Autumn lady’s tresses


Spiranthes spiralis

The Autumn lady’s tresses flowers in August / September making it the last native orchid to flower in the UK. It is a dainty 10-15 cm high and it naturalises well into lawns on poor soil.

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Autumn lady’s tresses are perennial plants and are fully hardy in the UK, though plants in pots may be vulnerable to low winter temperatures. They are suitable for poor, thin calcareous soils and occurs mostly in southern England and sporadically in the rest of England and Wales. They often do well in lawns.

The rosette of leaves dies back in May or June and reappears in autumn and then lasts through the winter. It flowers in the autumn mid-August to September and sets seed in October. Plant out at the end of the summer dormancy or in autumn when the new leaves have just appeared. Place dormant plants with the tip 1cm below the surface. If your plant has green aerial parts keep the soil surface level with the compost in the pot. They will tolerate full sun if planted in a wildflower grassland, in pots beware of them overheating or drying out.  If planted into a lawn or grassland it should be under a management regime for a wildflower meadow and should not be cut during August and September. When planting in grassland or a garden bed, make a slit with a spade and slide the plant in keeping the main root vertical. Pour in a little well drained growing mix (see below) and close up the slit. If planting in a pot make it quite a large pot to avoid the roots getting frosted over the winter. Pots may be moved into an unheated greenhouse during the winter and fed and watered sparingly. Plants in the ground should survive the winter in situ.

Use a well drained growing mix of 2 parts peat free potting compost, 2 parts perlite, 1 part grit, 1 part sieved calcareous garden soil plus a little lime and /or oyster shell to bring the pH to 8.