to cause yellowing, but that is simply a part of their natural lifecycle.

You can read my other article on how often lady slippers bloom here: How Often Do Lady Slippers Bloom?

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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